Skip to content
Express to
your inbox

Sign up for the High Line newsletter for the latest updates, stories, events & more.

Please enter a valid email address!
Thanks for signing up, we'll be in touch soon!
Photo by Timothy Schenck

John Wesley

Nine Female Inmates of the Cincinnati Workhouse Participating in a Patriotic Tableau

December 2014 – January 2015

Next to the High Line at West 18th Street and 10th Avenue

December 3, 2014 – January 5, 2015

Situated at the intersection of Pop Art, Minimalism, and Surrealism, American artist John Wesley is renowned for his sparse, graphic illustrations that bring to mind classic American cartoons of the 1950s, Japanese ukiyo-e wood block printing, patterned textile design, and fashion magazines. Utilizing a limited pastel color palette, Wesley repositions these recognizable figures into sometimes humorous, sometimes compromising positions. Having begun painting in 1953 while employed as an illustrator at Northrop Aircraft, like so many Pop artists Wesley was strongly influenced by commercial art practices and his visual vocabulary would continue to reflect these commercial beginnings throughout his career. At times the artist’s explicitly erotic imagery is tempered by its deadpan depiction, in reduced pink, cream, and brown flesh tones, and saturated blue backgrounds that lack any specificity of context. While often referred to as a surrealist, Wesley’s erotic subjects and their luxuriant depiction tend more toward a Rococo sensibility, albeit infused with updated 20th century characters.

For the High Line, Wesley reimagines his 1976 painting Nine Female Inmates of the Cincinnati Workhouse Participating in a Patriotic Tableau, a composition featuring nine women costumed to depict the “Betsy Ross” thirteen-star American flag. The women, adorned in the stars and stripes of the flag, can be viewed alternatively as clothed in the stripes of a prison uniform – a suggestion perhaps of the equation of national borders with the walls of a prison. Exemplary of Wesley’s ultimately ambiguous humor, this work was originally created in commemoration of the bicentennial celebration of the United States Declaration of Independence.

Organized by Cecilia Alemani, Donald R. Mullen, Jr. Director & Chief Curator.

Photos by Timothy Schenck.

Artist bio

John Wesley (b. 1928, Los Angeles) lives and works in New York. Recent solo exhibitions include Fondazione Prada, San Giorgio Maggiore Island, Venice (2009); Waddington Galleries, London (2008); Krefeld Kunstmuseen, Germany (2005); Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge (2001); and PS1 Contemporary Art Center, Long Island City, NY (2000). Recent group exhibitions include Disturbing Innocence, The FLAG Art Foundation, New York (2014); Alice in Wonderland at Tate Liverpool, United Kingdom (2011); Deep Comedy at Le Consortium, Dijon (2011); Compass in Hand: Selections from the Judith Rothschild Foundation Contemporary Drawings Collection at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (2009); Collection: MOCA’s First Thirty Years, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2009); and Two Years at The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2007). Wesley’s work was featured in Documenta 5 in Kassel, Germany (1972), and a permanent gallery of his work was inaugurated at the Chinati Foundation, Marfa, TX, in 2004. His work is in the public collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; and the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, among others.


Major support for High Line Art comes from Donald R. Mullen, Jr. and The Brown Foundation, Inc. of Houston, with additional support from Vital Projects Fund, Inc. High Line Art is supported, in part, with public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the New York City Council and from the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature. In-kind support provided by Maharam.

Space for High Line Billboard is donated by