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Horace Clifford Westermann (aka H.C. Westermann)

American
(1922–1981)

The Unaccountable
1959

Wood, metal, penny, and chain
27.5 x 11.5 x 11.5 in. (69.85 x 29.21 x 29.21 cm)
Gift of the Kathryn C. Wanlass Foundation
2009.84

What appears to be a fairly simple assemblage that combines an old-fashioned toilet oat, faucets, and a metal rod is in fact an extraordinary repository for autobiography and sociopolitical commentary. Dating from Westermann’s early career in Chicago, this cartoonish male figure resounds with the artist’s trenchant views on life during the Eisenhower years. The title is a play on The Untouchables, a television series that premiered in 1959, the year the sculpture was created. The series showcased brave and incorruptible FBI agents in their battle against the Prohibition-era mob. Westermann, however, focused on the less-than-noble activities of the FBI of his day, particularly the agency’s role in the Communist witch hunts that blacklisted many writers and artists. A thin brass plate, cut and incised to depict the comic strip crime-fighter Dick Tracy, forms the figure’s head. This resemblance is not only an autobiographical reference—Westermann’s distinctive profile was similar to Tracy’s—but is also an example of another “unaccountable”: Tracy often took the law into his own hands. The steps cut into the wooden base, painted green to allude to grass, make it clear that the assemblage also functions as a maquette for a monument to power run amok, satirically honoring a figure so mighty he casually dangles a skyscraper behind him.

There are also many references to the era’s fraught geopolitical situation. The toilet-float element refers to Sputnik 1, a small spherical satellite whose successful launch by the USSR in 1957 embarrassed the United States and spurred the Cold War space race. The float also reads as a globe. Its incised and affixed Xs and Os show a game of tic-tac-toe with both Xs and Os winning, a metaphor for the nuclear arms race between the two superpowers.

Personal allusions include the 1959 penny attached to the float’s lower left: Penny was the stage name of Westermann’s ex-wife. Pointing at a bump in an upper quadrant is an arrow inscribed “Reno” (Nevada), where the artist’s sweetheart, Joanna Beall, had successfully sought a divorce from her first husband in order that she and Westermann could marry in March 1959.

Lynne Warren


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