With his saggy hamburgers, colossal clothespins and giant three-way plugs, Claes Oldenburg has been the reigning king of Pop sculpture since the early 1960s, back when New York was still truly gritty. In 1961, he rented a storefront, called it The Store, and stocked it with stuffed, crudely-painted forms resembling diner food, cheap clothing, and other mass-manufactured items that stupefied an audience accustomed to the austere, non-representational forms in Abstract Expressionist sculpture. These so-called "soft-sculptures" are now hailed as the first sculptural expressions in Pop art. While his work has continued to grow in scale and ambition, his focus has remained steadfast: everyday items are presented on a magnified scale that reverses the traditional relationship between viewer and object. Oldenburg shrinks the spectator into a bite-sized morsel that might be devoured along with a giant piece of cake, or crushed by an enormous ice pack. His work shows us just how small we are, and serves as a vehicle for his smart, witty, critical, and often wickedly funny insights on American culture over the past half-century.
Courtesy of The Art Story
April 12, 2013
By: Blake Gopnik
By: Beth Py-Lieberman
Art is a funny thing. It can be at once obvious, obscure, beautiful and bizarre. But in the hands of Pop artist Claes Oldenburg, master of small things made bigger and hard things made softer, it can also be hilarious.
Was Oldenburg looking for laughs back in 1967 when he drew up plans to replace Chicago's Navy Pier with a spoon? Probably not. He's no comedian: "My single-minded aim is to give existence to fantasy," he has said. But never mind; it's pure delight to come upon his humongous spoon in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. The 51-foot-long utensil cradles a 1,200-pound maraschino cherry that sprays a cascade of water from its stem.
Since 1976, Oldenburg and his wife, art historian and artist Coosje van Bruggen, have conspired to bring really big sculptures of really ordinary things to public places. Their new book, Large-Scale Projects (Monacelli Press), celebrates their collaborative efforts with an extraordinary collection of images. Oldenburg has also produced dozens of drawings of what he calls his "non-feasible" sculptures; a selection of these and other works is now on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.
One sculpture he actually built is the 38-foot-tall Flashlight, which rises over the campus of the University of Nevada in Las Vegas. It caused quite a stir in 1981 on its cross-country trip from the Connecticut foundry where it was made. Truck driver "Red" Morgan constantly fielded the same basic question on his CB radio from fellow drivers: "What the devil are you hauling?"
But for many Oldenburg fans, the question remains: Will he ever find a way to plunk down that huge melting Good Humor bar into the middle of New York's Park Avenue? Back in 1968 radical philosopher Herbert Marcuse predicted such a sculpture might bring on the revolution because, as he said, "then people cannot take anything seriously; neither their President, nor the Cabinet, nor the corporation executives." So far none of Oldenburg's sculptures have brought down the social order, but they have certainly given us all a lift.
Guggenheim Museum, New York
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Museum of Fine Arts, Massachusetts
Museum of Modern Art, New York
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, California
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
Tate Modern, London
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York