Red Tights with Fragment 9
Muslin soaked in plaster over wire frame, painted with enamel. 69 5/8 x 34 1/4 x 8 3/4" (176.7 x 87 x 22.2 cm). Gift of G. David Thompson. © 1961 Claes Oldenburg. Photo: The Museum of Modern Art, Imaging and Visual Resources Department
According to Oldenburg, this relief recalls his “vision of a pair of red teenage tights seen in the wind at the corner of Avenue A and 14th Street.” The work refers to this display of merchandise, but its jagged edges and the single number 9 also lend it the appearance of a torn advertisement. Oldenburg often tore images of commercial goods from magazines and newspapers as source material for his sculptures, which he described in 1961 as “rips out of reality,” fusing the printed advertisement with three-dimensional reality. Looking back, in 1970 the artist explained, “Vision at that time, for me, was assumed flatter, and what was seen, taken as a plane surface, like a film, mirror, or newspaper. Thus an advertisement or part of one, ripped from a newspaper, was taken to correspond to a glance at the plane of vision.”
Muslin soaked in plaster over wire frame, painted with enamel. 60 x 48 x 7 1/2" (152.4 x 121.9 x 19.1 cm). The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. The Panza Collection. © 1961 Claes Oldenburg. Photo: Brian Forrest, Courtesy of The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
Cigarettes in Pack (Fragment)
Muslin soaked in plaster over wire frame, painted with enamel. 32 x 30 x 7" (81.3 x 76.2 x 17.8 cm). The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. The Panza Collection. © 1961 Claes Oldenburg. Photo: Douglas M. Parker Studios
Auto Tire with Fragment of Price
Muslin soaked in plaster over wire frame, painted with enamel. 50 3/8 x 49 3/16 x 6 1/8" (128 x 125 x 15.5 cm). Centre Pompidou, Paris. Musée national d'art moderne / Centre de création industrielle. © 1961 Claes Oldenburg. Photo: Adam Rzepka. CNAC/MNAM/Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY
Men's Jacket with Shirt and Tie
Muslin soaked in plaster over wire frame, painted with enamel. 41 3/4 x 29 1/2 x 11 3/4" (106 x 74.9 x 29.8 cm). Museum Ludwig Cologne / Ludwig donation. © 1961 Claes Oldenburg. Photo: © Rheinisches Bildarchiv Köln
Two Girls' Dresses
Muslin soaked in plaster over wire frame, painted with enamel. 44 1/2 x 40 3/4 x 6" (113 x 103.5 x 15.2 cm). Private collection. © 1961 Claes Oldenburg. Photo: Gunter Lepkowski
Muslin soaked in plaster over wire frame, painted with enamel. 61 x 41 x 9" (154.9 x 104.1 x 22.9 cm). San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Anonymous gift. © 1961 Claes Oldenburg. Photo: Ben Blackwell
Muslin, plaster, chicken wire and enamel. 41 x 30 1/4 x 4" (104.1 x 76.8 x 10.2 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Gift of Howard and Jean Lipman. © 1961 Claes Oldenburg. Photo: Douglas M. Parker Studios
Store Poster, Torn Out Letters Newspaper Pie Cup Cakes and Hot Dog
Cut-and-pasted paper and printed paper, watercolor, and crayon on paper. 20 x 26" (50.8 x 66.1 cm). Purchased with funds provided by Marie-Josée and Henry R. Kravis. © 1961 Claes Oldenburg. Photo: The Museum of Modern Art, Imaging and Visual Resources Department, Thomas Griesel
Store Window - Yellow Shirt, Red Bow Tie
Wax crayon and watercolor on paper. Sheet: 11 7/8 x 17 1/2" (30.2 x 44.5 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Gift of The American Contemporary Art Foundation, Inc., Leonard A. Lauder, President. © 1961 Claes Oldenburg. Photo: © Whitney Museum of American Art, NY
Store Objects - Watch in Case, Cupcakes, Sock
Ink and watercolor on paper. 6 x 8 3/4" (15.2 x 22.2 cm). The Menil Collection, Houston, gift of the artist. © 1961 Claes Oldenburg. Photo: Paul Hester
Interior of "The Store" - Sketch for a Poster (not executed)
Crayon, pencil, ink, watercolor. 24 x 18 1/8" (61 x 46 cm). Private collection, New York. © 1961—62 Claes Oldenburg.
Pastry Case, I
Burlap and muslin soaked in plaster, painted with enamel, metal bowls, and ceramic plates in glass-and-metal case. 20 3/4 x 30 1/8 x 14 3/4" (52.7 x 76.5 x 37.3 cm). The Sidney and Harriet Janis Collection. © 1961—62 Claes Oldenburg. Photo: The Museum of Modern Art, Imaging and Visual Resources Department, Kate Keller
“I work with very simple things that I come across while walking to work,” Oldenburg explained in 1964, “such as a certain kind of pastry . . . or certain kinds of displays or presentations and advertisements that I naturally come across as part of the urban landscape.” Pastry Case, I replicates just this sort of everyday sighting. The desserts displayed here are presented for the viewer's delectation on real dishes, heightening the tension between the tempting evocation of edible goods and their obvious artifice. In a 1969 interview, Oldenburg described this tension as a way of “frustrating expectations”: “The food, of course, can't really be eaten, so that it's an imaginary activity which emphasizes the fact that it is, after all, not real—that it's art, whatever that strange thing is of doing something only for itself rather than for function.”
Crayon and watercolor on paper. 10 x 7 1/2" (25.4 x 19.1 cm). Collection of the artist. © 1962 Claes Oldenburg.
Two Cheeseburgers, with Everything (Dual Hamburgers)
Burlap soaked in plaster, painted with enamel. 7 x 14 3/4 x 8 5/8" (17.8 x 37.5 x 21.8 cm). Philip Johnson Fund. © 1962 Claes Oldenburg. Photo: The Museum of Modern Art, Imaging and Visual Resources Department
Muslin soaked in plaster over wire frame, painted with enamel. 38 x 35 1/2 x 35 1/2" (96.5 x 90.2 x 90.2 cm). The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. The Panza Collection. © 1962 Claes Oldenburg. Photo: Brian Forrest, Courtesy of The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles
Canvas filled with foam rubber and cardboard boxes, painted with acrylic paint. 52" x 7' x 7' (132.1 x 213.4 x 213.4 cm). Collection Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto. Purchase, 1967. © 1962 Claes Oldenburg. Photo: Sean Weaver
Synthetic polymer paint and latex on canvas filled with foam rubber and cardboard boxes. 58 3/8" x 9' 6 1/4" x 58 3/8" (148.2 x 290.2 x 148.2 cm). Gift of Philip Johnson. © 1962 Claes Oldenburg. Photo: The Museum of Modern Art, Imaging and Visual Resources Department, Jonathan Muzikar
Synthetic polymer paint on canvas filled with foam rubber and cardboard boxes. 53 3/4" x 11' 4" x 56" (136.5 x 345.4 x 142 cm). Gift of Philip Johnson. Photo: The Museum of Modern Art, Imaging and Visual Resources Department, Kate Keller
Floor Cone is one of three large-scale soft sculptures that Oldenburg produced with his then wife, Patty Mucha, for an exhibition of The Store, at New York's Green Gallery. Simplified to cone and sphere, the sculpture is instantly identifiable an ice cream cone. Mucha recalls taking the work for a drive in a pickup truck along West Fifty-seventh Street, where the Green Gallery was located, and encountering a warm reception from children in passing cars, who “shouted out their approval.” However, the sculpture's relationship to its real-world referent is complicated by both its size and its material. Oldenburg exacerbated this deformation caused by gravity for his 1963 solo show at Los Angeles's Dwan Gallery, during which he propped Floor Cone upside down against a wall.
Soft Calendar for the Month of August
Canvas filled with shredded foam rubber, painted with liquitex and enamel. 41 3/4 x 42 1/2 x 4 1/4" (106 x 108 x 10.8 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Muriel Kallis Steinberg Newman Collection, Gift of Muriel Kallis Newman, 2006. © 1962 Claes Oldenburg. Photo: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image source: Art Resource, NY
Textiles, canvas, plaster, enamel, metal stand, neon tube, mirror, and fiberboard. 7' 1 13/16" x 63 3/4" x 50" (218 x 162 x 127 cm). Ludwig Museum - Museum of Contemporary Art, Budapest. © 1962 Claes Oldenburg.
Giant Gym Shoes
Muslin soaked in plaster over wire frame, painted with enamel. 14 x 31 x 9" (35.6 x 78.7 x 22.9 cm). Collection of Samuel and Ronnie Heyman, Palm Beach, Florida. © 1963 Claes Oldenburg.
Giant BLT (Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato Sandwich)
Vinyl, kapok, and wood painted with acrylic. 32 x 39 x 29" (81.3 x 99.1 x 73.7 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Gift of The American Contemporary Art Foundation, Inc., Leonard A. Lauder, President. © 1963 Claes Oldenburg. Photo: David Heald, Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation
This is Oldenburg's first sculpture made of vinyl, a material that would play a central role in his future work. With its tiered, multipart construction and neat seams, the work differs from the oversized soft sculptures of food in Oldenburg's Store exhibition at the Green Gallery a few months earlier. In making Giant BLT, Oldenburg collaborated with his then wife Patty Mucha, who sewed the vinyl into shape, and his friend and fellow artist Richard Artschwager, who contributed the wooden bacon slices and the giant toothpick that pierces the sandwich.
Claes Oldenburg with his Floor Cone (1962) in front of Dwan Gallery, Los Angeles, 1963. Oldenburg van Bruggen Studio/Museum of Modern Art hide caption
Claes Oldenburg with his Floor Cone (1962) in front of Dwan Gallery, Los Angeles, 1963.Oldenburg van Bruggen Studio/Museum of Modern Art
Oldenburg's fascination with simple, everyday objects often led him to food as a subject, as with Pastry Case, I, 1961-62. Claes Oldenburg/Museum of Modern Art hide caption
Oldenburg's fascination with simple, everyday objects often led him to food as a subject, as with Pastry Case, I, 1961-62.Claes Oldenburg/Museum of Modern Art
The sculptor Claes Oldenburg was born in Stockholm but grew up in Chicago, went to Yale and came to New York in 1956, where he became a key player in the pop art movement — the major counter-reaction to the abstract expressionism that dominated the 1950s. So much for art history.
Although Oldenburg is a serious artist, probably no artist in history ever created works that were more fun. In a new show at the Museum of Modern Art — really two shows — practically everyone, including myself, was walking through the galleries with a huge grin.
Though some of the images are unsettling: In the first and scarier part of the exhibit, the objects are from Oldenburg's 1960 shows called The Street — images inspired by his living on New York's Lower East Side. These are figures and objects, many of them suspended from the ceiling, made out of cardboard and burlap, nightmarish but also childlike, brown with black edges as if they were charred. There's a wall tag for a piece called Fire From a Window that took me a while to find, because it's a small board sticking out from the edge of a wall high up above the gallery — like a flame leaping out of a building.
The second and larger part of the exhibit is called The Store, and these include some of Oldenburg's most iconic images from the early '60s. And here's where the smiles begin to widen.
The objects are mostly plaster applied to chicken wire, or canvas stuffed with foam rubber — all sorts of things you can find in stores. Pants and shirts. Furniture. A whole lingerie counter with a mirrored top. And most deliciously, there's food. Glorious food. Succulent slices of pie and cake.
In an exhibition-catalog entry in 1961, Oldenburg made a famous manifesto: "I am for the art that a kid licks, after peeling away the wrapper. I am for an art that is smoked, like a cigarette, smells, like a pair of shoes. I am for an art that flaps like a flag, or helps blow noses, like a handkerchief. I am for an art that is put on and taken off, like pants, which develops holes, like socks, which is eaten, like a piece of pie ... "
At the MoMA show, there's a huge 9-foot-long wedge of cake called Floor Cake sitting on the floor next to a 7-foot-wide hamburger, called Floor Burger, that you have to walk around. "I am for the art of underwear and the art of taxicabs," Oldenburg wrote. "I am for the art of ice cream cones dropped on concrete." Lying near the gigantic hamburger is the 11-foot-long Floor Cone. I particularly loved the small burlap and plaster Baked Potato, with its pat of melting butter, and the Banana Sundae, with its accompanying spoon painted with drips of enamel ice cream.
An actor, Hamlet says, holds a mirror up to nature. Just so, Oldenburg's art reflects the lives we live. "I am for an art that takes its form from the lines of life, that twists and extends impossibly and accumulates and spits and drips, and is sweet and stupid as life itself."
It's both high tragedy and low comedy that for most of us our lives are so ordinary, that everything in TheStore is for sale, our daily commerce. But that's part of the joy and pain of this wonderful exhibit that makes us smile so hard at the idea that our ordinary lives are so completely surrounded by, and enmeshed in, potential works of art.