Claes Oldenburg, creator of huge urban sculptures including the Stake Hitch, has died
NEW YORK — Pop artist Claes Oldenburg, who transformed the mundane into the monumental with his oversized sculptures of a baseball bat, clothespin and other objects, has died at 93.
Oldenburg died Monday morning in Manhattan, according to his daughter, Maartje Oldenburg. He had been in poor health since falling and breaking his hip a month ago.
Swedish-born Oldenburg was inspired by the sculptor’s abiding interest in form, the Dadaist’s revolutionary notion of bringing ready-made objects into the realm of art, and the ironic fascination and pop artist’s outlaw for lowbrow culture – reimagining ordinary objects in fantastical contexts.
“I want your senses to become very attentive to their surroundings,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 1963.
“When I’m served a plate of food, I see shapes and forms, and sometimes I don’t know whether to eat the food or look at it,” he said. In May 2009, an Oldenburg sculpture from 1976, typewriter erasersold for a record $2.2 million at a post-war and contemporary art auction in New York.
Oldenburg and his second wife, Coosje Van Bruggen, sculpted the Stake hitchwhich the Dallas Museum of Art installed in 1984. The gigantic sculpture was commissioned by the museum.
Stake hitch depicts a large rope that extended at an angle from the ceiling of the museum’s barrel vault to a stake that appeared to be embedded in the ground. The installation required a large amount of space, and DMA officials removed it in 2003 to make way for special exhibits related to the museum’s centennial celebration.
Their earlier design had giant nails that appeared to pierce the roof and penetrate the barrel vault ceiling. But they changed out of respect for the museum’s architect, Edward Larrabee Barnes.
“Ed Barnes said he didn’t want the facade of his building to be affected, so we found a way to present something that not only was present on the inside, but suggested something huge inside. outdoors,” Oldenburg said. “It gives it an even bigger scale because it stimulates the imagination.”
Early in his career, he was a key developer of vinyl “soft sculpture” – an alternative way to transform ordinary objects – and also helped invent the quintessential 1960s art event, the Happening.
Among his most famous large sculptures are Clothespina 45-foot steel clothespin installed near Philadelphia City Hall in 1976, and Batcolumna 100-foot truss steel baseball bat installed the following year in front of a federal office building in Chicago.
“It’s always a matter of interpretation, but I tend to consider all of my works to be completely pure,” Oldenburg told the Chicago Grandstand in 1977, shortly before Batcolumn was dedicated. “That’s the adventure: taking a highly impure object and seeing it as pure. It’s fun.
The placement of these sculptures showed how his monument-sized objects – while still causing much controversy – took their place in front of public and corporate buildings as the establishment ironically defended once-foreign art. .
Many of Oldenburg’s later works were produced in collaboration with van Bruggen, a Dutch-born art historian, artist and critic whom he married in 1977. The previous year she had helped him install its 41 feet trowel i on the grounds of the Kroller-Muller Museum in Otterlo, the Netherlands.
Van Bruggen died in January 2009.
Oldenburg’s first wife, Pat, also an artist, helped him during their marriage in the 1960s, sewing his soft sculptures.
Oldenburg’s first burst of publicity came in the early 1960s, when a type of performance art called the Happening began to appear in Manhattan’s artier neighborhoods.
A 1962 New York Times the article describes it as “an extravagant entertainment more sophisticated than twist, more psychological than a seance, and twice as infuriating as a game of charades”.
An Oldenburg concoction, cited in the 1965 book Events by Michael Kirby, juxtaposed a man in flippers quietly reciting Shakespeare, a trombonist playing “My Country ‘Tis of Thee”, a young woman laden with tools climbing a ladder, a man shoveling sand from a cot and other oddities, all in a six-minute segment.
“There is no story and the events apparently make no sense,” Oldenburg said. The Time. “But there is a disorganized pattern that acquires definition over the course of a performance.” He said the sessions – unscripted but loosely planned in advance – should be a “cathartic experience for us as well as the audience”.
Oldenburg sculpture was also becoming known during this period, particularly those in which objects such as a telephone or an electric mixer were rendered in soft, bendable vinyl. “The phone is a very sexy shape,” Oldenburg told the Los Angeles Times.
One of his first large-scale works was Lipstick (Crescent) on Caterpillar Tracks, which juxtaposed a large lipstick on tracks resembling those that propel army tanks. The original – with its underlying suggestion of “make love (lipstick) not war (tanks)” – was commissioned by students and professors and installed at Yale University in 1969.
The original version deteriorated and was replaced by a steel, aluminum, and fiberglass version at another location on the Yale campus in 1974.
The Oldenburg 45ft Steel Clothespin was installed in 1976 outside Philadelphia City Hall. It evokes 1908 by Constantin Brancusi The kissa semi-abstract depiction of an almost identical man and woman kissing eyeball to eyeball. Clothespin looks like the ordinary household object, but its two halves face each other in the manner of Brancusi’s lovers.
The Chicago Batcolumn was funded by the federal government under a program to include a budget for artwork whenever a major federal building was constructed. It took place not far from the famous Picasso sculpture in Chicago, inaugurated in 1967.
BatcolumnOldenburg told the Tribune, “tries to be as non-decorative as possible – simple, structural and direct. This, I think, is also part of Chicago: a very factual and realistic object. The last thing, however, was to having it against the sky, that’s what it was made for.
He had considered doing it in red, but “the color would just distract from the linear effect. Now, the more buildings they demolish here, the better.
Not all Chicagoans were happy. About the same time as the sympathetic Grandstand interview, another Tribune writer, architecture critic Paul Gapp, decried the trend towards “silly public sculpture” and called Oldenburg “a veteran man and poseur who has long convinced the art establishment that he should be taken seriously.”
Among the other monumental projects of Oldenburg: crusoe umbrellafor the Civic Center in Des Moines, Iowa, completed in 1979; Flash light, 1981, University of Las Vegas; and tumblerOslo, 2009.
Oldenburg was born in 1929 in Stockholm, Sweden, the son of a diplomat. But young Claes (pronounced klahs) spent much of his childhood in Chicago, where his father served as Swedish consul general for many years. Oldenburg eventually became an American citizen.
As a young man, he studied at Yale and the Art Institute of Chicago and worked for a time at the City News Bureau in Chicago. He moved to New York in the late 1950s, but also occasionally lived in France and California.
By KEN MILLER Associated Press. Writer Tommy Cummings contributed to this report.