Claes Oldenburg

Born: 1929

Hometown: Stockholm, Sweden

Lives and Works: New York, NY


Education: BA, Yale University, New Haven, CT

Works by the Artist

Claes Oldenburg Bio

About The Artist

Perhaps the best-loved artist of the Pop Art movement, Claes Oldenburg is known for his playfully surreal sculptures that find new meaning in the everyday objects by expanding them to a gargantuan scale or deflating them into floppy, funny shells. A onetime journalist and illustrator in Chicago, Oldenburg fell in with Pop— a vernacular approach to art that mocked the somber bravado of Abstract Expressionism—after moving to New York in 1956. But whereas artists like Warhol and Lichtenstein took popular media as their inspiration, Oldenburg found his muse in hamburgers, electric fans, bagels, and other familiar comforts.

In 1961, Oldenburg opened The Store, an installation populated with painted plaster objects the recreated the environment of an average New York City shop. Dripping, deliberately crude renditions of cash registers, dresses, and men's hats broke down the distinction between commodities and artworks. Oldenburg's environments sometimes doubled as the sites of Happenings, irreverent non-narrative theater pieces that defined the era's ad-hoc approach to art-making and exerted a powerful influence on later performance art. A key figure in the Happenings, Oldenburg often sewed large canvas props for these performances. Other important pieces from this era, including the sagging soft sculptures Floor Burger (1962) and Soft Bathtub (1966), gave instantly recognizable items new textures and shapes.

In the 1970s, Oldenburg began collaborating on large-scale public sculptures with the art historian Coosje van Bruggen, whom he married in 1977. Together, Oldenburg and van Bruggen created such iconic public artworks as Minneapolis's Spoonbridge and Cherry—a giant sculpture of a spoon balancing a ripe cherry—and Cologne's Dropped Cone, a vanilla ice cream cone seemingly smooshed onto the corner of a shopping mall building. By manipulating the scale and context of ordinary objects, these mischievous public artworks transformed the ordinary into the extraordinary.

A pillar of postwar art, Oldenburg has been collected by major museums around the world. Exhibitions have included Claes Oldenburg: The Sixties at the Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien in Vienna, Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen: Theater and Installation 1985—1990 at the Pace Gallery in New York, Claes Oldenburg: Early Sculpture, Drawings, and Happenings Films at the Whitney in 2009, as well as the 1964 and 1968 Venice Biennales.


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