"I am for
an art that is political-erotical-mystical, that does something other than sit on its ass in a museum."
One of the most respected pop artists, as well as one of the few that works
in sculptural media, is Claes Oldenburg. In his works he attempts to use everyday objects that work on their own terms, but
also reflect on the surrounding city or environment. Oldenburg became well versed at an early age. His dad was a Swedish diplomat
that required he and his family move all over the world. At the age of seventeen, Oldenburg settled in Chicago, Illinois.
He went on to study literature and art history at Yale University. He went on to study art under Paul
Weighardt at the Art Institute of Chicago while also working as a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago. In
1953 he officially became an American citizen.
As a professional artist, now living in New York, Oldenburg became an innovator
artist in the area of performance art. “Art is a technique of communication. The image is the most
complete technique of all communication…Painting, especially much better than words, allows oneself to express the various
stages of thought, including the deeper levels, the underground stages of the mental process.” Soon, off the
front of his studio, he opened The Store. Here he displayed everyday objects made of plaster.
He became an artist under an emerging movement in 1962 known as Pop Art. His work generally fits into one of two categories:
soft sculpture and steel monuments.
Oldenburg’s soft sculptures began as a part of The
Store, an environment for his random objects. Many of these works were large pillow-like works that replicated
many things. Food like hamburgers, French fries, and ice-cream was common.
By the mid-1960s he was in full production with his steel monuments.
Many of these works were commissioned works by cities around the world. Nearly fourty of these works are made in
collaboration with his wife and colleague, Coosje van Bruggen. She had a master's degree in art
history and was a major part of his projects until her death in 2009, at the age of sixty-six. One of my favorites of
his steel monuments is the Crusoe Umbrella. As the story goes, Oldenburg was commissioned
to create a large sculpture for a large sitting area next to a performing art center. Wanting to capture an object that truly
represented the city, he went out walking through the small city. He noticed the arches under the bridges and the domes on
the Iowa Capitol building (a building that also inspired L. Frank Baum’s Emerald City in his book "The Wizard of Oz").
He Connected all these repeated arc shapes all over the city and as night fell, walking downtown, on came the light. Literally.
He saw the neon Travelers sign with its neon red umbrella. It was a must that Crusoe Umbrella
be built in Des Moines, Iowa. “If you're an architect you have to make changes to suit your client
but we present a finished project.” Oldenburg currently lives and works in New York.
1979. Cor-Ten steel and enamel paint. 37 x
37 x 58 feet. Nollen Plaza, Des Moines, Iowa, USA.