Claes Oldenburg

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Image:Soft Bathtub.jpg
Soft Bathtub (Model)—Ghost Version by Claes Oldenburg
1966, acryllic and pencil on foam-filled canvas with wood, cord, and plaster.
Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, DC.
Image:Typewriter Eraser, Scale X.jpg
Typewriter Eraser, Scale X, by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen
1999, painted stainless steel and Fiberglas
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Claes Oldenburg (born January 28, 1929) is a sculptor, best known for his public art installations typically featuring large versions of everyday objects. Another theme in his work is soft sculpture versions of normally hard objects.

Oldenburg was born in Stockholm Sweden, the son of a Swedish diplomat. As a child he and his family moved to America in 1936, first to New York then, later, to Chicago. He studied at Yale University from 1946 to 1950, then returned to Chicago where he studied under the direction of Paul Weighardt at the Art Institute of Chicago until 1954.

While further developing his craft, he worked as a cub reporter at the City News Bureau of Chicago. He also opened his own studio and, in 1953, became a naturalized citizen of the United States. He moved back to New York City in 1956. There he met a number of artists, including Jim Dine, Red Grooms, and Allan Kaprow, whose Happenings incorporated theatrical aspects and provided an alternative to the abstract expressionism that had come to dominate much of the art scene.

Perhaps the most memorable aspects of Oldenburg's works are the colossal sculptures that he has made. These sculptures, though quite large, often have interactive capabilities. One such interactive early sculpture was a soft sculpture of a tube of lipstick which would deflate unless a participant re-pumped air into it. In 1974, this sculpture, Lipstick (Ascending) on Caterpillar Tracks, was redesigned in a sturdier aluminum form, the giant lipstick being placed vertically atop tank treads. Originally installed in Beinecke Plaza at Yale, it now resides in the Morse College courtyard.

Many of Oldenburg's giant sculptures of mundane objects elicited public ridicule before being embraced as whimsical, insightful, and fun additions to public outdoor art. In the 1960s he became associated with the Pop Art movement and attended many so-called happenings, which were performance art related productions of that time. This brash, often humorous approach to art, was at great odds with the prevailing sensibility that, by its nature, art dealt with "profound" expressions or ideas. But Oldenburg's spirited art found first a niche then a great popularity that endures to this day.

He has collaborated since 1976 with Dutch/American pop sculptor Coosje van Bruggen. They were married in 1977.

In addition to freestanding projects, he occasionally contributes to architectural projects, most notably the Chiat\Day advertising agency headquarters in the Venice district of Los Angeles, California -- the main entrance is a pair of giant black binoculars.

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Preceded by:
Rafael Moneo
Schock Prize in Visual Arts
Succeeded by:
Torsten Andersson
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Claes Oldenburg

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