Claes Oldenburg b.Stockholm, Sweden 1929
Born the son of a Swedish diplomat, his family moved to the United States in 1936, staying briefly in New York before settling in Chicago. After graduating from Yale University in 1950 where he majored in literature and art, his first job was as a junior reporter. Deciding to become an artist, Claes Oldenburg studied intermittently at the Art Institute of Chicago from 1952 until 1954. During 1953 he had taken out American citizenship.
He moved to New York City in 1956 and soon became assimilated into a group of young artists of his generation that included Jim Dine, George Segal and Red Grooms who were expressing their new ideas through Happenings and performance art rather than traditional means.
Influence by his surroundings on the Lower East Side, in 1961 he opened The Store in his studio recreating an environment of neighbourhood shops. It displayed a plethora of familiar merchandise crudely fashioned from muslin soaked in plaster and then garishly painted, celebrating American society’s obsession for consumption.
Claes Oldenburg’s interest evolved into single sculptures of mundane objects such as Floor-Burger, an absurdly super size patty in a bun made from painted sailcloth stuffed with foam rubber and paper cartons. He went on to develop enlarged soft sculptures of very hard objects including typewriters, telephones and toilets using pliant vinyl filled with kapok.
From 1965 Oldenburg devised a number of site-specific monuments. Most of these exist only on paper, a few as three-dimensional scale models. The first actually to be realized, Lipstick (Ascending) on Caterpillar Tracks, was commissioned by a group of students from his alma mater, Yale. Unveiled in May 1969 it became a rallying point for protests against the Vietnam War, as had been the artist’s intention. This exercise convinced him, and potential patrons, that by assuming the role of artist/designer and employing skilled technicians for fabrication, anything was possible.
Since 1976 he has worked in partnership with Coosje van Bruggen, the Dutch curator, writer, artist and in the following year, his wife. Together they have conceived many large-scale sculptures of commonplace objects which have been inserted into various urban settings in Europe, the United States and Japan to become witty and perceptive additions to outdoor public art.
Much of his graphic work depicts projects both realized and proposed. As would be expected Claes Oldenburg has also created numerous multiples. This has not only increased the accessibility of his output to the private individual but also adheres to the Pop sensibility of mass production.