Pop artist Claes Oldenburg, known for giant urban sculptures, dies aged 93

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The Guardian

Pop artist Claes Oldenburg, who turned the mundane into the monumental through his outsized sculptures of a baseball bat, a clothespin and other objects, has died at age 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.

The Swedish-born Oldenburg drew on the sculptor’s eternal interest in form, the dadaist’s breakthrough notion of bringing readymade objects into the realm of art, and the pop artist’s ironic, outlaw fascination with lowbrow culture – by reimagining ordinary items in fantastic contexts.

“I want your senses to become very keen to their surroundings,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 1963.

“When I am served a plate of food, I see shapes and forms, and I sometimes don’t know whether to eat the food or look at it,” he said. In May 2009, a 1976 Oldenburg sculpture, Typewriter Eraser, sold for a record $2.2m at an auction of postwar and contemporary art in New York.

Early in his career, he was a key developer of “soft sculpture” made out of vinyl – another way of transforming ordinary objects – and also helped invent the quintessential 1960s art event the Happening.

Saw, Sawing is seen in Tokyo. Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images

Among his most famous large sculptures are Clothespin, a 45ft steel clothespin installed near Philadelphia’s City Hall in 1976, and Batcolumn, a 100ft lattice-work steel baseball bat installed the following year in front of a federal office building in Chicago.

The placement of those sculptures showed how his monument-sized items – though still provoking much controversy – took their place in front of public and corporate buildings as the establishment ironically championed the once-outsider art.

Many of Oldenburg’s later works were produced in collaboration with his second wife, Coosje van Bruggen, a Dutch-born art historian, artist and critic whom he married in 1977. The previous year, she had helped him install his 41ft Trowel I on the grounds of the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, the Netherlands. Van Bruggen died in January 2009.

Oldenburg’s first wife, Pat, also an artist, helped him out during their marriage in the 1960s, doing the sewing on his soft sculptures.

One of his early large-scale works was Lipstick (Ascending) on Caterpillar Tracks, which juxtaposed a large lipstick on tracks resembling those that propel army tanks. The original – with its undertone suggestion to “make love [lipstick] not war [tanks]” – was commissioned by students and faculty and installed at Yale University in 1969.

The original version deteriorated and was replaced by a steel, aluminum and fiberglass version in another spot on the Yale campus in 1974.

Oldenburg’s 45ft steel Clothespin was installed in 1976 outside Philadelphia’s city hall. It evokes Constantin Brancusi’s 1908 The Kiss, a semi-abstract depiction of a nearly identical man and woman embracing eyeball to eyeball. Clothespin resembles the ordinary household object, but its two halves face each other in the same way as Brancusi’s lovers.

Oldenburg was born in 1929 in Stockholm, Sweden, 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 a US citizen.

As a young man, he studied at Yale and the Art Institute of Chicago and worked for a time at Chicago’s City News Bureau. He settled in New York by the late 1950s, but at times has also lived in France and California.

July 19, 2022 at 12:16AM Associated Press

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