Originator of soft sculptures, Claes Oldenburg passes away

The Swedish-born artist who died at the age of 93, has left behind a legacy of his larger-than-life pop art sculptures.

by STIRworldPublished on : Jul 21, 2022

Claes Oldenburg, the legendary Swedish-born sculptor, passed away at the age of 93 at his Manhattan residence. According to his daughter, Maartje Oldenburg, he had been in terrible condition since falling and injuring his hip a month ago. Many of Oldenburg's sculptures, which depict clothes pegs, baseball bats, hamburgers, and electric outlets, adorn public locations. Clothespin, a 45-foot steel sculpture put near Philadelphia's City Hall in 1976, and Batcolumn, a 100-foot lattice-work steel baseball bat installed the following year in front of a federal office building in Chicago, are two of his most recognised public sculptures.

Flying pins, 2000, Sculptural Installation, Claes Oldenburg | STIRworld
Flying pins, 2000, sculptural installation Image: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

"My intention is to make an everyday object that eludes definition," he was quoted as saying to The New York Times.

Oldenburg's rise to popularity began with a return to New York in 1956. The city was once dominated by abstract expressionists, against whose machismo younger artists rebelled. He began his New York career with brushy paintings but quickly abandoned them in favour of occurrences, impromptu performances presented by his own Ray Gun Theatre group. A crucial pioneer of soft sculpture made of vinyl — another method of altering common items - he also contributed to the creation of the classic 1960s art event, The Happening, which was his initial burst of fame in Manhattan's neighbourhoods.

Balancing tools, 1984, Sculptural Installation, Claes Oldenburg & Coosje van Bruggen | STIRworld
Balancing tools, 1984, Sculptural Installation, Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen Image: Wikimedia Commons

Many of Oldenburg's works were created in conjunction with his second wife, Dutch-born art historian, artist, and critic, Coosje van Bruggen, whom he married in 1977. She had assisted him in installing his 41-feet Trowel I sculpture on the grounds of the Kroller-Muller Museum in Otterlo, the Netherlands, the previous year. Pat, an artist herself, his second wife, assisted him throughout their marriage in the 1960s, stitching the soft installation sculptures.

Apple Core, 1992, Cast aluminium coated with resin and painted with polyurethane enamel, Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen | STIRworld
Apple Core, 1992, Cast aluminium coated with resin and painted with polyurethane enamel, Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen Image: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Oldenburg was born in Stockholm to a diplomat father, Gösta, and his opera singer wife, Sigrid. Claes attended the Latin School of Chicago and Yale, where he studied literature and art history before attending the Art Institute of Chicago from 1952 to 1954. His younger brother, Richard Oldenburg, also rose to prominence in the art world, serving as the director of the Museum of Modern Art. Oldenburg was awarded the Wolf Prize in Arts in 1989. He received the National Medal of Arts in 2000. In addition to other accolades, Oldenburg got honorary degrees from Oberlin College in Ohio in 1970, the Art Institute of Chicago in Illinois in 1979, Bard College in New York in 1995, and the Royal College of Art in London in 1996.

Claes Oldenburg painted live in an event | STIRworld
Claes Oldenburg painted live in an event Image: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

“I am for an art that embroils itself with the everyday crap and still comes out on top,” in a manifesto-like piece published in 1961, Oldenburg wrote. “I am for an art that imitates the human, that is comic, if necessary, or violent, or whatever is necessary. I am for an art that takes its form from the lines of life itself, that twists and extends and accumulates and spits and rips, and is heavy and coarse and blunt and sweet and stupid as life itself.”

Spitzhacke, 1982, Steel painted with polyurethane enamel | STIRworld
Spitzhacke, 1982, Steel painted with polyurethane enamel Image: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

(Text by Vatsala Sethi, Asst. Editorial Coordinator (Arts))

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