Claes Oldenburg (b.1929) and Coosje van Bruggen (1942-2009), Soft Shuttlecocks, Falling, Number Two, 1995, Graphite, charcoal, and pastel on paper, 27-1/4 x 39-1/4 x 39-1/4", Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Purchase with funds from The Lauder Foundation, Evelyn and Leonard Lauder Fund 99.51, © Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, Photograph by Sheldan C. Collins.
The Work and Practice of Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen
Claes Oldenburg b. 1929, Giant Fagends, 1967, Canvas, urethane foam, wire, wood, latex, and melamine laminate, 52 x 96 x 96", Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Purchase with funds from the Friends of the Whitney Museum of American Art 70.44a-o, © Claes Oldenburg, Photograph by Jerry L. Thompson.
Claes Oldenburg (b. 1929) and Coosje van Bruggen (1942-2009), Blueberry Pie Island, 1998, Graphite and pastel on paper, 30 x 40", Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Gift of The American Contemporary Art Foundation, Inc., Leonard A. Lauder, President 2002.66, © Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, Photograph by Sheldan C. Collins.
Claes Oldenburg b. 1929, French Fries and Ketchup, 1963, Vinyl and kapok fibers on wood base, 10-1/2 x 42 x 44", Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; 50th Anniversary Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Robert M. Meltzer 79.37a-g, © Claes Oldenburg, Photograph by Geoffrey Clements.
Claes Oldenburg b. 1929, Giant BLT (Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato Sandwich), 1963, Vinyl and kapok fibers on painted wood base, 32 x 39 x 29", Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Gift of The American Contemporary Art Foundation, Inc., Leonard A. Lauder, President 2002.255a-s, © Claes Oldenburg, Photograph by Ellen Page, courtesy of PaceWildenstein.
Claes Oldenburg b. 1929, Soft Toilet, 1966, Wood, vinyl, kapok fibers, wire, and plexiglass on metal stand and painted wood base, Overall: 55-1/2 x 28-1/4 x 30", Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; 50th Anniversary Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Victor W. Ganz 79.83a-b, © Claes Oldenburg, Photograph by Jerry L. Thompson.
Claes Oldenburg (b.1929) and Coosje van Bruggen (1942-2009), Soft Viola, 2002, Canvas, resin, rope, metal, and latex, 104 x 60 x 22", Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Gift of The American Contemporary Art Foundation, Inc., Leonard A. Lauder, President 2002.257, © Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, Photograph by Ellen Page, courtesy PaceWildenstein.\
Claes Oldenburg (b.1929) and Coosje van Bruggen (1942-2009), Dream Pin, 1998, Graphite, colored pencil and pastel on paper, 40 x 30-3/16", Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, Gift of Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen 2001.209, © Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, Photograph by Sheldan C. Collins.
Claes Oldenburg (b.1929) and Coosje van Bruggen (1942-2009), Leaning Clarinet, 2006, Aluminum painted with acrylic polyurethane and stainless steel, 141 x 62 x 32", Collection of Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, © Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, New York, Photograph by G.R. Christmas, courtesy PaceWildenstein, New York.
Whitney Museum of American Art
945 Madison Avenue
at 75th Street
Mildred & Herbert Lee Galleries,
Kaufman Astoria Studios
Film & Video Gallery
Claes Oldenburg: Early Sculpture, Drawings, and Happenings Films
Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen: The Music Room
May 7-August, 2009
Whitney Museum of American Art presents a selection of early sculpture and drawings by Claes Oldenburg (b. 1929), as well as films of the artist’s influential Happenings, together with The Music Room, a series of works that Oldenburg made with his wife and artistic collaborator Coosje van Bruggen (1942-2009). Three Whitney curators — Carter Foster, Chrissie Iles, and Dana Miller — are organizing the presentation.
Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri celebrates the 15th anniversary of the installation of Oldenburg's and van Bruggen's Shuttlecocks with the exhibition, The Making of the Shuttlecocks, May 9-August 16, 2009
One of the most innovative artists of the postwar period, Claes Oldenburg is best known for sculptures and drawings that disrupt our expectations of how ordinary objects “behave.” In 1976, he began an extraordinary creative partnership with the art historian and curator Coosje van Bruggen that continued for more than thirty years. The Whitney has championed their work for several decades and now possesses one of the world’s largest collections. Drawn primarily from the museum’s extensive holdings of drawings, sculpture, film, and archival material, this presentation is concentrated around several distinct projects, but illuminates the larger themes of metamorphosis and artistic collaboration that are at the heart of their practice.
From the start, Oldenburg took an innovative approach to the media he used as well as to the processes of art-making and distribution. In 1961, he opened The Store, a now-legendary event, in which the act of selling objects became a kind of playful critique of the art market; the next year he staged a series of events in downtown Manhattan collectively known as Ray Gun Theater, which influenced the development of performance art during the next several decades. Among the earliest works in the Whitney exhibition are sculptures from The Store, including Braselette (1961) and The Black Girdle (1961). This presentation of material from The Store will be supplemented by loans from the collection of Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, including several sculptures, original inventory lists of items for sale, and a study for the poster advertising The Store.
Oldenburg’s early interest in environments shifted to discrete sculptural works. Using ordinary, everyday items as his subjects, he developed “soft” sculptures using pliable materials such as canvas and vinyl, which he stuffed with fillers to create malleable, mutable objects. Several iconic examples will be on view at the Whitney including Giant BLT (Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato Sandwich) (1963), French Fries and Ketchup (1963), and Soft Toilet (1966). These and other early sculptures will be complemented by several dozen of the Whitney’s works on paper by Oldenburg and by Oldenburg with van Bruggen. The bulk of the drawings were acquired in 2002 as a gift to the museum from the American Contemporary Art Foundation, Inc., Leonard A. Lauder, President, and this will be the first time that a large number of them will be shown in concert with the Whitney’s sculptural objects. These works range in date from the early 1960s to the late 1990s and include collages, prints, pages of quick notebook sketches, and carefully rendered drawings. Several of these depict proposals for feasible and non-feasible civic monuments and Large-Scale Projects.
One highlight of the exhibition is Oldenburg’s Ice Bag – Scale C (1971), which has undergone extensive conservation work in preparation for this exhibition. Oldenburg’s Ice Bag project was first conceived as part of the Art and Technology program for the U.S. Pavilion at the 1970 World’s Fair in Osaka, where an eighteen-foot version, powered by hydraulics, appeared. This version was, in the end, produced in collaboration with Gemini G.E.L. and Krofft Enterprises. The Whitney’s Ice Bag – Scale C was the third version of the subject and is the only one built with a 12-foot diameter (scale B has a four-foot diameter). It too was produced with Gemini G.E.L. and has a motorized system of fans that inflate, deflate, twist, and turn the kinetic sculpture into various positions.
Happenings formed a central strand of Oldenburg’s early work in the 1960s. What we know of them has been learned primarily through photographic documentation and published scripts. Here, for the first time, eight rare films of Oldenburg’s Happenings will be shown together in the Whitney’s Film & Video Gallery, projected in loops around the walls. Two of the films —Fotodeath (1961) and Autobodys (1967) — have not been seen since they were first screened in the 1960s, and have been restored especially for the exhibition.
Each film reveals the structure and form of Oldenburg’s approach. Carefully scripted, the Happenings were performed variously in Dallas, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and upstate New York, in old storefronts, a shack, a university hall, or in the open air, using sets incorporating draped muslin, furniture, mirrors, tables, burlap, costumes, large colored sculptural forms, and painted words. Accompanied by soundtracks using vinyl records, drums, the radio, and live sounds, Oldenburg performs with artists and friends including Patty Mucha, Lucas Samaras, Carolee Schneemann, Henry Geldzahler, Claire and Tom Wesselmann, and others, as well as volunteers in different cities.
Seen together, these revelatory films make clear the roots of Oldenburg’s interest in collaboration that were to emerge more fully in his collaborative projects with Coosje van Bruggen. A slide projection of their 1985 performance Il Corso del Coltello (The Course of the Knife), made in the streets and canals of Venice, Italy, completes the group.
The following will be shown:
Fotodeath, 1961, 16mm, b/w, silent, 12 min. Filmed by Al Kouzel — This Happening is the second part of Circus, which was performed six times in the Reuben Gallery, a store on East 3rd Street, NYC, in February 1961 (restored for the exhibition).
Ray Gun Theater, 1962, 16mm, b/w, silent. 120 min. Filmed by Raymond Saroff — Ten Happenings performed at the Store, 107 East 2nd Street, New York City, between February and May 1962: Store Days I and II, Nekropolis I and II, Injun I and II, Voyages I and II, World’s Fair I and II.
Injun, 1962, 16mm, b/w, sound, 12 min. Filmed by Roy Fridge — A daytime dress rehearsal of the Happening, filmed in an abandoned house on the property of the Dallas Museum of Art.
Autobody, 1963, 16mm, b/w, silent, 20 min. — A film of the Happening Autobodys, performed in Los Angeles in the fall of 1963 (restored for the exhibition).
Scarface and Aphrodite, 1963, 16mm, b/w, sound, 13 min. Filmed by Vernon Zimmerman — Film of the Happening Gayety, at Lexington Hall University of Chicago.
Birth of the Flag I and II, (1974, from footage shot in June 1965), 16mm, silent, 38 min. Filmed by Stan VanDerBeek, Diane Rochlin, and Sheldon Rochlin, produced by Rudy Wurlitzer, edited by Lana Jokel — A Happening in two parts, filmed outdoors in upstate New York.
Il Corso del Coltello (The Course of the Knife), 1985 — A slide projection of a large scale performance by Oldenburg, van Bruggen, and Frank Gehry in the streets and canals of Venice, Italy.
A full room has been dedicated to a series of sculptures of musical instruments by Oldenburg and van Bruggen in a presentation entitled The Music Room. In 1992 Oldenburg and van Bruggen developed a body of kindred forms derived from harps, saxophones, and clarinets. A soft saxophone from this series will be included in this presentation. Eight years later the pair was invited to conceive a work for Encounters: New Art from Old, an exhibition at the National Gallery in London. The exhibition was composed of works made by contemporary artists in response to the museum’s collection. Van Bruggen chose to explore the interiors of the 17th-century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer. More specifically she was inspired by the paintings A Young Woman Standing at a Virginal and A Young Woman Seated at a Virginal. The pair created Resonances, after J.V. (2000) in response, a window box installation of an interior with sculptural elements that will be installed at the Whitney. Resonances, after J.V. became the springboard for Oldenburg and van Bruggen, who expanded the musical theme to create several instruments. Soft Viola (2002), given to the Whitney in 2002, was prompted by the viola depicted so prominently in one of the Vermeer compositions. Here it is an instrument deprived of its function, hanging from the wall in a state of suspended animation. Like many works conceived by Oldenburg and van Bruggen, the intrinsically sculptural viola, with its voluptuous contours and art historical associations, is replete with erotic overtones.
The theme and form of musical instruments proved ideal for exploring physical and material transformations and the resulting shifts in meaning. Metamorphosis occurs here through scale and the way soft and hard forms can playfully transform our everyday perceptions of the function or performance of musical instruments. Although these have been concerns of the artists throughout their careers, the Music Room’s display brings these ideas to the fore in a particularly focused way. Musical instruments also serve as a particularly apt metaphor for the process of artistic collaboration and their group presentation creates reverberations as the sculptural instruments play off of one another.
As installed at the Whitney, The Music Room includes both hard and soft instruments of differing scales that range in date from 1992 to 2006. Among the objects included in the installation are variations on a viola, saxophone, clarinets, French horns, sheet music, and a metronome. A select group of related drawings will hang nearby, including the Whitney’s Soft Viola Island (2001), in which tiny sailboats circumnavigate the verdant shores of an island in the shape of a recumbent viola.
Claes Oldenburg (b. 1929, Stockholm) grew up in Chicago and attended Yale University (1946-50) before settling in New York City in 1956. Influenced by his environs on the Lower East Side, he created a series of performances and installations such as The Street (1960) and The Store (1961) that established him as a leading figure of contemporary art. Moving to Los Angeles and shifting his vision to The Home (1963), Oldenburg began a series of sewn and fabricated versions of ordinary household objects, including Bedroom Ensemble. On his return to New York, he began a series of drawings of objects in fantastic scale called Proposed Colossal Monuments. In 1976, a 45-foot-tall sculpture in the form of a Clothespin was realized in downtown Philadelphia, the first such work in a ‘feasible’ scale. From 1976 on, he worked in partnership with Coosje van Bruggen, whom he married in 1977.
Coosje van Bruggen was born in the Netherlands in 1942 and studied ballet as a youth. She received a master’s degree in art history with a minor in French literature from the University of Groningen prior to serving as a member of the curatorial staff in the Painting and Sculpture Department at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam from 1961 until 1971. Van Bruggen was co-editor of the catalogue of Sonsbeek 71, a multi-sited exhibition of contemporary sculpture throughout the Netherlands. In 1976, Oldenburg and van Bruggen worked together for the first time on the reconstruction and relocation of the 41-foot-tall Trowel I (1971-76) — originally shown at Sonsbeek 71 — to the Kröller-Müller Museum grounds in Otterlo. In 1978 van Bruggen moved to New York where she continued to work with Oldenburg on creating site-specific, large-scale urban works, while also serving as an international independent curator and critic. Van Bruggen was a member of the selection committee for Documenta 7 in Kassel, Germany (1982); a contributor to Artforum (1983-88); and Senior Critic in the Department of Sculpture at Yale University School of Art in New Haven (1996-97). In addition to her extensive writings on Oldenburg’s early work and on the collaborative projects, she created the characters for Il Corso del Coltello (Venice, 1985), a performance by Oldenburg, van Bruggen, and the architect Frank Gehry. Van Bruggen is the author of essays on Richard Artschwager and Gerhard Richter and books on John Baldessari, Hanne Darboven, Bruce Nauman, and Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum Bilbao.
The artistic team of Oldenburg and van Bruggen executed more than 40 permanently sited sculptures in architectural scale throughout the United States, Europe, and Japan, including Spoonbridge and Cherry (1988), Minneapolis; Mistos (Match Cover) (1992), Barcelona; Shuttlecocks (1994), Kansas City; Saw, Sawing (1996), Tokyo; Ago, Filo e Nodo (Needle, Thread and Knot) (2000), Milan; and the 40-foot-high Dropped Cone (2001) atop the Neumarkt Galerie in Cologne, Germany. Their collaboration also encompassed smaller park and garden sculptures in addition to indoor installations. Until van Bruggen’s death on January 10, 2009, Oldenburg and van Bruggen lived and worked in Manhattan, California, and France.
Claes Oldenburg (b.1929) and Coosje van Bruggen (1942-2009), Soft French Horn, Unwound, 2002, Canvas, wood, latex, and plastic tubing, 80-1/2 x 30 x 25-1/2", Collection of Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, © Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, Photograph by Todd Eberle.
Claes Oldenburg (b. 1929) and Coosje van Bruggen (1942-2009), Soft Viola Island, 2001, Charcoal and pastel on paper, 34-1/16 x 46-1/2", Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Gift of Robert J. Hurst and The American Contemporary Art Foundation, 2002.277, © Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, Photograph by Sheldan C. Collins.
Claes Oldenburg, American (b. Sweden, 1929) Coosje van Bruggen, American, (b. The Netherlands, 1942-2009), Shuttlecocks, 1994. Kansas City Sculpture Park, South Lawn, Acquired through the generosity of the Sosland Family.
Claes Oldenburg, American (b. Sweden, 1929) Coosje van Bruggen, American, (b. The Netherlands, 1942-2009), Shuttlecocks, 1994. Kansas City Sculpture Park, South Lawn, Acquired through the generosity of the Sosland Family. Photo courtesy of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art..
Controversy and Legacy: Shuttlecocks and Oldenburg and van Bruggen
Claes Oldenburg, American (b. Sweden, 1929). Coosje van Bruggen, American (b. The Netherlands, 1942-2009). The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art as a Net, 1992. Graphite and pastel on paper, 30 1/8 x 40 in. Gift of the artists.. F94-16. Image courtesy The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
Claes Oldenburg, American (b. Sweden, 1929) Coosje van Bruggen, American, (b. The Netherlands, 1942-2009). Feathers of a Shuttlecock, Flattened, 1992 Gift of the artists. F94-41/31. Image courtesy The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
Claes Oldenburg, American (b. Sweden, 1929), Coosje van Bruggen, American, (b. The Netherlands, 1942-2009). Plan for Presentation Model of Shuttlecock,1992 Gift of the artists, F94-41/37. Image courtesy The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
Claes Oldenburg, American, (b. Sweden, 1929) Coosje van Bruggen, American, (b. The Netherlands, 1942-2009). Notebook Page: Shuttlecock Sculpture Studies, 1992. Gift of the artists, F94-41/39. Image courtesy The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
4525 Oak Street
Bloch Building (gallery L8)
Inventing the Shuttlecocks
May 9-August 16, 2009
Inventing the Shuttlecocks reveals the creative process that led American artists Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen to create the four Shuttlecocks in the Kansas City Sculpture Park. The exhibition celebrates the 15th anniversary of their installation.
Whitney Museum of American Art in New York has a currently-mounted double exhibition and survey of Oldenburg's and van Bruggen's work, Claes Oldenburg: Early Sculpture, Drawings, and Happenings Films and Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen: The Music Room May 7-August 2009.
Upon their installation in 1994, the Shuttlecocks evoked admiration and provoked consternation.
“Some felt they were an affront to the Museum and everything it represented,” observed Jan Schall, Sanders Sosland Curator, Modern & Contemporary Art, at the Nelson-Atkins. “Shuttlecocks expanded the definition of art, as did the work of Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol and before them Monet and Picasso. The Shuttlecocks proved that art is not only about serious subjects. It also can create wonder and be fun,” Schall says.
The public now has embraced the fun of the Shuttlecocks. Images of the sculptures are frequently used in advertisements, web sites and brochures, not just for the Nelson-Atkins but also for Kansas City and Missouri.
Schall has assembled in the Project Space of the Bloch Building (gallery L8) the drawings, collages and models produced by Oldenburg and van Bruggen during the creative process that began formally in 1992. The Sosland family commissioned the husband and wife team to create a site-specific sculpture for the Museum. The artists took inspiration from what then was called the Henry Moore Sculpture Garden. They also explored Kansas City and considered Midwest themes and imagery.
“They thought about American Indian feathered headdresses, prairie windmills and lawn games like badminton with its racquets and „birdies,?” Schall explains. “And they also considered Kansas City jazz and legendary saxophonist Charlie 'Bird' Parker.”
Many other influences are also referenced in the drawings, including the sphinxes at Liberty Memorial whose feathered wings shield their eyes from the horrors of war, the famous Kansas aviator Amelia Earhart, and the popularity of basketball, whose inventor James Naismith famously coached the University of Kansas team. One drawing in the exhibition, which shows a tornado/net with a basketball at its vortex, was a precursor to the Shuttlecocks.
Schall relates that a key moment came when Coosje (who died in January of this year), was drawn to a painting in the Museum collection by Frederick Remington depicting an American Indian with a feather headdress.
Eventually, these varied images coalesced. The result was Shuttlecocks. The staid and solid Nelson-Atkins Building became the sagging badminton net over which they flew.
Today, the four 18-feet-tall Shuttlecocks, each weighing 5,500 pounds, are visual icons for both Kansas City and the Nelson-Atkins.
The Shuttlecocks were acquired through the generosity of the Sosland Family. This exhibition is supported by the Campbell-Calvin Fund and Elizabeth C. Bonner Charitable Trust for exhibitions.
Claes Oldenburg, American (b. Sweden, 1929) Coosje van Bruggen, American, (b. The Netherlands, 1942-2009). Shuttlecocks, 1994. Kansas City Sculpture Park, West Terrace. Purchase: acquired through the generosity of the Sosland Family. Photo by Mark McDonald courtesy of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
Claes Oldenburg, American (b. Sweden, 1929) Coosje van Bruggen, American, (b. The Netherlands, 1942-2009). Shuttlecocks, 1994. Kansas City Sculpture Park, North Plaza. Purchase: acquired through the generosity of the Sosland Family. F94-1/1, Photo by Bruce Mathews courtesy of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
Claes Oldenburg, American (b. Sweden, 1929) Coosje van Bruggen, American, (b. The Netherlands, 1942-2009), Shuttlecocks, 1994. Kansas City Sculpture Park, South Lawn, Acquired through the generosity of the Sosland Family. Photo by Josie Kern courtesy of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, Dropped Flower, 2006,Polyurethane
foam, reinforced plastic, felt, burlap, rope,aluminum, copper, expanded
polystyrene; painted with acrylic,9'8" x 16'4" x 24'2", Castello di Rivoli.
Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen: Sculpture By the Way
Castello di Rivoli
Piazza Mafalda di Savoia
Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen
Sculpture by the way
October 25, 2006-February 25, 2007
A performance produced in Venice in 1985, Il Corso del Coltello and its related works were an important turning point for Oldenburg and van Bruggten, opening up their exploration to a dialogue with architecture, literature, and theater. Developed with the collaboration of architect Frank O. Gehry, the performance focused on the image of a Swiss army knife, chosen as a symbol for a new architectural method of cutting and slicing, suitable for intervening in the historic context of Venice. In the plot of the performance, the Swiss army knife, transformed into a giant prop, the Knife Ship, became the fulcrum for the actions of the three main characters: Dr. Coltello, Georgia Sandbag, and Frankie P. Toronto. Played respectively by Oldenburg, van Bruggen, and Gehry, the characters brought together reality and fiction, past and present.
As Dr. Coltello, Oldenburg impersonated an amateur painter, unlicensed souvenir vendor, explorer, and inventor. The personification of Art, Dr. Coltello wore a costume shaped like a Swiss army knife equipped with blades.
Georgia Sandbag, the van Bruggen character, was a former travel agent turned writer, on the model of George Sand. The personification of Literature, Sandbag carried a small bundle on her back and wore a blue overcoat embellished with many labels attesting to her numerous voyages.
Frankie P. Toronto was the pseudonym Gehry chose for himself, and as a barber who dreams of being an architect, he represented Architecture. Made up of a tympanum and a series of columns, his costume was inspired by the temples of ancient Greece. In addition to enlarged versions of the characters’ costumes, the selection in the exhibition includes drawings related to the performance and other props, such as Architectural Fragments and Houseball, a sort of portable house, designed to accompany Georgia Sandbag.
Naturally open to direct encounters with the public, the art of Oldenburg and van Bruggen is developed in the privacy of their studio-home, where several projects are simultaneously under development, and where the artists expand their own intuitions in sketches and three-dimensional studies.With the intention of revealing the unique nature of their method, the exhibition presents studies from the artists’ private collection, including some works that have rarely been seen by the public (room 19). The selection consists of studies made by Claes Oldenburg between 1960 and 1977, along with some of those made together with van Bruggen, up to 2005. In their totality, they can be understood as an overview of ideas in continuous development, ready to be transformed. The studies also reveal the artists’ predilection for the recovery of the intrinsic nature of materials, which they describe as “the magic of an earlier life” that survives in each object.
As in an organic evolution, the dimensions of each study, even when minimal, can become monumental, then taking on the proportions of large-scale projects for urban spaces. Every large-scale project implies a careful study of the context by the artists. So far, Oldenburg and van Bruggen have created over forty large-scale projects, in Europe, America, and Asia.
The exhibition includes drawings related to large-scale projects, along with presentation and fabrication models (rooms 20 and 21). The selection covers the most recent works, such as Big Sweep, 2006, the project created for the Denver Art Museum in Colorado. The models on display include: Sculpture in the Form of a Match Cover – Model, a 1987 cardboard version of the large-scale project later created for Barcelona, in 1992; Model for Dropped Cone, 2000, a sculpture in the form of an overturned ice-cream cone, for the roof of a shopping mall in Cologne; and the recent Cupid’s Span – Fabrication Model, 2002. The large-scale version of the latter piece, sixty-four feet tall and almost one hundred-fifty feet long, is now installed near the Golden Gate Bridge, in San Francisco, California. Collar and Bow 1:16, 2005, is the model for a large sculpture, currently in progress, conceived for the outdoor space of the Walt Disney Concert Hall, the new auditorium designed by Frank. O. Gehry in Los Angeles. Scattered Pyramid of Pears and Peaches –Balzac/Pétanque, Model, 2001, is related to the sculpture that is now part of the collection of the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. This work developed as a reference to the figure of the famous French writer, who was notoriously greedy for fruit. Associated with the game of boules, the form of a pyramid of pears and peaches becomes dynamic and potentially subject to disintegration.As in the case of other works by Oldenburg and van Bruggen, the chosen iconography, including the napkin and knife, manifests the close relationship that ties their work to the history of art and finds precedents in paintings by Chardin, Manet, Courbet, Cézanne, and Picasso. The related drawing documents the possible location of the work in Tours, France, Balzac’s native city.
Despite functioning as prototypes, each of the models is an autonomous work, in which the artists develop their sculptural research. In some cases, one model combined with another, in an exchange that results in a new work. This is the case with Project for the Walls of a Dining Room: Broken Plate of Scrambled Eggs, with Fabrication Model of the Dropped Bowl Fountain, 1987 in Castello di Rivoli’s collection. The work takes the form of a room that has come unhinged from its floor, as if struck by an unexpected telluric upheaval. The two small domestic incidents that occur within it become a metaphor for a sudden creative impetus. In a single, organic installation, the work includes projects that were developed subsequently. In fact, it incorporates the image of a broken plate with scrambled eggs, initially conceived as a project for the walls of a dining room, with the model of a bowl from which orange peels protrude. The latter model relates to a large-scale project for a fountain created in 1990 by Oldenburg and van Bruggen for the city of Miami. Including simulated jets of water, the model develops the dynamic idea of a shattered bowl, a metaphorical response to the architectural complexity of Miami and an allusion to the heterogeneous ethnic composition of the local population.
Concepts related to shattering and disintegration frequently recur in Oldenburg and van Bruggen’s work. The European Desktop and From the Entropic Library develop these issues in different ways, but both delve into therelationship with theater and European culture, an examination that began with The Course of the Knife. In Model for The European Desktop, 1989-1990, two large desks hold objects that no longer pertain to contemporary life, such as a stamp pad, a quill, an ink bottle, a blotter, and a postal scale. The handwritten texts also appear as an element from the past and include fragments taken from Leonardo da Vinci and passages of a prose poem composed by Coosje van Bruggen. Almost like a battlefield, the surface of the desks seems subjected to disruptive forces. Inspired by the reading of a newspaper, the work has as its subject the idea of a war over national boundaries, “a battle that ultimately vanishes into willful amnesia.” The artists relate the use of gray and green tones in the work to convey the impressions aroused by visits to funerary statues in cemeteries in Milan and Genoa.
One of the major works the artists have created for the museum to date, From the Entropic Library was initially shown in Paris, in the exhibition Magiciens de la Terre, in 1989. In the artists’ own words, the work “expresses the inevitable fragility of technology and human culture in the face of the processes of nature.” It presents a series of books, perhaps abandoned by their owner, scattered with fragments of the light bulb that should have allowed them to be read. Created on an architectural scale, the books resemble monuments eroded by time, destined to lose their meaning and thus assigned to oblivion. On the base of the piece, alongside ink stains, isolated words such as smashingly,beautiful, and futility, are scattered. Erudite quotations, or fragments of casual conversations, they seem to have fallen from phrases that can no longer be connected to their original meaning. The hybrid outline of the two bookends that hold up the row of books results from the image of an elephant head joined with an outboard motor, an element present in a earlier study from 1965.
The vitality of certain intuitions and the ability to combine images into new, unusual relationships are characteristic of the collaboration between Oldenburg and van Bruggen. For this reason the exhibition path does not follow a rigid chronological order, but invites viewers to observe at close range the two artists’ continuous creative dynamism. The group of drawings collected under the title Solitude for Two constitutes yet another close-up view of their poetic universe. A collection of drawings on the pages of notebooks or sketchbooks from the mid-1980s, Solitude for Two reveals the centrality of the exchange of words and images in the artists’ method. Seen as a whole, the drawings document early ideas for projects, acting at the same time as a sort of visual diary of Oldenburg and van Bruggen’s daily life. Resonances, from J.V., 2000, emerges from the artists’ interest in 17-century Dutch painting and refers specifically to two paintings by Johannes Vermeer: A Young Woman Standing at a Virginal and A Young Woman Seated at a Virginal. Both paintings, which are in the collection of the National Gallery in London, are interpreted by the artists as successive moments of a single event, the subject of which is the love between a man and a woman. Oldenburg and van Bruggen’s work appears as a possible outcome of the story, and it stages the moment immediately following the amorous act. Like the paintings by which it is inspired, the work reproposes a Dutch domestic environment, including a viola da gamba, an envelope, a pearl earring, and Cupid’s arrow and bow. Compared to Vermeer’s canvases, however, the scene laid out by the artists is characterized by the disorder resulting from the ardor of passion. The scene is completed by the presence of an empty chair, an element also present in Vermeer’s paintings. In Resonances, it assumes the form of the Zig-zag chair, an icon of Dutch modernism, designed by Gerrit Rietveld in 1934. Another temporal shift is provided by the presence of a drawing depicting a bow and arrow embedded in the ground. “A painting within the painting,” it refers to the recent large-scale projects created by the artists for the city of San Francisco.
The world of musical instruments, with their forms and meanings, is a theme that has engaged Oldenburg and van Bruggen in recent years. Some of the sculptures created within this context are brought together to form The Music Room, preceded by the dynamic presence of Leaning Clarinet, 2006. The Music Room includes clarinets, Stradivarius violins, horns, and trumpets. Unwound, tied, or even sliced by the artists, each instrument is reconfigured in a new harmony, subjected to the laws of gravity, or endowed with emotional qualities not unlike those of human beings. The forms and colors that the artists employ seem to make tangible the sounds that potentially could be emitted, proposing an exchange between the senses of touch, hearing, and sight. If the presence of musical instruments further probes the complexity of the relationship between the work of the artists and art history, also in Dropped Flower, 2006, there are also many illustrious references that could be cited. However this work, especially created for the exhibition, appears first of all like an explosion of sensuality, and it reveals the artists’ interest in “organic” sculpture. The work has the form of a flower that has just been picked, but apparently forgotten. It seems to be shown at the moment it has touched the ground, when the tension of the air still ruffles its petals, but the force of gravity already seems about to take possession over its shape. To describe this microcosm of events, the artists have chosen a poppy, one of the most humble flowers, transformed into large dimensions. Traditionally associated with oblivion, Oldenburg and van Bruggen’s poppy seems ready to cast a spell through the vibrations of its glorious color. As the artists state, Dropped Flower can be seen through the words of Baudelaire, as one of “those mysterious flowers whose profound color imperiously seizes the eye.”
Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, Knife / Ship 1, 1985, Steel, wood, plastic-coated fabric, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York