Claes Oldenburg

"I am for an art that is political-erotic-mystical, that does something other than sit on its ass in a museum."

- Claes Oldenburg, Store Days, (New York, 1967), p. 39

Claes Oldenburg has redefined monumental sculpture and revealed the significance of the everyday with his 'Large Scale Projects'. His huge sculptures of household objects encourage passers-by to reconsider the visual and historic resonances of their settings. Since 1976 he has collaborated with the art historian Coosje van Bruggen, his wife.

Oldenburgh attended Yale University, U.S.A., studying literature and art history from 1946 to 1950. He studied at the Art Institute of Chicago from 1950 to 1954, under Paul Weighardt, while working as an apprentice reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago.

A diplomat's son, Claes Oldenburg grew up in Chicago from 1936. He took American citizenship in 1953. After graduating from Yale and the Art Institute of Chicago, in 1956 he moved to New York City. During the 1950s and early 1960s, Oldenburg created 'Happenings' and installations reflecting his urban environment, including modern domestic interiors (Bedroom Ensemble, 1963). Oldenburg's sculptures of the 1960s depicted consumer products of modern American city life, reproducing hard objects (telephones) in soft materials, or small objects on an inflated scale. From the mid-1960s, he designed monuments reproducing similar items on a gigantic scale for public settings. Some were realized only as drawings or prints (Proposal for a Monument to the Survival of the University of El Salvador: Blasted Pencil (which still writes), 1983). Since 1969, however, many have been erected.


1993Creative Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement, Brandeis University

Photography: © John Bryson, courtesy Oldenburg Archives