Claes T. Oldenburg
Wolf Prize Laureate in Arts 1989
Claes T. Oldenburg
“who, over some three decades has invested prosaic objects with historic and mythical allusions. For all the simplicity of their subject matter, they are statements about metamorphosis and invite the observer to reflect upon life’s processes “.
Claes T. Oldenburg came to prominence in the late 1950s as part of a somewhat irreverent group of young artists determined to create a new imagery that reflected popular culture. For these brash American Pop Artists, objects of everyday life could provide an endless supply of subject matter. Over the years, Oldenburg has remained true to this conviction. By exploring the properties of mundane, ubiquitous and seemingly anti-artistic forms, such as electrical plugs, baseball bats, cigarette butts, clothespins, toothpaste tubes, flashlights and umbrellas, he has created an iconography that is at once remarkably universal and highly subjective.
Oldenburg’s objects, whether rendered in soft, pliable materials such as stuffed cloth, or in hard durable wood or metal, are his dramatis personae, and on occasion, take on human attributes. The apertures and prongs of a giant, soft three-way plug suggest a human figure in hapless balance. His forms seem always to be in the process of metamorphosis; so much so that they are filled with multiple meanings. A giant spoon, for example, when its bowl is seen head-on, subtly transforms itself into a ship´s prow. Through his unique alchemy, Oldenburg invests the most prosaic objects with historic and mythical allusions so they become talismans that invite endless associations on the part of the observer.
Though primarily known as a sculptor – and lately, one who with his wife and collaborator Coosje van Bruggen has been increasingly involved in creating large-scale works that have become part of urban contexts throughout the world-he is also a master draftsman, in fact, one of the century´s greatest. The origins of many of his large-scale works are in quick sketches on the pages of small notebooks, which are his visual diaries. Many of these notations are amplified in more fully realized drawings in which he explores the psychological as well as formal possibilities of particular themes. His is an art not only of gentle irony and extraordinary inventiveness, but also of considerable aesthetic accomplishment. Underlying his renditions of even the most prosaic of these is a sure and original sense of form, color, texture – the cardinal elements traditionally associated with artistic excellence. For over three decades, he has been an insightful commentator on the contemporary world, and through his art is a timeless student of its aspirations, values and contradictions. Through his lexicon of its mundane artifacts, he enables us to perceive this world in constantly fresh terms.