Day 295/365 of Steel – Claes Oldenburg

Making the Every Day monumental.

Claes Oldenburg (January 28, 1929 – July 18, 2022) was a Swedish-born American sculptor, best known for his public art installations typically featuring large replicas of everyday objects. Many of his works were made in collaboration with his wife, Coosje van Bruggen, who died in 2009.

Lipstick (Ascending) on Caterpillar Tracks, cor-ten steel, aluminum, cast resin, polyurethane enamel.
Fig 1: Lipstick (Ascending) on Caterpillar Tracks, cor-ten steel, aluminum, cast resin, polyurethane enamel.
Photo: Oldenburg van Bruggen Studio) © Estate of Claes Oldenburg

In the 1960s, Oldenburg became associated with the pop art movement. His brash, often humorous, approach to art was at great odds with the prevailing sensibility that, by its nature, art dealt with “profound” expressions or ideas. Many of Oldenburg’s large-scale sculptures of mundane objects elicited ridicule before being accepted.

Claes Oldenburg Clothespin in Philadephia, steel sculpture
Fig 2: Claes Oldenburg Clothespin in Philadephia, steel sculpture
Photo: Caitlin Martin, courtesy Association for Public Art

His sculptures are mostly made out of steel, aluminum and fiber-reinforce plastic. “My intention is to make an everyday object that eludes definition,” he once said. He rarely depicted people; instead he focused on items closely associated with human needs and desires.

His first realized “Colossal Monument,” as he called this type of work, was “Lipstick (Ascending) on Caterpillar Tracks.” A giant tube of lipstick mounted on tractor wheels, with obvious phallic and military overtones, was rolled onto Yale’s campus in 1969 at the moment Vietnam War protests and the student movement were rocking colleges and universities across the country.

'Troffel (Trowel)',  Steel painted with polyurethane enamel
Fig 3: ‘Troffel (Trowel)’, Steel painted with polyurethane enamel
Photo: FaceMePLS

His collaboration with Dutch/American writer and art historian Coosje van Bruggen came when Oldenburg was commissioned to rework Trowel I, a sculpture of an oversize garden tool, for the grounds of the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo in the Netherlands. In 1988, the two created the iconic Spoonbridge and Cherry sculpture for the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.

About the Author:

Bruno Dursin – Managing Director at Believe in Steel. Bruno has more than 30 years of experience in promoting steel & steel solutions. His clients benefit from his extensive network within the building industry.

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