Claes Oldenburg: January 28, 1929 – July 18, 2022

I am for an art that is political, erotical, mystical, that does something more than sit on its ass in a museum.
– Claes Oldenburg

Claes Oldenburg, known for his giant sculptures of everyday objects, died in his SoHo home and studio on Monday, July 18th, 2022. The cause of death was complications after a fall. Oldenburg was 93.

Oldenburg was born in Stockholm in 1929. His mother was a concert singer, his father a Swedish consular officer. The family moved to Chicago in 1936. He graduated from Yale in 1950, where he studied literature and art history. After graduating, he worked as a reporter in Chicago, then an illustrator in San Francisco. He became a United States citizen in 1953 and moved to New York in 1956, where he began his long and successful sixty-year career as an artist.

During his early years, Oldenburg staged performances and “Happenings’ with fellow artists like Jim Dine and Donald Judd. His first exhibition, at the Judson Gallery in May 1959, included drawings, collages and objects made of papier-mâché. He made large sculptures of everyday objects, that viewers could interact with on a tactile level. “My intention is to make an everyday object that eludes definition,” he said. “At the bottom of everything I have done, the most radical effects, is the desire to touch and be touched. Each thing is an instrument of sensuous communication.”

In 1977, Oldenburg  married Dutch-born American sculptor, art historian and critic Coosje van Bruggen. They collaborated on many of his large, public sculptures, like the 45-foot Cor-Ten Steel Clothespin, commissioned by the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority in 1976, the bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence.  Clothespin faces City Hall in downtown Philadelphia and has become an iconic landmark. The steel spring on the Clothespin appears as the number 76.

Oldenburg and van Bruggen were married for 32 years, until her death in 2009.

His younger brother, Richard, who died in 2018, spent 22 years as director of the Museum of Modern Art and later was chairman of Sotheby’s America.

Claes Oldenburg was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 2000 by President Bill Clinton. His works had a profound influence on Jeff Koons, and Damien Hirst, artists who both use humor and irony in their work. Claes Oldenburg’s works are part of the permanent collections of most major modern art museums in the United States and Europe.

“The only thing that really saves the human experience is humor.” Oldenberg said. “I think without humor it wouldn’t be much fun.”

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References:
Martha Schwendener. Claes Oldenburg Dies at 93; Pop Artist Made the Everyday Monumental. The New York Times. July 18, 2022.
Ellen Wexler. Claes Oldenburg, Who Transformed Everyday Objects Into Towering Sculptures, Dies at 93. Smithsonian Magazine. July 19, 2022.
Deborah Solomon. Claes Oldenburg Captured a Carefree (and Consumerist) America. The New York Times. July 19, 2022.