Claes Oldenburg, Whimsical Father of Pop Art, Passes Away at Age 93

Claes Oldenburg Passes Away at Age 93
Claes Oldenburg Passes Away at Age 93

Claes Oldenburg, a major figure in Pop Art and a master of visual satire, passed away at the age of 93. Paula Cooper, whose gallery represented him, confirmed his death on Monday.

Cooper said, “It was thrilling to work with Claes, whose odd take on things was delightful and could completely turn one’s mood around.”

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Claes Oldenburg Dies At 93

Lipstick, rubber stamps, hamburgers, cherries on the end of a spoon, and other objects were rendered on a giant scale by Oldenburg and displayed in public spaces. According to an interview he gave to All Things Considered in 2011,  “We like the idea that the sculptures are not all in, say, New York or someplace — that they’re scattered around the cities of America and Europe. … There are a lot of people you’re never going to reach. But we have reached, I think, quite a few people in all parts of the country.”

Claes Oldenburg Passes Away at Age 93
Claes Oldenburg Passes Away at Age 93

Claes Oldenburg was born on January 28, 1929, in Stockholm, Sweden, to a diplomatic family. His father served as consul general for Sweden in Chicago beginning in 1936. In the early 1950s, Oldenburg attended the Art Institute of Chicago after studying literature and art history at Yale.

Moving to New York in 1956, he was quickly immersed in the city’s burgeoning conceptual and performance art scenes. His first New York exhibition, held at the Judson Gallery in 1959, featured pieces made from commonplace objects like paper and string. Two years later, he opened an exhibition called The Store in a downtown storefront inspired by local shops and featured plaster replicas of commonplace grocery items.

However, he soon began to focus on the massive, singular works that would become his trademark. For the majority of his career, he worked hand-in-hand with his late wife, artist Coosje van Bruggen, whom he wed in 1977 and who passed away in 2009.

The Whitney Museum of American Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York both featured retrospectives of Oldenburg and his wife Claes Oldenburg’s collaborative work, and the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim Museum in New York both featured retrospectives of Oldenburg’s individual work.

However, it is the public works that Oldenburg (either alone or in collaboration with van Bruggen) created, such as the giant rubber stamp with the word “FREE” in Cleveland, the “Binoculars Building” in Los Angeles, and the “Giant Clothespin” in Philadelphia, that are arguably the most enduring and literally most accessible.

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