Monday, December 23, 2013

Visiting Claes Oldenburg's Early Years

Minneapolis imagines itself as especially close to sculptor Claes Oldenburg, thanks to the Walker Art Center. It goes beyond Spoonbridge and Cherry to the many other examples in the Walker permanent collection (Shoestring Potatoes Spilling from a Bag, Three Way Plug, Geometric Mouse - Scale A in yellow metal).

It was nice to see all those familiar friends, regrounded in a broader retrospective of Oldenburg's work in the 1960s. I confess I knew nothing about his early years or how he came to make giant three-dimensional renderings of everyday objects. And I had no idea about the process he goes through to figure it all out, so that was neat to see.

A few favorites: The Moveyhouse Masks, from a 1965 happening. I know they're early versions of Oldenburg's exploration of the Mickey Mouse shape, and its combination with the shape of the film projector, but to me they also overlay the image of Disney with that of the Klan.


Another piece that surprised me because I hadn't heard of it before was the Mouse Museum (1972).

In case it's not obvious from this picture (borrowed from the Quin Hotel), it's a large 3D space, made out of cardboard and other materials in the shape of Geometric Mouse. You walk inside, ten people at a time, to find a collection of over 400 objects, arranged in shallow, lit cases, built into the walls at eye level.

As the Guggenheim put it, "His Mouse Museum collection represents many of the artistic questions that Oldenburg has dealt with throughout his career: unexpected scale, mutated forms, low art as high art, found objects, and alternatives to the traditional museum or gallery experience."

These plastic or wax female figures were four or five inches tall.

The tiny bucket of spilt milk was never made into a large sculpture, I don't believe.

Another favorite part of the exhibit was the sketches and models for Lipstick (Ascending) on Caterpillar Track. Originally commissioned by students and faculty at Yale, the sculpture was moved around the campus and used as a free speech platform, literally. The speaker would inflate the lipstick, which would then lose altitude the longer the speech went on. The work was damaged through use, weathering, and vandalism over the months, but was replaced several years later by a permanent, more durable version that remains to this day.

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