Claes Oldenburg 1929 —


CLAES OLDENBURG    (b. 1929, Stockholm, Sweden)


If I didn't think what I was doing had something to do with enlarging the boundaries of art, I wouldn't go on doing it.

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

The true work of art is but a shadow of the divine perfection. Claes Oldenburg


Like other practitioners of Pop art, Oldenburg chose banal subjects from consumer culture, but for "soft sculptures" such as Giant Clothespin (1976) and Giant Soft Shuttlecock (1995) he chose subjects with close human associations. His frequent use of soft, yielding vinyl gave the objects human, often sexual overtones.

Philosophically, Oldenburg sees himself as a realist, not as an abstract artist. He feels art must relate to the realities of everyday life. Yet he took objects from the real world and placed them out of context, making them soft when they should be hard, large when they should be small. This paradox in his art grew out of his own nature, which was a complex mix of traditional and radical elements. "Reversing the expectations of hard sculpture, these huge collapsing objects rely on gravity and chance for their final form," having a connection with his interest in Freud and ‘free association’.

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Claes Oldenburg was born January 28, 1929, in Stockholm. His father was a diplomat, and the family lived in the United States and Norway before settling in Chicago in 1936. Claes Oldenburg graduated from the Latin School in Chicago in 1946 and then enrolled at Yale University, receiving a B.A. degree in 1950. While at Yale, his studies focused on literature and art. In 1950 Oldenburg returned to Chicago, where he remained until 1956.  He also attended the Oxbow Summer School of Painting in Saugatuck, Michigan, in 1953.

He subsequently studied art under Paul Weighardt at the Art Institute of Chicago from 1950 to 1954. During the first two years of art school, he also worked as an apprentice reporter at the City News Bureau of Chicago, and afterward opened a studio, where he made magazine illustrations and easel paintings. Oldenburg became an American citizen in December 1953.

In 1956 Oldenburg moved to New York City and became an active member of that city's thriving young artistic community. For a time he worked as an assistant in the Cooper Union Museum's library, taking advantage of the opportunity to teach himself more about the history of art. His early years in New York were shaped by his contact with other artists struggling to move beyond the confines of Abstract Expressionism, including Red Grooms, Allan Kaprow, Robert Whitman, Lucas Samaras, George Segal, and Jim Dine. All were interested in art as experience and in pushing to the limit of the question "What is art?" They began to stage "happenings" based in part on the European DADA ethos of the 1920s (and a forerunner to the 1980s performance artists). This was the beginning of the Pop Art movement.

Oldenburg's first New York exhibition took place in late 1958, when a selection of his drawings was included in a group show at Red Grooms' City Gallery. In 1959 he had his first public one-man show in New York - an exhibit of drawings and sculpture at the Judson Gallery. The Judson Gallery exhibited a series of Oldenburg’s enigmatic images, ranging from monstrous human figures to everyday objects, made from a mix of drawings, collages, and papier-maché. In 1961, he opened The Store in his studio, where he recreated the environment of neighborhood shops. He displayed familiar objects made out of plaster, reflecting American society’s celebration of consumption, and was soon heralded as a Pop artist with the emergence of the movement in 1962.  In 1962 Oldenburg's work was included in the "New Realists" Exhibition, which defined the Pop Art Movement. That show at the Sidney Janis Gallery largely defined the group of artists with which Oldenburg has since been associated.  Other major exhibitions of Oldenburg's work included a 1964 one-man show at the Sidney Janis Gallery and a 1969 retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art.

Oldenburg realized his first outdoor public monument in 1967; Placid Civic Monument took the form of a Conceptual performance/action behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, with a crew of gravediggers digging a six-by-three-foot rectangular hole in the ground. Beginning in the mid-1960s, he also proposed colossal art projects for several cities, and by 1969, his first such iconic work, Lipstick (Ascending) on Caterpillar Tracks, was installed at Yale University. Most of his large-scale projects were made with the collaboration of Coosje van Bruggen, whom he married in 1977. In the mid-1970s and again in the 1990s, Oldenburg and van Bruggen collaborated with the architect Frank O. Gehry, breaking the boundaries between architecture and sculpture. In 1991, Oldenburg and van Bruggen executed a binocular-shaped sculpture-building as part of Gehry’s Chiat/Day building in Los Angeles.

By taking mundane objects and presenting them out of context and in such colossal proportions, Oldenburg forced viewers to reassess their daily lives and values. His work was a social commentary on American popular culture and, by association, on contemporary society's approach to life itself. In 1995, a large traveling show of Oldenburg's works was organized by the National Gallery of Art and the Guggenheim Museum. It made stops in Los Angeles, London and Bonn. One work in it, From the Entropic Library (1989-90) consisted of a collection of books whose disoriented pell-mell structure fell upon a base that hosted other sheaves of text. Oldenburg's view of this work which people have termed "a monument to a disintegrating, somehow displaced European culture," was simple: "my single-minded aim is to give existence to fantasy."

Over the past three decades, Oldenburg’s works have been the subject of numerous performances and exhibitions. In 1985, Il Corso del Coltello was performed in Venice. It included the Knife Ship, a giant Swiss Army knife equipped with oars; for the performance, the ship was set afloat in front of the Arsenal in an attempt to combine art, architecture, and theater. The Knife Ship traveled to museums throughout America and Europe from 1986 to 1988. Oldenburg was honored with a solo exhibition of his work at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1969, and with a retrospective organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, in 1995. Oldenburg lives in New York.

An important source for modern and contemporary American & European Art in East Hampton, New York & worldwide, Janet Lehr Fine Arts' spectacular wide-ranging inventory consists of unique paintings, drawings, large & small scale sculpture, monotypes, prints and photographs  by Ansel Adams, Milton Avery, Richard Avedon, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Romare Bearden, Fernando Botero, Cartier-Bresson, Marc Chagall, Alvin Langdon Coburn, Willem De Kooning, Richard Diebenkorn, Thomas Eakins, Childe Hassam, David Hockney, Winslow Homer, Wolf Kahn, Jeff Koons, Fernand Leger, Roy Lichtenstein, Man Ray, Thomas Moran, Henry Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Robert Rauschenberg, Mark Rothko, Cindy Sherman, Charles Sheeler, Bert Stern, Alfred Stieglitz, Andy Warhol, Carleton E Watkins, Tom Wesselmann and Andrew Wyeth.

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View synoptic biography below.

Apple Core

Apple Core
crayon and watercolor on paper

16.25 x 13.5 inches
Signed and dated


CLAES OLDENBURG - Museums and public Collections Worldwide:

Art Institute of Chicago;

Dallas Museum of Art, Texas;

Detroit Art Institute (4 works); Michigan, 4 works online;

Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, New York City

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C,

Claes Oldenburg at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, Oldenburg and van Bruggen on the Roof;


Metropolitan Museum of Art;

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston TX;

Museum of Fine Arts Boston;

Museum of Modern Art, NY , 38 works online;  

National Gallery of Art  Washington D.C., 17 works by Claes Oldenburg;

National Gallery of Australia;Canberra, 2 works by Oldenburg

National Gallery of Art, Ottawa; 5 works

Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art; Missouri; Shuttlecocks, 1994

Norton Museum of Art; Pasadena, California

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art;

Whitney Museum of American Art; New York City

Addison Gallery of American Art; Andover, Massachusetts

Albright Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York; Ice Cream Being Tasted, 1964; Wedding Souvenir, 1966

Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin Ohio; An Alternate Proposal for the AMAM, Oberlin, Ohio, drawing; Soft Toaster; Giant Three-Way Plug

Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University, Illinois; Chicago Stuffed with Numbers

Castello di Rivoli Museum of Contemporary Art, Torino, Italy

Chinati Foundation,  Marfa TX; Monument to the Last Horse

Cleveland Museum of Art; Ohio   

Colby College Museum of Art, Maine; Typewriter Eraser, 1977

Columbia Museum of Art, South Carolina; Rolling Collar and Tie

Currier Museum of Art; New Hampshire

De Young Museum of San Francisco;

Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, University of OK; Scissors as Monument

Freud Museum, London UK;Icons in a Smoke-filled Room, print, 1996

Harvard University Art Museums, Massachusetts;

High Museum, Atlanta;  Balzac Pétanque, 2002

Indiana State University Art Collection;

Indianapolis Museum of Art;

Joslyn Art Museum; Omaha, Nebraska; The Soap at Baton Rouge

Kunstmuseum Basel, Switzerland;  Alphabetically under "O"

Lauren Rogers Museum of Art, Laurel, Mississippi   NEW!

Claes Oldenburg in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art Database, 56 entries;

Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art, Budapest;

Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, Wisconsin;

Malmo Konsthall, Sweden, Saw; Half tire with deflated tube;

Meadows Museum at Southern Methodist University; Dallas, Texas; Geometric Mouse II, cor-ten steel and aluminum sculpture, 1969-70;

Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, Grand Rapids, Michigan; Plantoir ;

Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art;  St. Louis, Missouri

Mint Museum of Art, North Carolina, Spoon Pier;

Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, Texas

Museo di Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Trento, Italy (in Italian)  

Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago
Sculpture in the Form of a Fried Egg

Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles

Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, Australia
Calico Bunnies, 1997

Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas, Texas

Claes Oldenburg at the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.
Gemini G.E.L. prints

North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh   NEW!
Tea Pot, 1975

Oklahoma City Museum of Art, Oklahoma
Flying Pizza, 1964

Orlando Museum of Art, Florida
Faucet (Lake Union, Seattle, Washington)

Orlando Museum of Art, Florida
Peace Portfolio: Injun Poster

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia

Princeton University Art Museum, New Jersey

Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, Saint Louis, Missouri

Rijksmuseum Twenthe, Enschede, Netherlands (in Dutch)

Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels

Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium Catalogue (in French)
Potato Chips in Bags

Seattle Art Museum

Serralves Foundation Museum of Contemporary Art, Porto, Portugal   NEW!
Click "O" for "Oldenberg"; see another work under "C" for "Claes Oldenburg + Coosje van Bruggen"

Sioux City Art Center, Iowa
Crusoe Umbrella, 1976

Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago

Claes Oldenburg at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.C.

Claes Oldenburg at the Smithsonian Archives of American Art, Washington D.C.
Several documents related to Claes Oldenburg's art

Tate Gallery, London, UK

The Israel Museum, Jerusalem
Apple Core, 1992

University of Iowa Museum of Art, Iowa City   NEW!

University of Virginia Art Museum, Charlottesville
Split Button Model
(Click on "thumbnails")

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond   NEW!
Clothespin Ten Foot, 1974

Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Connecticut
Leaning Fork with Meatball and Spaghetti

Walker Art Center, Minnesota

Wichita Art Museum, Kansas

Wichita State University Outdoor Sculpture Collection, Kansas
Inverted Q (TP)


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