Claes Oldenburg is one of the chief exponents of American Pop Art. He belongs to a generation of artists who, beginning in the 1960s, wanted art to be less elitist, aiming at making it radically popular and true-to-life. Thanks to his creative panache, he propagated a new type of art that “drips, is heavy and dull and as sweet and silly as life itself.”
The exhibition at the Museum Ludwig offers the most comprehensive overview of the artist’s oeuvre to date, covering his artistic development from the late 1950s to the mid-70s. Numerous works and ensembles, gathered in a rarely seen density, illuminate how his artistic vocabulary emerged. The first is the historically significant installation “The Street,” a group of figures made from cardboard, burlap, and newspaper as well as other used materials. It takes its inspiration from graffiti depicting Manhattan’s darker sides. “The Store” is an installation from 1961 and is taken from his New York store/studio, where he presented reproductions of everyday objects, mostly clothes and edibles with such titles as “White Shirt,” “Brown Jacket,” and “Pastry Case.”
In 1963 Oldenburg began his series, “The Home,” consisting of replicated household objects in different sizes and made of diverse materials which he rendered in soft, hard, giant, and ghost versions. At the time, Oldenburg discovered vinyl as substance and began to design objects with meticulous surfaces that do, however, lack resilience and that the laws of gravity pull to the floor. Among the objects are a fan whose flabby wings hang down, a toilet bowl that collapses onto itself, and a huge saggy mixer suspended from the ceiling. All of a sudden, these everyday objects seem strange and irritating. Devoid of their usual function, our gaze is drawn to their form.
A highlight of the exhibition is the “Mouse Museum,” originally created for documenta 5 (1972) and presenting 385 curious objects and studio models that Claes Oldenburg collected over the years, among them a pen in the shape of a woman’s leg, an oversized toothbrush, and a piece of cake made of plastic. Such objects form a walk-in closet of Oldenburg’s sources.
Other aspects of the show include largely unknown archival materials such as magazine clippings; many of the motifs are reencountered in his sculptural oeuvre. There will also be Super-8 films that Oldenburg shot himself as well as documentaries about his happenings. Achim Hochdörfer from Vienna’s mumok curated the exhibition. A further European venue will be the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. Afterwards, the show will travel to the Museum of Modern Art in New York and to the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.
The exhibition is supported by the Peter und Irene Ludwig Stiftung, the Commerzbank-Stiftung, the Terra Foundation for American Art and Ströer Deutsche Städte Medien GmbH as Mediapartner.
Exhibition Curator: Dr. Stephan Diederich