Claes Oldenburg - Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Thursday, May 10, 2012 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Charles H. Carpenter, Jr., Pittsburgh (acquired from the artist, 1962)
    Sale: Christie's, New York, Post War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale, November 15, 2006, lot 35
    Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    New York, Green Gallery, Claes Oldenburg , September 24 – October 20, 1962, no. 15
    Pittsburgh, Carnegie Museum of Art, Charles H. Carpenter, Jr.: The Odyssey of a Collector, March 23, 1996 – June 9, 1996; New York, The Whitney Museum of American Art, January 16, 1997 – March 9, 1997
    Ridgefield, Connecticut, The Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, Fifty Years of Supporting the New: The Charles H. Carpenter Jr. Collection, September 22 - December 31, 2002

  • Literature

    L. Lippard, Pop Art, New York, 1966, p. 112, no. 89 (illustrated)
    C. Carpenter and K. Larson, Charles H. Carpenter, Jr.: The Odyssey of a Collector, Pittsburgh, Carnegie Museum of Art; New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, 1997, p. 64 (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Everything I do is completely original – I made it up when I was a little kid.


    (Claes Oldenburg: Skulpturer och teckningar, exh. Cat. Stockholm: Moderna Museet, 1966, n.p.).

    In 1956 Claes Oldenburg moved from Chicago to New York, marking the point at which he transitioned from painting and drawings to his self-described work “based on intuition.” By February of 1960 he began the series The Street, a body of work which was inspired by the debris collected on the streets of the city. The found objects—wrappers, plastic cups, cardboard, thrown-out food—became painted constructions, transforming the once discredited things into objects of downtown urban culture. Out of this series, Oldenburg developed an interest in extending art into a theatrical realm. “Pretending,” he explained, “is the natural equipment of the artist.” (Claes Oldenburg Notes, New York, June 1968). Inspired by Allan Kaprow’s elaborate 18 Happenings in 6 Parts, 1959, Oldenburg began to stage Happenings, in which the props and costumes consisted of readily available materials such as cardboard, newspaper, and other remnants left and discarded after a production. He sought to infuse the objects with an afterlife. It was from the props made for these performances that Oldenburg began the stuffed-fabric, soft sculptures, of which the present lot, Popsicle, Hamburger, Price, 1961-1962, is exemplary. Claes Oldenburg has emerged as the master of the quotidian, transforming the mundane into the extraordinary.

    Attracted by the cheap and common objects inundating the shelves of dime stores and shop windows, the present lot is comprised of a thick red Popsicle, a derelict hamburger, and a beat-up price tag of 10 cents. Using the merchandise and advertisements that surround the New York neighborhoods, Oldenburg explains, “I take the materials from the surroundings of the Lower East Side and transform them and give them back.” (Oldenburg, quoted in Paul Cummings, unpublished interview, December 4, 1073-Janaury 25, 1974, p. 81, on file at the Archives of American Art, Washington, D.C., p. 105). Made of canvas stuffed with kapok, and painted with enamel, the elements are colored with dull primary hues—red, yellow, blue—reminiscent of the consumer products dowsed in commercial paint, lining storefront windows and aisles. The enamel paint is unmixed and layered directly on the surface of the object, creating a kind of thick and opaque skin. These merchandise objects, known as the Store objects, were first presented in a group show held at Martha Jackson Gallery in the spring of 1961.

    Stemming from these early merchandise pieces, in the summer of 1962, Oldenburg made his first soft canvas pieces—Floor Cake, Floor Burger, and Floor Cone, all 1962. These larger works are known by Oldenburg as “anti-base,” for they are intended to be hung like a coat, or thrown on the ground, existing off-base from the structural forms we know them to be. The sculptures are intended to interact and become a part of the space in which they are situated. In the present lot, we see a cascade of everyday objects, starting with the price tag, leading to a dangerously falling hamburger, and finally a thick juicy red Popsicle hanging upside down, all against a cream colored background. Each item is drenched in layers of lackluster pigment, and much larger than their actual dimensions. The forms are cartoonish, and coupled with the gargantuan scale and subdued palette, they become parodies of their real forms.

    The soft material which puckers along the seams of the store items alludes to an organic, almost living object. They are not detached or impersonal, as seen when lining the aisles, but imbued with breath and sensuality; humanity is grafted into a piece of cardboard or fabric, paint or plaster. Oldenburg explains, “Why should I even want to create ‘art’ – that’s the notion I’ve got to get rid of. Assuming that I wanted to create some thing, what would that thing be? Just a thing, an object. Art would not enter it. I make a charged object ‘living.’ An ‘artistic’ appearance or content is derived from the object’s reference, not from the object itself or me.” (Claes Oldenburg, Store Days: Documents from The Store (1961) and Ray Gun Theater (1962), New York, 1967, p. 8). Here, Oldenburg purports the removal and distance of the artist from the object; the depersonalization or suspension of the artist’s subjectivity. After this, we are left with only the objects before us—the price, the hamburger, and the popsicle—from which we must recall our own references and memories of the everyday objects from our childhood summers.

    In their larger than life forms, the store items become something tactile that swell and dilate, fatten and bend, withdraw and expand, beings into which one can sink one’s hands or teeth. These disarmingly simple and common objects belong to no will, obey no plan or preconceived notions of their purposes. They are neither inanimate nor anthropomorphic. They exist only if we lend them our own bodies and memories, if we give ourselves over to the objects. It is in this transference that the objects are imbued with a life force, with a lasting fleshy presence. With their foundation made from prosaic materials—canvas, kapok, and enamel— they also function as crude forms inseparably linked to their past as urban scraps and trash. However, as objects, Oldenburg has lent them weight and gravity that make them hang down like bodies or even meat. They become a waterfall of primary colors and rudimentary forms, all possessing a corporeal, organic, ambient and vital destiny as a sculpture.

    “In soft objects, the expressionism is built it. But the effect need not be seen as expressionistic. Once the room space is established, the mass of air and light is taken into account, and the ‘skin’ of the subject is thinned to give the illusion of participating in the whole space (though the effect is gravity). The model of the animate body, with its interchange through the skin with its surrounding, is combined with the inanimate subject. The soft sculptures are therefore not objects in the sense of the hard isolated objects of Dada or Surrealist period.” (Claes Oldenburg, “Chronology of Drawings,” Studio International, London, 1970, no. 923). Oldenburg embraces the refuse and trash of everyday life, contrasting the consumerist impulse to discard possessions as soon as they lose their luster and efficiency. The present lot is a celebration of the already made object, in all its complexity and autonomy.


Popsicle, Hamburger, Price

canvas stuffed with kapok, painted with enamel
overall dimensions: 41 x 20 x 11 in. (104.1 x 50.8 x 27.9 cm)
Signed with initials and dated “C.O. 1962” on the reverse of each element.

$400,000 - 600,000 

Sold for $458,500

Contemporary Art Evening Sale

10 May 2012
New York