Dropped Cone, 2001.
Claes Oldenburg was born in Stockholm, Sweden, the son of a Swedish diplomat. As a child he and his family moved to United States in 1936, first to New York then, later, to Chicago where he graduated from the Latin School of Chicago. He studied at Yale University from 1946 to 1950, then returned to Chicago where he studied under the direction of Paul Wieghardt at the Art Institute of Chicago until 1954.
While further developing his craft, he worked as a reporter at the City News Bureau of Chicago. He also opened his own studio and, in 1953, became a naturalized citizen of the United States. His first recorded sales of artworks were at the 57th Street Art Fair in Chicago, where he sold 5 items for a total price of $25. He moved back to New York City in 1956. There he met a number of artists, including Jim Dine, Red Grooms, and Allan Kaprow, whose Happenings incorporated theatrical aspects and provided an alternative to the abstract expressionism that had come to dominate much of the art scene.
The most memorable aspects of Oldenburg’s works are perhaps, the colossal sculptures that he has made. Sculptures, though quite large, often have interactive capabilities. One such interactive early sculpture was a soft sculpture of a tube of lipstick which would deflate unless a participant re-pumped air into it. In 1974, this sculpture, Lipstick (Ascending) on Caterpillar Tracks, was redesigned in a sturdier aluminum form, the giant lipstick being placed vertically atop tank treads. Originally installed in Beinecke Plaza at Yale, it now resides in the Morse College courtyard.
Many of Oldenburg’s giant sculptures of mundane objects elicited public ridicule before being embraced as whimsical, insightful, and fun additions to public outdoor art. In the 1960s he became associated with the Pop Art movement and attended many so-called happenings, which were performance art related productions of that time. The name he gave to his own productions was “Ray Gun Theatre”. His first wife -(1960–1970) Pat Muschinski who sewed many of his early soft sculptures, was a constant performer in his happenings. This brash, often humorous approach to art, was at great odds with the prevailing sensibility that, by its nature, art dealt with “profound” expressions or ideas. But Oldenburg’s spirited art found first a niche then a great popularity that endures to this day.
He has collaborated with Dutch/American pop sculptor Coosje van Bruggen since 1976. They were married in 1977.
In 1988, he and van Bruggen collaborated to create the iconic Spoonbridge and Cherry sculpture for the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, MN that remains a staple of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden as well as a classic image of the city.
In addition to freestanding projects, he occasionally contributes to architectural projects, most notably the former Chiat/Day advertising agency headquarters in the Venice district of Los Angeles, California—the main entrance is a pair of giant black binoculars. The advertising agency DDB is the current tenant.
Another well known construction is the Free Stamp in downtown Cleveland, Ohio. This Free Stamp has a small, yet energetic cult following.
In 2001, Oldenburg and van Bruggen created ‘Dropped Cone’, a large upturned ice cream cone, which can be found on top of a shopping centre in Cologne, Germany.