Oldenburg Biography

Claes Oldenburg was born in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1929. After living in New York City, Rye, New York, and Oslo, Norway, he moved to Chicago in 1936. Oldenburg attended Yale University from 1946 to 1950 and became an American citizen in 1953. Following work as an apprentice reporter at the Chicago City News Bureau and studies at The Art Institute of Chicago, he settled permanently in New York City in September 1956.

Using as his subject matter the common and commercial objects in his urban surroundings, especially the city’s Lower East Side, Oldenburg established himself at the beginning of the 1960s with a series of installations and performances, among them The Street (1960), The Store (1961), and Ray Gun Theater (1962), which contributed significantly to the emergence of American Pop art. During a stay in Los Angeles in 1963, he focused on subjects inspired by what he called The Home, including the installation Bedroom Ensemble (1963). He went on to create performances in Los Angeles (Autobodys, 1963), Chicago (Gayety, 1963), Washington, D.C. (Stars, 1963), New York (Washes and Moveyhouse, 1965), and Stockholm (Massage, 1966). In 1964, after showing sculptures based on European edibles in Paris, he returned to New York and, continuing to use ordinary, everyday objects as his means of expression, developed "soft" sculptures and fantastic proposals for buildings and civic monuments.

At the end of the decade, Oldenburg took up fabrication on a large scale with Lipstick (Ascending) on Caterpillar Tracks (1969), which became a controversial focus for student protest when it was installed on the campus of Yale University, followed by other works such as Geometric Mouse (1969), Giant Ice Bag (1970), Giant Three-Way Plug (1970), Standing Mitt with Ball (1973), and Alphabet/Good Humor (1975). His first sculpture to be realized in urban scale, the 45-foot-high Clothespin, was installed in downtown Philadelphia in 1976.

Since then, working with his partner and wife, the late Coosje van Bruggen, he has placed 45 Large-Scale Projects in the USA, Europe, Japan, and Korea, including another Philadelphia project, the Split Button (1981), on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania. Like the other sculptures created by the couple, the new commission for PAFA will involve the transformation and enlargement into architectural scale of a common object selected for its relation to a specific site.

Van Bruggen was born in Groningen, The Netherlands, in 1942. She received a Master’s degree in art history with a minor in French literature from the University of Groningen prior to serving as a curator at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam from 1961 until 1971. Van Bruggen was a member of the selection committee for Documenta 7 in Kassel, Germany (1982); a contributor to Artforum (1983-1988); and a Senior Critic in the Department of Sculpture at Yale University (1996-1997). In addition to her extensive writings on Oldenburg’s early work and on the collaborative projects, she was the author of essays on Richard Artschwager and Gerhard Richter and books on John Baldessari, Hanne Darboven, Bruce Nauman and Frank O. Gehry. Van Bruggen and Oldenburg continued working together creating large-scale public works all over the world until her untimely death in January 2009.

The works of Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen include Batcolumn (1977), Harold Washington Social Security Center, Chicago; Flashlight (1981), University of Nevada, Las Vegas; Stake Hitch (1984), Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, Texas; Spoonbridge and Cherry (1988), Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota; Bicyclette Ensevelie (Buried Bicycle, 1990), Parc de la Villette, Paris; Binoculars, Chiat/Day Building (1991), Venice, California; Free Stamp (1991), Willard Park, Cleveland, Ohio; Mistos (Match Cover, 1992), Vall d’Hebron, Barcelona; Inverted Collar and Tie (1994), Mainzer Landstrasse, Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany; Saw, Sawing (1996), Tokyo International Exhibition Center, Big Sight, Tokyo; Ago, Filo e Nodo (Needle, Thread, and Knot, 2000), Piazzale Cadorna, Milan; Flying Pins (2000), Eind- hoven, the Netherlands; Dropped Cone (2001), Neumarkt Galerie, Cologne, Germany; Cupid’s Span (2002), Rincon Park, San Francisco; Big Sweep, (2006), Denver Art Museum, Denver, Colorado; Spring (2006), for Cheonggyecheon Stream, Seoul, South Korea; and Tumbling Tacks (2009), for Kistefos, Norway.

Awards of the team include Distinction in Sculpture, Sculpture Center, New York (1994); Nathaniel S. Saltonstall Award, ICA, Boston (1996); Partners in Education Award, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (2002); and Medal Award, School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (2004).

Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen have together received honorary degrees from California College of the Arts, San Francisco, California, in 1996; University of Teesside, Middlesbrough, England, in 1999; Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 2005; the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, Michigan, in 2005, and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, 2011.

Claes Oldenburg has also received honorary degrees from Oberlin College, Ohio, in 1970; Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois, in 1979; Bard College, New York, in 1995; and Royal College of Art, London, in 1996, as well as the following awards: Brandeis University Sculpture Award, 1971; Skowhegan Medal for Sculpture, 1972; Art Institute of Chicago, First Prize Sculpture Award, 72nd American Exhibition, 1976; Medal, American Institute of Architects, 1977; Wilhelm-Lehmbrück Prize for Sculpture, Duisburg, Germany, 1981; Wolf Foundation Prize in Visual Arts, Israel, 1989; Brandeis University Creative Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement,     The Jack I. and Lillian Poses Medal for Sculpture, 1993; Rolf Schock Foundation Prize, Stockholm, Sweden, 1995; and the National Medal of Arts, Washington DC, 2000. He is a member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters since 1975 and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences since 1978.