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Claes Oldenburg: Drawings, 1959-1977 and Claes Oldenburg with Coosje van Bruggen: Drawings, 1992-1998, in the Whitney Museum of American Art

May 22 - August 8, 2004


"I make my work out of my everyday experiences, which I find as perplexing and extraordinary as can be." Claes Oldenburg, 1960

The Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art at Pepperdine University will present Claes Oldenburg: Drawings, 1959-1977 and Claes Oldenburg with Coosje van Bruggen: Drawings, 1992-1998, in the Whitney Museum of American Art from May 22 through August 8, 2004.

This exhibition of over 75 drawings follows the career of one of the most successful sculptors and influential Pop artists of the twentieth century. It surveys his life as an artist, beginning with his first Pop Art works in the 1960s, followed by his marriage and artistic collaboration with Coosje van Bruggen in the late 1970s, and ending with their recent public projects in the late 1990s.

Oldenburg gained international fame for his Pop Art sculptures that transform common objects into whimsical constructions, using surprising and unexpected materials. His drawings reveal the creative process behind his public pieces. Oldenburg uses drawing to capture ideas and to plan fantastic projects, many of which are too large and complicated to be built. A consummate draftsman, he employs a startling variety of materials -- pencil, ink, crayon, watercolor, pastel -- to produce engaging images of ordinary things seen in extraordinary ways.

Many of these works on paper are designs for the artist's two best-known series: soft sculptures and monumental projects. Like other artists of the Pop Art movement, he was fascinated by the banal products of our consumer culture. He was particularly intrigued by everyday things with close human associations, such as bathtubs, typewriters, light switches, and electric fans. By recreating them in soft, pliant vinyl or as gigantic, imposing structures, he gave these objects a new dimension, often with alarming or humorous overtones. His drawings reveal these sculptures as he originally imagined them, as seen in a monumental teddy bear towering over New York's Central Park.

Claes Oldenburg was born on January 28,1929, in Stockholm, Sweden, but spent most of his childhood in the United States. After studies at Yale University and the Art Institute of Chicago, he moved to New York City in 1956. He established his reputation in the early 1960s with a series of installations and performances influenced by his surroundings on the Lower East Side.

Oldenburg's early interest in creating whole environments such as The Street (1960), The Store (1961), and Bedroom Ensemble (1963) soon evolved into a concentration on single sculptures. Using ordinary, everyday objects as his form of expression, he went on to develop soft sculpture and fantastic proposals for civic monuments. In 1969 he created his first monumental work, Lipstick (Ascending) on Caterpillar Tracks, which became a controversial focus for student protest when it was installed at Yale University. Other landmark public projects include a 45-feet-high Clothespin installed in downtown Philadelphia in 1976.

Since 1976 he has worked in partnership with artist and art historian Coosje van Bruggen. Together they have executed over 40 large-scale projects, which have been inserted into various urban surroundings in Europe, Asia, and the United States. One of their most recent works is the 144-feet-Iong, 64-feet-high Cupid's Span for Rincon Park on the Embarcadero in San Francisco.

This collection of Oldenburg's works on paper was assembled when the Whitney Museum began quietly acquiring the artist's drawings in the late 1990s. Today its holdings constitute the largest single collection of Oldenburg's drawings in the world. The Whitney held an exhibition of the entire group in New York in 2002, and the presentation at Pepperdine is the first time this important collection has been seen on the West Coast.

Oldenburg has had long-standing relationships with artists, architects and collectors in Los Angeles. Frederick R. Weisman, founder of the Weisman Museum at Pepper dine, commissioned the artist in 1988 to create a major outdoor work, Spoon bridge and Cherry, in Weisman's home town of Minneapolis as a tribute to his parents. Oldenburg and van Bruggen worked with architect Frank Gehry on the Main Street Project (1975-84) in Venice, CA, and Camp Good Times (1984-85) in the Santa Monica Mountains. In 1986 he created Knife Slicing Through Wall at the Margo Leavin Gallery in West Hollywood. In 1991 they designed a binocular-shaped sculpture as part of Gehry's Chiat/Day Building in Venice. The Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles hosted a traveling Oldenburg retrospective, organized by the Guggenheim Museum, in 1996.

This exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated exhibition catalog. This 224-page book features an introduction by Janie C. Lee and an interview with the artist, as well as 99 illustrations, with 92 in color. This exhibition was organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. This project is funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services by an Act of Congress. The presentation in Los Angeles is generously sponsored by the Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation. Works will be on view in the Gregg G. Juarez Gallery, Ron Wilson-Designer Gallery, and West Gallery, in the Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art.


Editor's note: RLM readers may also enjoy these earlier articles:


Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art, Pepperdine University in Resource Library.

TFAO also suggests these DVD or VHS videos:

Claes Oldenburg is a 52 minute 1997 video directed by Gerald Fox and produced by RM Arts; London Weekend Television. Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen address the critics who question the nature of their collaborative work and Coosje's contribution to it. Claes Oldenburg is a look at the works and life of the artist whose giant soft sculptures based on food and domestic items helped define Pop Art. The video also features contemporaries Roy Lichtenstein, Jim Dine and other art experts.

Large Scale Projects: Claes Oldenburg & Coosje van Bruggen is a 60 minute 2000 Museum of Modern Art video whcih covers the works of husband-and-wife artists Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. Follow the couple as they plan and execute various large-scale works, including "Knifeship" at the Guggenheim Museum, "Binocular Building" in Venice, California, and "Spoonbridge and Cherry" in Minneapolis.

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