Claes Oldenburg, the sculptor whose works combined fanciful maximalism with the minutia of everyday life, has passed away at the age of 93. No immediate cause of death was given, although it was known that Oldenburg was recovering from a hip fracture.
For much of his career, Oldenburg’s goal was to bring artistry to the mundane. His work often deified common objects like hamburgers, bowling balls, ice cream cones, and binoculars. In his own view, Oldenburg’s work represented realism blown up to its biggest possible proportions without losing the character that was inherent in the objects that he was portraying.
“I am for an art that embroils itself with the everyday crap & still comes out on top,” Oldenburg wrote in a 1961 essay. “I am for an art that imitates the human, that is comic, if necessary, or violent, or whatever is necessary. I am for an art that takes its form from the lines of life itself, that twists and extends and accumulates and spits and rips, and is heavy and coarse and blunt and sweet and stupid as life itself.”
One of Oldenburg’s earliest works was ‘The Street’, an installation consisting of garbage that was staged right outside of New York City’s Washington Square Park. Although a number of his early works reflected the urban landscape of New York, Oldenburg later transitioned to a more refined style.
Oldenburg is perhaps most famous in the United States for his sculpture ‘Spoonbridge and Cherry’, a gravity-defying piece that currently resides in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. In 2000, Oldenburg was awarded the National Medal of Arts for his dedication to sculpture and public commissions within the United States.
Many of Oldenburg’s pieces were collaborations with his wife Coosje van Bruggen, who died in 2009. The works of Oldenburg and Bruggen are now being transferred to and represented by the Pace Gallery along with the Paula Cooper Gallery, both located in New York City.
“I was honoured to have this great friendship with one of the most radical artists of the 20th century,” Pace founder Arne Glimcher said in a statement. “In addition to his inextricable role in the development of Pop art, he changed the very nature of sculpture from hard to soft, and his influence can be seen to this day.”