Claes Oldenburg: Early Work
On October 29th, Zwirner & Wirth will present a selection of sculpture and drawings from the 1960s by Claes Oldenburg. On view will be a group of works which established the artist as a unique figure of Pop Art, including a large selection of objects from The Store; a number of early soft sculptures from The Home; and works related to Oldenburg's Airflow project. Oldenburg's work is inspired by the realities of everyday experience: street life, consumer goods, household objects, and automobile culture are among the subjects he has explored and transformed through innovative manipulations of scale and material into mysterious, formally inventive works that address human experience in modern life.
In response to the pervasiveness of consumer culture, Oldenburg began making irregular, outsized replicas of the goods displayed in the advertisements and small shops of the Lower East Side of Manhattan, where he lived and worked. These sculptural forms were produced by soaking muslin strips in wet plaster, which were then laid on wire frameworks and painted in vibrant, layered, enamel colors. The first of these works comprised a group of wall reliefs that were exhibited at the Martha Jackson Gallery (then located at Zwirner & Wirth's present address at 32 East 69th Street), in the May-June 1961 group exhibition Environments, Situations, Spaces. These reliefs, which include Blue and Pink Panties (1961) and Two Girls' Dresses (1961), incorporate elements of painting and sculpture into a unique synthesis. These objects were the first of Oldenburg's works for The Store, an intimate, enclosed environment created by the artist in 1961 in a shop on East 2nd Street, which was filled with his versions of consumer goods. The Store functioned as a 'popular' museum of sorts; in it, Oldenburg produced, displayed, and sold his own work, not only circumventing the traditional gallery/museum contexts for exhibiting and viewing art, but also laying bare art’s function as a commodity. The inanimate items represented and displayed in The Store (and in this exhibition)–which include articles of clothing hanging suggestively on display mannequins (Mannikin with One Leg, 1961); an oversized, misshapen Red Cap (1961); a fleshy Plate of Meat (1961); and a hulking Cash Register (1961, one of the key elements of The Store), among other seductive objects–are marked by their sensuous physicality.