Posts tagged Sculpture

In elementary school I had the same art teacher from Kindergarden through the 5th grade. One year, she taught us about pop art. She told us to think of ordinary objects that we could make out of clay, so I made a glass 7 up bottle with a crack in it. (I decided since pop art was a movement from the 60s, I should do a vintage ordinary object. Plus my dad had a cool 7 up wooden crate and I wanted him to like my work, so it seemed linear at the time). The broken bottle was my favorite sculpture I ever made, but I was as terrible at glazing then as I am now, so it came out 'statue of liberty green,' leaving me slightly disappointed. This was one of my first lessons in how difficult it is to get something you see so vividly out of your head correctly.

Looking back at pop art is not always easy for me because a lot of what popularized it is really terrible in my opinion. And some of what pop artists did later in their careers (during the 90s especially) is unforgivable. But, growing up in Southern California, I've always had a thing for fake food displays, which were found at fast food restaurants like Foster's Freeze's. These little displays always seemed like accidental pop art to me.


In the vein of Foster's fake food displays, while poking around on pinterest recently, a friend of mine (Dorothy Hoover) posted a picture of Claes Oldenburg's The Store. I had never heard of Claes Oldenburg, but his work caught my eye, so naturally, I began researching.

The Store, 1961-1962 First Claes Oldenburg work to catch my eye

The Store, 1961-1962
First Claes Oldenburg work to catch my eye

Claes Oldenburg was born on January 28, 1929 in Stockholm. Son of a Swedish diplomat, Oldenburg spent his early years in New York until 1936, when his family moved to Chicago. In early adulthood, Oldenburg studied literature and art history at Yale between 1946 to 1950, and continued his education back home at the Art Institute of Chicago.

In 1956, Oldenburg moved to New York where he worked in the library of the Cooper Union Museum for the Arts of Decoration. After three years of working in this enviroment, Oldenburg started to make figures, signs and sculptural objects out of papier-mâché, and everyday materials. This work led to his first exhibition, The Street in 1960-1.


The Street exhibited at the Judson Gallery (at the Judson Memorial Church, my favorite location for art in NY during the 60s and 70s). The exhibition showcased ordinary objects and everyday consumer goods made from cardboard, burlap, and newspaper that recreated scenes from street life in New York City.

Abstract Expressionists are credited for having introduced ordinary objects in their artwork beginning in the 1940s, but it wasn't until pop art hit New York that these ordinary objects were not only depicted, but they were also used as medium. During this time, Oldenburg fueled a movement that influenced other artists through the 1970s, opening up a variety of media as fair game.

The Store - First Gallery Exhibition at Green Gallery

The Store - First Gallery Exhibition at Green Gallery

In 1962, Oldenburg created my favorite exhibition, The Store, which was a comedic display of a somewhat distopic throwback to New York's Five and Dime stores where everything from mops and men's shirts, to canned foods and seasonal decor could be purchased. In a rented store front in the East Village, Oldenburg again used materials from everyday objects. 

Years after the exhibition, a compilation of Oldenberg's writings were published as Writing on the Side, including a 1961 diary entry where he discusses his concept behind The Store:

The Store, or My Store, or the Ray Gun Mfg. Co., located at 107 East 2nd St., NYC, is eighty feet long and is about ten feet wide. In the front half, it is my intention to create the environment of a store by painting and placing (hanging, projecting, lying) objects after the spirit and in the form of popular objects of merchandise, such as may be seen in store windows of the city, especially in the area where The Store is (Clinton St., for example, Delancey St., 14th St.).

This store will be constantly supplied with new objects, which I will create out of plaster and other materials in the rear half of the place. The objects will be for sale in The Store.

From the entries published in Writing on the Side, we learn that leading up to his creating The Store, he meticulously catalogued every sandwich, can of beer, box of cigarettes and brand of soap he purchased, as well as every cafe and restaurant he visited as a reference for his body of work. 

From here, Oldenberg continued to create and work with ordinary objects, making an ongoing series known as Soft Sculptures. These are some of the funniest pieces in my opinion, because with the help of his first wife, he sewed oversized everyday objects such as cake (which he hilariously calls Floor Cake), toilets, and household appliances. Considering the early 60’s was still feeling the affects of the 1950’s futuristic, perfect, automated, domestic ideologies, Oldenberg's almost grotesque, and very hand-made portrayal of these objects was a jab at the American Status Quo, and perhaps at the same time, an homage to what seemed like a dwindling way of American Life.

Around the same time that Oldenberg started making sculptures, he also participated in performance art at the Judson & then later at The Store. These performances made by pop artists were known as Happenings, and Oldenberg's particular theatre was called Ray Gun Theatre. The main idea behind pop art was to take art out of the 'white walled gallery' and 'off its pedestal;' an idea that had not yet become palatable to the everyday art lover. By turning the audience into "just another object" the performances were meant to express the frustrations artists had with the status of the art world at the time.

From the attention received between The Street, The Store, and Soft Sculptures, as well as his time working at the Judson, Oldenberg is now credited with helping create the Pop Art movement, which began in New York. But shortly after his first exhibitions, Oldenberg moved to Los Angeles in 1963, "because it was the most opposite thing to New York [he] could think of." (Funny because I left LA for NY for the exact same reason). 


Once in LA, Oldenburg created a performance called AUT OBO DYS, a quintessentially Los Angeles performance done in a parking lot. After this work, Oldenburg shifted his focus to sketching and idealizing large-scale sculptural monuments in public spaces. In 1967 his first sculpture was afforded by New York city cultural adviser Sam Green. This was Oldenburg's first outdoor public monument known as Placid Civic Monument, which was a performance made behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art with a crew of gravediggers digging a 6'x 3' rectangular hole in the ground.

Oldenburg was met first with criticism and opposition, because his works he wanted to create were gigantic public sculptures of ordinary objects. But today, most of Oldenburg's recognizable work comes from this period and is displayed in public spaces throughout the United States.

To be honest, I appreciate his progression, but I LOOOOVE the 60’s work and just don't appreciate his later work as much. For this reason, I'm not posting any pictures here but you can find them very easily on the internet.

However, fast forward more than 50 years and Oldenburg's Store is showing up as a major influencer for in recent exhibitions, including a fake Bodega in NY's meatpacking district and at the Volta Fair in NY where clay/plaster mops, bottles of Tide detergent and an overturned studio stool covered in chewing gum directly recreate objects using Oldenburg's concepts behind The Store.


Courtney Cady, © Bagtazo 2017




Every designer likes to think of themselves as original in some way, but I also like to consider my influences, who my predecessors are, and which of my contemporaries work in a similar vein. I like to do this with other trends and design themes, in order to get a better understanding of where they're coming from.

This month I participated in COEUR Tradeshow for LA Market Week, and was struck by the repetition of postminimalism in accessory design. Though postminimalism came about in the 1960s, and remained a dominant style in art and music through the 70s, there seems to be a new wave of postminimalism in artisanal wares as of late.

At the show, I saw a lot of pieces that resembled the late artist Eva Hesse's work, made in the 1960s. Using misshapen, almost playful lines, the application of rope and other everyday objects; materials containing many characteristics of postminimalist visual art: necklaces, pottery, bags, and apothecary goods by designers from New York, California, and even Australia are being made in this style. This new movement makes sense to me, as designers are likely reacting to the very minimal trends of plain sack dresses and monochromatic outfits that permeated the last five years of fashion.

But now that we're here collectively, I think it's important to study a forerunner. Both to pay homage, and to better educate ourselves on what has already occurred so that we might build upon, rather than repeat.

Eva Hesse was born in Germany in 1936 to a Jewish family. During WWII Hesse and her sister were sent to England to flee the Nazis, and were met by her parents a few years later. Once reunited, she and her family went to New York in 1939 where they lived together in Washington Heights until 1944 when Hesse's parents divorced. A year later, her mother committed suicide. Hesse was only ten years old.

Hesse had an impressive art education, having graduated from the School of Industrial Art in New York as a teen, followed by brief studies at Pratt Institute of Design and Cooper Union, before receiving a BA from Yale in 1959. At Yale she studied under Josef Albers, an abstract expressionist who greatly influenced Hesse.

Following her education, Hesse met her husband, sculptor Tom Doyle. The two went to Germany together in 1965 where they lived in an abandoned textile factory during Doyle's artist residency. Living in a dilapidated industrial space, Hesse began to use left over parts from factory machines and other industrial materials in her work. 

Though the year in Germany with Doyle ended in divorce, Hesse's work was forever changed. Returning to New York, she focused solely on sculpture – moving away from painting to working exclusively with three dimensional objects. 

Hesse's 'anti-form' style, along with her use of latex, resin and other industrial materials gained recognition, allowing her to exhibit her work of large-scale sculptures in a solo show at the Fischback Gallery in New York in 1968. But four years after Hesse returned to New York, the same year of her first solo show of sculptures in the US, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Hesse underwent three surgeries before dying a year later at the age of 34, ending her career at a mere 10 years of work.

Though Hesse was not an outright feminist, she did call her work "feminine" because she was a woman. Nevertheless, in addition to influencing designers today, she also impacted feminist artists from the late 60s through the 80s with her ability to find recognition and to live as a working artist during a time when the art world was dominated by men. Hesse had six exhibitions in the short ten years she worked, two of which were solo shows, something that was virtually unheard of for a woman at the time.

Though Hesse's life and work were cut short, her legacy lives on, and great efforts have been made to preserve her early paintings, as well as her later drawings, drafts, and sculptures. To this day, Hesse's work is debated among critics because of the difficulty in discerning what of her work is complete, and whether to call a drawing a draft for future sculptures, or finished work. Hesse has had numerous posthumous retrospective shows, as much of her work is in the collections of the Guggenheim, MoMA, and other art centers around the world.

Courtney Cady © Bagtazo, 2015