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Claes Oldenburg

Claes Oldenburg

American, 1929 -

Being one of the first sculptors to abandon Abstract Expressionism and embrace Pop Art in his work, Claes Oldenburg is recognized for the important role he played in the history of sculpture. He creates artworks of everyday objects including saggy hamburgers, cakes, trowels, spoons, and clothespins, which have grown in size and ambition throughout his career. Magnifying everyday objects disrupts the viewer’s previous relationship with the objects, reminding them of how small they are. His works are inspired by the development of American consumerist culture as well as Surrealism. 

Oldenburg was born in Stockholm, Sweden in 1929 and moved with his family to Chicago, Illinois in 1936. He studied Literature, Art History and Studio Art at Yale University and later worked and studied in Chicago. In 1953, he moved to New York and pursued a full-time career as an artist. During the 1950s, Oldenburg became acquainted with artists such as Yoko Ono, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol and Jim Dine.

In 1960, Oldenburg produced his first soft sculptures of kitsch and domestic objects that were inspired by his life in the Lower East Side of New York. They were constructed using scavenged cardboard, newspapers and poster paint. Throughout the decade, as his sculptures gained recognition and fame, the materials he used became more sophisticated and the sizes became much larger.

Oldenburg won the Wolf Prize in Arts in 1989, the National Medal of Arts in 2000, the Skowhegan Medal for Sculpture in 1972, and numerous other awards throughout his career. He has also received many honorary degrees from universities and colleges. His work is currently in the collections of the MoMA and the Guggenheim Museum in New York, NY, the Tate Modern in London, England, and many more including various public installations.