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Claes Oldenburg (b. 1929) and Coosje van Bruggen (1942-2009), Soft Viola Island, 2001, 
Charcoal and pastel on paper, 
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

 

       
 

Happenings

 
 

Collaborators & Feats of Clay!

   

 

  

 

The Whitney, the 1966 Breuer building is an old favorite: all gray granite-clad concrete and glass, strangely angled windows like huge eyes, flaunting its top-heavy upside-down Babylonian ziggurat form on staid Madison Avenue.  Its plain, white-walled rooms a perfect setting to display the inventive and sometimes curious developments in modern American art. Currently on exhibit is the work of Claes Oldenburg, who was born in Sweden and moved to America with his family at the age of 7, and later became one of our great Pop artists.  In 1976, he began a creative and amorous partnership with curator and art historian Coosje van Bruggen (1942-2009).  They married in 1977 and together formed a formidable artistic team, working on many large-scale projects together.  On display at the Whitney are Oldenburg's early sculptures, drawings, and Happenings films, as well as an installation called The Music Room, which showcases his collaborative work with van Bruggen (on view are a series of drawings and sculptures of musical instruments, as well as a slide show of their civic pieces). 

 

There are, of course, the artist's 'soft sculptures', old standards, the art that he is famous for - such as his 1963 Giant BLT (Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato Sandwich) and French Fries and Ketchup.  

 


Raymond Saroff, Claes Oldenburg "Happenings": Ray Gun Theater, 1962. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
 

The rarer Happenings films were only recently rediscovered.  In the 1960s, Oldenburg created the somewhat hard-to-define category called Happenings, experimental theatrical events of sorts -- and rare film footage of these are projected in loops around the walls of the museum's Film & Video Gallery.  Oldenburg used random and found objects as sets (draped muslin, mirrors, old furniture) and partly scripted these oddly deconstructed works.  These Happenings were performed with friends throughout the country in abandoned or empty houses, old stores, or en plein air.  The music was improvised (LPS, the radio, live noises, drums) and performed by Claes or his friends.  Oldenburg described them as a mishmash of "weather, geography . . . home life, crime, products, food, traffic, heroes, entertainment..."  Their lack of structure lends them a wild, exciting quality.  The films were shot by different filmmakers and are significant in that they show Oldenburg's particular interest in working with other people -- an interest which he took to greater lengths in his later collaborative work with Coosje van Bruggen.

 

See: Claes Oldenburg, The Whitney

 

Visit: www.oldenburgvanbruggen.com

 


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