Claes Oldenburg: Artist Portrait

Claes Oldenburg

Born 1929.
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Claes Oldenburg Biography

Claes Oldenburg’s artistic career spans the experimental decades of the American avant-garde beginning in the late 1960s. His large-scale sculpture, often presented in public spaces or made of soft or industria materials, exemplify the satirical and everyday qualities of Pop Art.

Born in Stockholm in 1929, Oldenburg moved to Chicago with his family in 1936, where his diplomat father was appointed Consul General of Sweden to Chicago. Oldenburg studied at Yale University and the Chicago Institute of Art, before becoming a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1953 and moving to New York in 1956. He met major artists of the period including Allan Kaprow, Tom Wesselmann and George Brecht, and soon became a critical member of the Happenings movement, often performing with his then-wife Patty Mucha throughout the 1960s. Beginning in the late 1960s, his performances led to experimentation with large-scale soft sculpture, for which he is now famed. From the 1970s onward, many of his works were commissioned for public spaces, in which he placed oversized sculptures of everyday objects including Spoonbridge and Cherry, 1988, at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, and Shuttlecocks at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City. Nearly all of these projects are signed with his name and that of his partner, Coosje van Bruggen, his second wife with whom he collaborated until her death in 1992. The couple joined Frank Gehry on multiple projects that function at the intersection of sculpture, architecture and performance.

Oldenburg has had several major solo shows since the early 1960s at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Tate Modern, London; the Guggenheim Museum, New York, including a 2002 retrospective of his and Van Bruggen’s drawings at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. His awards include the Wolf Prize in Arts, the National Medal of Arts and the Art Institute of Chicago’s First Prize Sculpture Award. His drawings sell for tens and hundreds of thousands, while his sculptures are valued in the millions: his Yellow Girl’s Dress sold at Sotheby’s for $1.7 million in 2008.

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