Lot 29
  • 29

Claes Oldenburg

1,500,000 - 2,000,000 USD
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  • Claes Oldenburg
  • Yellow Girl's Dress
  • signed with initials and dated 1961 on the reverse

  • enamel on plaster over muslin and wire
  • 31 1/4 x 32 x 6 in. 79.4 x 81.3 x 15.2 cm.


The Store, New York 
Jean and Leonard Brown, Springfield (acquired from the above in 1961)
Christie's New York, May 12, 1998, lot 9
Eileen and Peter Rhulen, New York (acquired from the above sale)
Peter Freeman, Inc., New York
Private Collection, Europe
Peter Freeman, Inc., New York
Acquired by the present owner from the above in 2005


New York, Martha Jackson Gallery, Environments, Situations, Spaces, May - June 1961
New York, Ray-Gun Mfg. Co., The Store by Claes Oldenburg, December 1961 - January 1962
Dallas, The Dallas Museum for Contemporary Arts, 1961, April - May 1962
Princeton, University Art Museum, extended loan, 1973 - 1998
New York, Peter Freeman Inc., Claes Oldenburg: Works from The Store, 1961, November 2003 - January 2004


Claes Oldenburg, Store Days: Documents from the Store (1961) and Ray Gun Theater (1962), New York, 1967, inventory no. 60, p. 55, illustrated in color
Barbara Rose, Claes Oldenburg, New York, 1970, p. 201, illustrated (Store installation)
Exh. Cat., Frankfurt, Museum für Moderne Kunst, Claes Oldenburg, 1991, pl. 21, p. 18, illustrated in color (Store installation)
Exh. Cat., Washington, D.C., National Gallery of American Art (and traveling), Claes Oldenburg: An Anthology, 1995, pl. 51, p. 108, illustrated in color (Store installation)
Exh. Cat., New York, Museum of Modern Art, Jackson Pollock, New York, 1999, p. 75, fig. 48,  illustrated
Exh. Cat., Paris, Centre national d'art et de culture Georges Pompidou, Les Années Pop, 2001, pl. 61.23, illustrated in color (Store installation)
Exh. Cat., New York, Zwirner & Wirth, Claes Oldenburg: Early Work, October - December 2005, fig. 15c, p. 13, illustrated in color (Store installation)


This work is in very good condition overall. The plaster edges are stable and secure. As is typical of the artist's plaster works, the enamel paint has some scattered areas of cracking overall, which all appear stable. The central portion is relatively free of cracking with only a few scattered linear cracks. Specific areas of cracking to note: a network of cracking in the right sleeve = intermittently in the right side of the skirt = networks in the lower left quadrant of the skirt. Several crevices have accumulated airborne dust and dirt. On the reverse, there are certain tips that are contact points with the wall and have resultant rubs and losses to the paint that reveal the underlying plaster. A few scattered areas of white plaster in crevices in the interior of the reverse appear to have been left unpainted at time of execution. Under ultraviolet light there is evidence of scattered inpainting corresponding to many of the scattered cracks. Areas of particular note: intermittent at outer blue edges of both left and right sleeves and ¼ - ¾ in. areas at the tips of pink and yellow pigment in the upper left sleeve == small losses and a 1 ½ x 1 inch X-shaped crack on the uppermost bulge of the upper right sleeve== scattered cracks approximately an inch in from the top edge of the center of the neckline==in the bottom blue hem of the skirt, primarily on the bottom right edge (front and lateral sides) and the lower left edge and tip of the hem.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

"The fact that The Store represents American popular art is only an accident, an accident of my surroundings, my landscape, of the objects which in my daily coming and going my consciousness attaches itself to. .... in my art I am concerned with perception of reality and composition. Which is the only way that art can really be useful, by setting an example of how to use the senses." –Claes Oldenburg, 1961

Exhibited at Oldenburg's The Store, the celebrated storefront installation that combined art, commodity, and commerce, Yellow Girl's Dress is an art historical time capsule of Pop art's golden era. The Store was a friendly overfilled room where painting, sculpture, architecture, theatrical display and setting came together in delicious vulgarity. Unlike The Street, Oldenburg's show at the Judson Memorial Gallery (Spring 1960), an environment which consisted of deliberately coarse figures made from ripped cardboard and other shabby material found on the streets of the Lower East Side, The Store presented Oldenburg's appreciation for the artistic and the mundane. First installed at the Martha Jackson Gallery (1961) in a group show entitled "Environments, Situations, Spaces," The Store opened at 107 East Second Street in the winter of 1961. In the words of Barbara Rose, The Store "represented the dissolution of the museum-gallery situation and seems in many respects a forerunner of the kind of integration of art into the community that artists are demanding today. To take art out of the museums, Oldenburg decided to invent his own museum of the slums—for essentially, The Store was conceived as a museum of popular art. It was also the temple of money, the appropriate shrine of a materialistic culture. In The Store Oldenburg recreated the articles he passed every day in his slum neighborhood: the cheap underwear and sleazy dresses from Orchard Street, the food displayed in bodegas and delicatessens along Second Avenue." (Exh. Cat., New York, Museum of Modern Art, Claes Oldenburg, 1970, p. 64-65)

As with other works displayed at The Store, Yellow Girl's Dress reveals a precedence of form over any subject matter. Indeed, the banality of subject matter and fragmentation is paramount in the work of Claes Oldenburg. "I have made these things, a wrist watch, a piece of pie, hats, caps,...all violent and simple in form and color, just as they are. In showing them together, I have wanted to imitate my act of perceiving them, which is why they are shown as fragments (of the field of seeing), in different scale to one another,...and in accumulation rather than in some imposed design."(Claes Oldenburg, notebook entry, New York, 1961; cited in Coosje von Bruggen, Claes Oldenburg, Mouse Museum/Ray Gun Wing, Cologne, Museum Ludwig, 1979, p. 16) Democratic in its intelligibility, Yellow Girl's Dress conveys Oldenburg's central artistic premise: to reach a general audience through the experience of recognizable visual art. Oldenburg created artworks which: "while adhering to the conventions of modernism, would nevertheless remain accessible to every man on his own terms. The full message of Oldenburg's art might be understood only by the cognoscenti, but some aspect of it was available to all." (Barbara Rose, Op. Cit., 1970, p. 66)

Drawing inspiration from the mundane to delve beneath surface appearances in search of what he has called "parallel realities," Oldenburg creates metaphorical associations that subvert categorical assertions. In Yellow Girl's Dress, Dada, Surrealism, and contemporary sub-cultures coalesce into a distinct vocabulary where the objet d'art is fully transformed within the context of The Store. Oldenburg wanted the pieces created for The Store to have "an unbridled intense satanic vulgarity unsurpassable, and yet to be art," he wrote. Ultimately, the reliefs were constructed of plaster on chicken wire and muslin, painted with commercial house-paint enamel, splashed on straight out of the can. They were blotched, spattered, and over-painted like a city wall. Almost in a reversal of his original intent, Oldenburg admitted that during the period he was making the objects for The Store he had in fact, "begun to understand action painting...in a new and peculiar sense," (Ibid, p. 65) By accepting certain aspects of Abstract Expressionism, namely the role of chance in dripping and pouring paint, Oldenburg felt that "by parodying its corn I have (miracle!) come back to authenticity!" More confident, he no longer had to reject his former heroes but could give their art a new lease on life, by crossbreeding it with vulgar, lower-class culture: "I feel as if Pollock is sitting on my shoulder, or rather crouching in my pants!" (Ibid, p. 65)  By February 1962 Oldenburg began to focus his attention on the Ray Gun Theater and the soft sculpture that would establish him as a preeminent figure of the 1960s generation. As a precursor to these artworks, Yellow Girl's Dress announces the birth of a new sculptural language and The Store is today regarded as a landmark of great historical relevance.