Catalogue entry

Claes Oldenburg born 1929

P77106 Screwarch Bridge State II 1980

Etching with spitbite and aquatint 595 x 1285 (23 3/8 x 50 1/2) on Arches Roll paper 790 x 1460 (31 1/8 x 57 1/2); plate mark 597 x 1287 (23 1/2 x 50 5/8); printed by Patricia Branstead at Aeropress, New York and published by Multiples Inc., New York in an edition of 35
Inscribed ‘Oldenburg' b.r. and ‘9/35' b.l.
Purchased from Waddington Graphics (Grant-in-Aid) 1985
Lit: ‘Prints & Photographs Published', Print Collector's Newsletter, vol.12, Sept.-Oct. 1981, p.112-13; [Cor Blok], Claes Oldenburg: The Screwarch Project Commissioned by the Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam 1978-82, Rotterdam 1983, repr. p.28. Also repr: Tate Gallery Report 1984-6, 1986, p.99; Claes Oldenburg, ‘In The Wake Of The Screwarch' in A Bottle Of Notes And Some Voyages: Claes Oldenburg, Coosje van Bruggen, exh. cat., Northern Centre for Contemporary Art, Sunderland 1988, pp.130-45. Also Repr: Tate Gallery Report 1984-6, 1986, p.99

P77106 is a hardground etching with aquatint and spitbite and was made in 1980 as part of the Screwarch Bridge project on which Oldenburg had been working since 1976. Two other states of the print were published; state I which was printed in line only (repr. [Blok] 1983, p.19) and state III which is similar to state II except for the addition of monotype watercolour (repr. ibid., p.29).

The screw has been an element in Oldenburg's vocabulary of images since 1969 when he designed a rising and falling screw which was intended for the courtyard beside the Gemini GEL studio in Los Angeles (repr. ibid., p.12). He has also used the motif in a proposal for a cemetery in Sao Paolo in 1971 (repr. ibid., p.13). The soft screw motif was first explored in a sculpture of 1969 (repr. ibid., p.13) and further developed in a multiple and a series of lithographs published by Gemini GEL in 1976 (repr. ibid., pp.14-15). The first screwarch was depicted in a lithograph of 1975-6 entitled ‘Arch in the Form of a Screw, for Times Square, N.Y.C.' (repr. ibid., p.15).

P77016 depicts a twin span bridge, in the form of two arching screws, over the Nieuwe Maas in Rotterdam. In 1976, the association of the screw motif with Rotterdam was made by Oldenburg's partner and, later, his wife, the art historian Coosje van Bruggen who remarked that, as a tool, it was appropriate to a largely working class city and that the Dutch word ‘Schroeven' implied both screw and propeller and therefore related to ships in the port. According to Blok, Oldenburg continued to work on the theme of the screwarch, making several drawings of screwarch bridges stimulated by the bridges he saw on his travels in Holland and, specifically, one near Amsterdam, those spanning the rivers at Deventer and Dordecht and the Van Brienoord Bridge near Rotterdam.

On hearing of a project to build a new bridge across the Nieuwe Maas, Oldenburg began work on a proposal for a screwarch bridge in December 1977. His initial conception was of a single span bridge but he soon developed the idea into a double span. In January 1980 he began working on a model and around the same time commenced work on the etchings. According to Blok, he used ‘a drawing started in 1978 and templates from it' (p.21).

In November 1978 the Director of the Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Wim Beeren, discussed the purchase of a group of work by the museum including an etching of the project. It was not initially envisaged that there would be three related etchings. The first two states were made successively between January and June 1980 and the third state was completed in June 1981. Oldenburg described the bridge as ‘a realistic fantastic proposal' (ibid., p.3). Although he made scale models and drawings for the screwarch Bridge his proposal was not adopted by the city.

In 1976, Gemini GEL published an article by Melinda Wortz entitled ‘Claes Oldenburg: the Soft Screw' to which the artist replied. In his reply he stated that the screw was not intended as a sexual object, that

The Screw with its spiral, is a basic form, and that is why I was drawn to it ... The Screw is a restatement in the area of ‘mechanical nature' of the palm tree form ... If its origin in the palm tree is kept in mind, the transition to a soft or flexible version of the Screw is quite easy to imagine. I had also been impressed by the curve in relation to gravity produced in the century plant, another, to me, fairly exotic growth common in the LA area ... The flexible version of the Screw is particularly interesting because of what happens to the path of the spiral in the curved position (‘Claes Oldenburg: Added Comments').


Oldenburg also stated that he was ‘interested in movement and in the conversion of states, for example, from a still-standing state (seemingly) to a moving state, or from an inanimate state to an animate one'.

Oldenburg has worked on one other bridge image, namely a drawing entitled ‘Bridge over the Rhine in the Shape of a Colossal Saw' 1971 (repr. [Coosje van Bruggen], Claes Oldenburg, exh. cat., Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, April 1977, no.168).

This entry has been approved by the artist.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1984-86: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions Including Supplement to Catalogue of Acquisitions 1982-84, Tate Gallery, London 1988, pp.439-40