Claes Oldenburg

Claes Oldenburg at Dwan gallery


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Claes Oldenburg born 1929
Lithograph on paper
Support: 556 × 432 mm
Transferred from Tate Archive Poster Collection 2015


Claes Oldenburg at Dwan Gallery 1963 is a poster that was produced by Oldenburg for his first commercial show on the West Coast of America, held at the Dwan Gallery, Los Angeles, in October 1963. It incorporates a sketch of a slightly fiendish-looking Mickey Mouse looking down at a red heart above the handwritten text ‘l.a. / oct 1-26’. The artist’s surname and the gallery details are printed below these elements. The poster represents the first appearance of the Mickey Mouse motif in Oldenburg’s work, a motif that would subsequently reappear in 1965 as a mask – based on the form of a film projector seen in profile – for the performance Moveyhouse. The motif appeared again in 1966 as the design for a building in the shape of a mouse’s head intended to house Oldenburg’s collection of popular objects. The related Geometric Mouse form was adapted and further developed by Oldenburg after a visit to the Disney Studios in Los Angeles in 1968. Oldenburg has addressed the motif throughout his career, and has confessed to an identification with the image: ‘I’m the Mouse’ (quoted in Oldenburg: Six Themes, exhibition catalogue, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis 1975, p.25). This signals a new form of self-inscription, following his earlier identification with the Ray Gun Mfg. Co. for his installation The Store 1961 (see The Store 1961, Tate P13743).

The poster was conceived as a work in its own right, rather than as pure publicity material, and was included in the publication Oldenburg: Works in Edition (1971) and again in Printed Stuff: Prints, Posters, and Ephemera by Claes Oldenburg: A Catalogue Raisonné 1958–1996 (1997). A sculptor who moves between performance and graphic art, Oldenburg treats his work as a totality in which key themes and motifs interweave in a variety of media. Taken as a whole, his graphic works represent a number of themes that have structured his practice throughout his career (see, for example, System of Iconography – Plug, Mouse, Good Humor, Lipstick, Switches 1970–1, Tate P07096). These motifs range across media, from performance and sculpture to the graphic arts, and include a shifting sense of scale, size and location, as well as exchanging hard for soft and organic for machine-made materials. Oldenburg sees this activity not as a series of discrete and isolated pursuits, but as a totality through which he engages with and represents the reality that he encounters every day. As the historian Martin Friedman explained in 1975:

Oldenburg’s art is a totality. The themes, each manifested in different media, are intimately related. Detailed drawings of objects, hastily scrawled notes, fragments of poetry, cardboard models, muslin and vinyl soft sculptures, and the recent large industrially fabricated steel pieces are elements of a total view. His ‘performance pieces’ that continued into the mid-1960s and combined people, objects and environments are essential to this view.
(Friedman in Oldenburg: Six Themes, exhibition catalogue, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis 1975, p.9.)

Claes Oldenburg at Dwan Gallery – and the larger body of graphic works of which it is an example – represents one piece within a constantly evolving oeuvre; a ‘total’ work that responds, in multiple media, to the variety and ephemerality of the everyday, material world. In this case, Oldenburg incorporated a ubiquitous element of popular iconography that would inform much of his later work.

Further reading
Claes Oldenburg: Works in Edition, exhibition catalogue, Margo Leavin Gallery, Los Angeles 1971.
Richard H. Axsom and David Platzker, Printed Stuff: Prints, Posters, and Ephemera by Claes Oldenburg: A Catalogue Raisonné, New York 1997.

Andrew Wilson
November 2014

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