Claes Oldenburg

Claes Oldenburg


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Claes Oldenburg born 1929
Lithograph on paper
Support: 570 × 444 mm
Transferred from Tate Archive Poster Collection 2015


Claes Oldenburg 1962 is a lithographic poster printed in black and green ink. It provides details of Oldenburg’s first uptown New York exhibition held at the Green Gallery from September to October 1962. The dominant image is a rough drawing of a biplane overlaid by four diagonal green stripes, the broken outline of which describes a circle or viewfinder. The artist’s surname is printed prominently in large capital letters beneath the biplane image. Above the surname, in smaller capital letters ranged to the left, is the artist’s forename. Opposite this, inverted and printed in green, is the forename of his then wife, Pat. The critic Gene Baro has stated of the image: ‘The biplane motif acknowledges the collaboration of the artist’s wife in the making of the sculptures and “getting us aloft” in their first uptown show. It is also a two-sexed image.’ (Gene Baro, Claes Oldenburg: Drawings and Prints, London 1969, p.13.) With this image Oldenburg announced an ongoing collaboration with Pat (Patty Mucha, his first wife), a collaboration which would continue with a different emphasis with his second wife, Coosje van Bruggen. Although copies of the poster were folded for mailing, this example has no folds, suggesting it had a different purpose.

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 – 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.

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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