Claes Oldenburg

Lipsticks in Piccadilly Circus, London


Not on display

Claes Oldenburg born 1929
Printed paper on postcard on board
Unconfirmed: 254 × 203 mm
Presented by Hannah Wilke 1972

Display caption

In this postcard collage Oldenburg raised an everyday cosmetic item to a monumental scale. Made during his stay in London at the height of the ‘swinging sixties’, it embodies the popular, expendable, sexy imagery of Pop art. Oldenberg remarked: ‘For me, London inspired phallic imagery which went up and down with the tide - like mini-skirts and knees ... like the up-and-down motion of a lipstick’. To replace the Victorian statue of Eros in Piccadilly Circus with lipsticks lifted from an advertisement was, therefore, to update one vision of sexuality with another.

Gallery label, April 2009

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Catalogue entry

Claes Oldenburg born 1929

T01694 Lipsticks in Piccadilly Circus, London 1966

Inscribed 'Lipstick mon'. b.l. on mount and 'Oldenburg 1966'. b.r.
Magazine cutting on postcard, 4 1/8 x 5 1/2 (10.4 x 14) on card mount, 10 x 8 (25.4 x 20.3)
Presented by Hannah Wilkie 1972
Prov: Hannah Wilkie, New York (from the artist)
Lit: Gene Baro, 'Oldenburg's Monuments' in Art and Artists, 1, December 1966, p.30; Claes Oldenburg and Suzi Gablik, 'Take a Cigarette Butt and make it Heroic' in Art News, LXVI, May 1967, p.31 repr.; Barbara Rose, Claes Oldenburg (New York 1970), p.111 repr.; Barbara Haskell, Claes Oldenburg: Object into Monument (Pasadena 1971), p.95 repr.
Repr: The Tate Gallery 1972-4 (London 1975), p.27 in colour

Claes Oldenburg visited London for the first time in October-November 1966 and worked in a studio at Alecto Ltd. while preparing his first London one-man show at the Robert Fraser Gallery, which opened on 22 November. As he told Suzi Gablik, loc. cit.: 'My first grasp of London was the tide of the Thames, and the sense of constant rising and falling, ebb and flow. So I devised a giant copper ball which could be placed in the river, and which would rise and fall with the tide like the plumbing in a toilet. Then everything seemed to key into this idea of rising and falling, the way it did around the idea of sleep in Sweden. I became obsessed with phallic forms (I have a general inclination to see phallic forms, but I am not wrong in seeing London as obsessed with them) ... For me, London inspired phallic imagery which went up and down with the tide - like mini-skirts and knees and the part of the leg you can see between the skirt and the boot, like the up-and-down motion of a lipstick, like the cigarette butt ...'

His projects for London monuments made at this time included a single giant lipstick for Piccadilly Circus made to rise and fall with the tide (a crayon and watercolour drawing for this, showing the lipstick in different stages of extension and retraction, is in the collection of Kimiko and John Powers, Aspen, Colorado), and also this project on a postcard for a cluster of lipsticks. Both the 'monuments' were designed to replace the fountain of Eros. Oldenburg told the compiler that he was careful not to choose one of the postcards of Piccadilly Circus which had been used by Dieter Roth and that the colour picture of lipsticks was cut from an advertisement in one of the many magazines he bought in London. He thinks that it may have been included at the last minute in his exhibition at the Robert Fraser Gallery (though it is not in the printed list of exhibits), but Robert Fraser says it was not shown there.

The lipstick theme later culminated in a retractable lipstick monument on caterpillar tracks for Yale University, made in 1969.

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, pp.569-70, reproduced p.569

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