Claes Oldenburg

Soft Drainpipe - Blue (Cool) Version


Not on display

Claes Oldenburg born 1929
Acrylic on canvas and steel
Object: 2591 × 1876 × 356 mm
Purchased 1970

Display caption

An advertisement for a drainpipe was the source for this work. Like many of Oldenburg's sculptures, it renders a familiar object strange through its recreation in surprising materials and colours. The transformation of hard into soft objects is a recurrent theme in his sculpture. Adjusting the pulley can alter the appearance and dimensions of the work, producing a variety of shapes that suggest a crucified figure, an elephant's trunk and ears, or male genitalia.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

Claes Oldenburg born 1929

T01257 Soft Drainpipe-Blue (Cool) Version 1967

Not inscribed
Canvas, metal, painted with Liquitex, 102 x 73 7/8 x 14 (259 x 187.5 x 35.5), measurements variable, adjustable by pulley
Purchased from the artist through the Sidney Janis Gallery (Grant-in-Aid) 1970
Exh: New Work by Claes Oldenburg, Sidney Janis Gallery, New York, April-May 1967 (3, repr.); Claes Oldenburg, Museum of Modern Art, New York, September-November 1969 (107); Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, January-March 1970 (116, repr.); Städtische Kunsthalle, Düsseldorf, April-May 1970 (112, repr.); Tate Gallery, June-August 1970 (123, repr.); Claes Oldenburg: Object into Monument, Art Institute of Chicago, January-February 1973 (works not numbered, repr. in colour)
Lit: Ellen H. Johnson, Claes Oldenburg (London 1971), pp.42, 44, repr. pl.28 in colour
Repr: Barbara Rose, Claes Oldenburg (New York 1970), p.173

This work is intended to hang out from the wall. Its dimensions can be altered by adjusting the pulley, which also produces a variety of shapes: a crucified figure, an elephant's ears and trunk, and a penis are some of the analogies that come to mind. Its pendant is 'Soft Drainpipe - Red (Hot) Version' 1967, which was cut from the same pattern but was made out of red vinyl filled with styrofoam pellets. It differs not only in colour and texture, but in that it is stuffed and does not retract. Instead of being mounted on the wall, it hangs from a metal rack and its lower part rests on the ground.

Oldenburg has described in the catalogue of his exhibition Claes Oldenburg: Object into Monument, 1971-3, p.45 how the drainpipe theme originated through his 'playing around with the letter T as a title page for a section on my work in the catalogue of a show for Toronto - looking for an object that would fit this letter. This was in Sweden, and there I found an advertisement showing what looked like a soft drainpipe but was, in fact, a hard drainpipe demonstrating possible bends and curves. This fit the need for a T and was the first use of the drainpipe object.'

In the same year Oldenburg also made several other variations on the drainpipe theme, notably projects for two colossal monuments for Toronto based on drainpipes. The principal one, for which a model and six drawings exist, was a monument proposed for the shoreline of Toronto, intended to rise 850 feet in a T shape and to contain a water supply that empties in a waterfall at the base sited between public recreation areas ('Proposed Colossal Drainpipe Monument (Toronto) with Waterfall'). He envisaged it as being filled with water and having a plastic top on which helicopters would land and, underneath that, a giant swimming pool. The second, for which there are only two drawings, was for a concealed monument with the drainpipe sunk vertically into the ground, to be viewed through a small hole by a person lying face downwards on the ground ('Proposed Colossal Underground Monument - Drainpipe'). His exhibition at the Sidney Janis Gallery in 1967 also included 'Model, Giant Drainpipe' in styrofoam and cardboard; 'Exercising Drainpipes' in electrical wire, glue and liquitex (a series of T shapes twisted into animated, dance-like positions); and 'Raw Red Drainpipe' in canvas, wire, glue and liquitex.

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.570-1, reproduced p.570

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