Claes Oldenburg Facts

Claes Oldenburg is an American sculptor, best known for his large public sculptures of oversize everyday objects. He has also produced drawings, paintings, and soft sculpture replicas of household objects.

Facts About Claes Oldenburg

  • Claes Oldenburg was born in Stockholm, Sweden in 1929.
  • He grew up in Chicago, US, where his father was stationed as a Swedish diplomat.
  • Claes Oldenburg attended the Latin School of Chicago. He went on to study Literature and Art History at Yale University. He took further art classes at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
  • He worked as a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago.
  • In 1953, Claes Oldenburg became a citizen of the United States.
  • He moved to New York in the mid-1950s, and he met a number of artists including Allan Kaprow, Red Grooms, and Jim Dine who were providing an alternative to the abstract expressionism that was the dominant art movement at that time.
  • In 1957, Claes Oldenburg created his first soft sculpure. This work is now known as Sausage and consists of a woman’s stockings stuffed with newspaper.
  • In 1960, he experimented with making sculptures of simple figures, letters, and signs. He mainly constructed them from newspaper, cardboard, and burlap (hessian). After that, he began to use chicken wire coated with canvas soaked with plaster and layered with enamel paint. Everyday objects were the subjects of these sculptures.
  • In the 1960s, Claes Oldenburg created numerous performance art ‘happenings’ (events).
  • In 1961, he created The Store, a month-long exhibition of sculptures, mainly based on consumer goods.

If you look at a thing, it always comes to life in some way. I like form of every kind, especially anything surprising that a thing can be, and I’m there to watch and build it into my work.

Claes Oldenburg
  • From the 1970s onwards, Claes Oldenburg has mainly worked on public commissions. Trowel I is a sculpture of an oversize garden tool, and Spoonbridge and Cherry features a usable bridge made from a spoon with a cherry balanced on top.
  • His other works included Typewriter Eraser Scale X, Free Stamp, Toppling Ladder With Spilling Paint, Giant Binoculars, Dropped Cone, Flying Pins, Giant Pool Balls, The Garden Hose, Screw Arch, Plug, Shuttlecocks, and Paint Torch.
  • Most of Claes Oldenburg’s public works were created in collaboration with his wife Coosje van Bruggen.

I work in all kinds of media. Certain ones – such as cardboard, foam and soft materials – I can handle myself, but I need help when it comes to sewing or metallic pieces, so I have a number of factories that I liaise with.

Claes Oldenburg
  • Claes Oldenburg’s work has appeared in exhibitions and installations in cities all over the world, including New York, London, Washington DC, Seoul, Kansas City, Middlesbrough, Eindhoven, Milan, and Bonn.
  • Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen own Château de la Borde in France’s Loire Valley. They renovated the house and decorated it with artwork and designer pieces by Charles and Ray Eames, Eileen Gray, Alvar Aalto, Frank Gehry, and Le Corbusier.
  • In 2009, Claes Oldeburg’s Typewriter Eraser (one piece out of three manufactured) sold at auction for more than $2 million, and in 2015 Clothespin Ten Foot sold for more than $3.5 million.
  • He has property in New York, California, and France.
  • Claes Oldenburg has been credited with ‘making the hard soft, and the small colossal’.

I think in terms of surprises. A day can be full of surprises. You never know what is going to come the next day, how you are going to wake up and what you are going to think about.

Claes Oldenburg
  • He is an avid diarist and notetaker, and he has kept a diary since the mid-1950s.