Claes Thure Oldenburg Biography

Claes Thure Oldenburg




Sculptor, painter, and printmaker Claes Thure Oldenburg was born in Stockholm on January 28, 1929. His father Gosta was a Swedish diplomat in the United States, stationed first in New York and then in Chicago, where the family joined him in 1936. It was there that Oldenburg attended the Latin School of Chicago, and developed an interest in the arts.

From 1946 to 1950 Oldenburg studied literature and art history at Yale University. Upon his return to Chicago he enrolled in courses at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and worked as a reporter at the City News Bureau. He soon opened a studio, enjoying his first art sales at the 57th Street Art Fair. In 1953 became a naturalized citizen of the U.S.

Oldenburg moved to New York in 1956, where he would continue his studies at, as well as take a position at the library of, the Cooper Union Museum for the Arts of Decoration. Oldenburg was drawn to the works of contemporaries Jim Dine, Red Grooms, and Allan Kaprow, artists who were not attempting to fit into the Abstract Expressionist genre that dominated the art world at the time. At this point Oldenburg began taking an interest in soft sculpture, using pliable materials such as paper and fabric to create everyday objects. His first show of drawings and soft sculptures took place in 1959 at the Judson Gallery, to critical acclaim.

As Pop art and the concept of "happenings" began to take form in the 1960s, Oldenburg found his niche in both visual and performance art, founding his own production company, "Ray Gun Theater". In addition to the work he created for exhibition, he also began using printmaking to create posters for fellow artists in the performing arts world. Oldenburg moved to Los Angeles in 1963, searching for what he called "the opposite of New York". It wasn't long before his sculptures, now in steel, concrete, and other solid materials, took on the monumental proportions he became known for, with oversized shuttlecocks, ice cream cones, and other everyday objects gracing the ground of museums, estates, and university and corporate campuses. In addition to the work he created on the West Coast, he continued to exhibit and perform In New York as well as abroad. In 1970 he met curator and artist Coosje van Bruggen, who would eventually become his artistic collaborator and wife.

Oldenburg has exhibited solo at the Moderna Museet (Stockholm, 1966); the Museum of Modern Art (New York, 1969); Tate Gallery (London, 1970); and retrospectives at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (a traveling exhibition from New York to Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Germany, and London, 1995), the Whitney (NY, 2002), and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (2002), among others.

Claes Oldenburg died Monday, July 18, 2022 at his home and studio in the SoHo section of Manhattan.