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Oldenburg with ‘‘Giant Three-Way Plug’’ (1970), at  Oberlin College during installation.

"The loss of Claes Oldenburg, a great artist and good friend, is deeply saddening. Though I had been introduced to his work by Henry Geldzahler in 1960, I did not meet Claes until the mid-60s, when I was working at Park Place. By that time, he was already a noticeably strong force among his peers. The strikingly original early work was hugely influential on many artists, who were informed by his freedom of thought and radical mode of expression. When he began his collaboration with Coosje van Bruggen, with whom I had a close friendship, the work became grander and bolder. It was thrilling to work with Claes, whose odd take on things was delightful, and could completely turn one’s mood around.” – Paula Cooper

Paula Cooper Gallery mourns the loss of Claes Oldenburg, who died this morning in New York. His innovations across sculpture and performance were radical and widely influential, and he will be remembered for his characteristic wit in work across media and for his monumental public sculpture produced in collaboration with his late wife, Coosje van Bruggen. Born in Sweden in 1929, Oldenburg moved to New York in 1956 and quickly became a prominent figure within the city’s avant-garde, staging The Street (1960) an immersive installation of hanging works made from urban debris, and The Store (1961) an exhibition of small plaster sculptures of everyday objects mounted in a real, rented storefront.

Oldenburg was fascinated with popular culture and identified and reproduced many iconic objects, like the telephone and the hamburger, in works that uncannily transformed familiar things into strange, lively animations. In the mid-1960s Oldenburg began producing soft sculptures in fabric with the help of his first wife, Patty Mucha. These gigantic and gently sagging food items and household appliances are extraordinary works that struck a chord with delighted audiences and remained immensely influential on future generations of artists. 

In 1970 Oldenburg met art historian Coosje van Bruggen, with whom he entered a lifelong artistic partnership. Continuing an extended exploration of the fantastic potential of quotidian objects, Oldenburg & van Bruggen together planned and installed monumentally scaled sculptures in cities across the globe. Delving into the fruit bowl, the toolshed and the toybox for familiar shapes and colors, the artists enlarged and animated their selected objects, fixing them in moments of energetic motion. Works such as the Spoonbridge and Cherry in Minneapolis, Flying Pins in Eindhoven, Clothespin in Philadelphia, and Dropped Cone in Cologne are iconic representatives of their host cities conceived in relationship to the surrounding architecture, and envisioned at a comparative scale.

In March 2022 Oldenburg celebrated what would be the last public project of his lifetime, the installation of Plantoir, Blue, 2001–2021, at Rockefeller Center in New York. The appropriately timed spring installation transformed Oldenburg & Van Bruggen’s sculpture into a symbol of optimism and rebirth for New York.

Paula Cooper Gallery has represented the artist since 2002 and has organized multiple exhibitions of his work. Of particular note were Images à la Carte (2004), which presented 50 notebook drawings of food that Oldenburg and van Bruggen worked on together between 1987 and 2003 (accompanied by a publication of the same title), and Things Around The House (2015), a unique exhibition of works that remained in the artists’ home and studio, which was also accompanied by a publication.

Claes Oldenburg (1929­–2022) attended Yale University (1946–1950) as well as The Art Institute of Chicago before moving to New York City in 1956. The artist had his first one-person exhibition at the Judson Gallery, New York, in 1959 followed by shows at the Moderna Museet, Stockholm (1966) and the Museum of Modern Art, New York (1969). “Claes Oldenburg: An Anthology” opened at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. in 1995 and traveled to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Kunst-und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Bonn; and the Hayward Gallery, London. “Claes Oldenburg: The Sixties” opened at the Museum moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien in 2012 and traveled to the Museum Ludwig, Cologne; the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.