Claes Oldenburg, Rest in Peace

As the noon news is updating viewers on who murdered whom during the night before, or screaming poster waving crowds shout about violations of their rights, at the bottom of the screen a narrow  black band slides soundlessly by with the real news of the day in simple sentences.  Last week, the one that caught my eye was “Claes Oldenburg, artist, dies at age 93.”

The first time I saw his work was when a handful of friends went to an art museum in Berkeley, California.  I had been feeling a little low because my then, fiance, did not wish to join the museum party, but stayed behind.  Once inside the museum, my spirits were picked up as I looked at The Baked Potato, about two feet long, with a pat of butter the size of my hand, mounted on a pedestal with a zipper to close or open the potato. 

By the time I got to the Electric Switch, which looked exactly like a normal electric switch on any wall, except that this one was so big, it took two hands to pull it up or down, I was buckling at the knees from laughter.  

I watched another lady come to the display looking unsure if this was supposed to be serious or not and I told her it was okay to laugh at  some art.

It just kept going like that – there was a giant typewriter eraser, which today would only puzzle anybody who may not  even know what a typewriter was.  Then there was a seven foot tall pair of scissors and the one upside down as the Washington Monument.  

His drawing was done with the precision of architectural rendering – flawless, but on a grand scale. 

It may have been at the Cleveland Museum of Art where I saw  a collection that included “Flat Drum Set” made of machine sewen pieces of red, blue and yellow vinyl (sewen by his wife!)

Then there is the well-known “FREE” stamp in downtown Cleveland.

I saw at least one of his large out of door mobiles at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

When my daughter was three months old, I rolled her in her stroller into a gallery in San Francisco and lifted her out to let her see up close a print of another of his mobiles. She gave a little chortle and we went on. 

So, Rest In Peace, Claes Oldenburg, and fill the heavens with more wonderful artwork touched by your sense of humor.


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