Happy Birthday Claes Oldenburg


Claes Oldenburg is eighty one today. Fantastic. I wish him a giant museum sized birthday candle to stand beneath.

I have fond memories of looking up at his giant shuttlecock in the grassy grounds of the Nelson Atkins Museum in Kansas, USA. It took me a while to “get it”. The aerial view of the museum is H shaped ( because it was paid for by the city’s Hallmark greetings company)  like a huge badminton court. Ah ha. Very funny. Years earlier I had stood below his giant peg, in Chicago (or was it Boston or Philadelphia?) I think it was Chicago but I’d have to check. I felt like an urban ant in its shadow, insignificant like a single blade of grass. It got my laundry sorted though.

To my students I have always cited him as a good example; someone to look at for fun and bare faced cheek; a hamburger, a peg, a shuttlecock? Everyday objects we all recognise. I love his work and the drawings in particular;  informal scribbled sketches on the back of  fag packets and envelopes? He  takes an ordinary object and alters the scale so completely that the object takes on  new meaning, makes the mundane monumental. Bigger than any of us.

So, Happy Birthday, Claes, you cheer us up with the stunning immediacy of your work; drawing us in with an immediate recognition, then spitting us out with renewed focus on our  complete insignificance.

We salute you.

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