Claes Oldenburg, Pop Art Giant, Dead at 93

Photo: Moenkebild/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Claes Oldenburg, a Swedish Pop artist best known for his sculpture work, died July 18 at his home in Manhattan, confirmed Pace Gallery and Paula Cooper Gallery, which represent him. He was 93. Oldenburg was born in Stockholm in 1929 but moved to the United States in 1936. He was educated at Yale University and studied at the Art Institute of Chicago under Paul Wieghardt. Much of his work was created in collaboration with Coosje van Bruggen, who later became his wife. She died in 2009. He will be best remembered for his larger-than-life sculptures of everyday objects. Among Oldenburg’s best-known work is his 1976 sculpture Clothespin, considered an iconic work in Philadelphia, where it is displayed, and noted for its audacity, humor, and accessibility.

Oldenburg was renowned for his style, scope, and use of materials. “The most significant pioneer of the mode has been Claes Oldenburg, whose flabby foodstuffs, appliances and so on still exert a powerful fascination,” Peter Schjeldahl wrote in a 1973 column on flexible materials in sculpture. “In Oldenburg’s hands, softness takes on a peculiar poignancy, a kind of deadpan, sad‐sack humor with subtle erotic undertones. Beyond their blatant jokiness, his works exploit in an understated way a psychological tendency in us to identify softness with living things, particularly.”

Oldenburg’s most recent public work was a gigantic gardening spade that he produced in collaboration with van Bruggen, whose work on the project was attributed posthumously. It was displayed in the Channel Gardens inside Rockefeller Center earlier this year.

Claes Oldenburg, Pop Art Giant, Dead at 93