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Claes Oldenburg. "Empire" ("Papa") Ray Gun. 1959

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Claes Oldenburg (American, born Sweden 1929)

"Empire" ("Papa") Ray Gun

Casein on papier-mâché over wire
35 7/8 x 44 7/8 x 14 5/8" (90.9 x 113.8 x 36.9 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of the artist
MoMA Number:
© 2015 Claes Oldenburg
Audio Program excerpt

Claes Oldenburg: The Street and The Store

, April 14–August 5, 2013

Director, Glenn Lowry: Claes Oldenburg used the science fiction term “ray gun” to describe any form that’s a right angle. “Empire” (“Papa”) Ray Gun is at the heart of his work.

Artist, Claes Oldenburg: That's a piece that's made out of very simple materials. Its chicken wire coated with paper dipped in glue, which dries and forms a surface. And I used newspaper, because I found the surfaces interesting. And then this piece was hung from the ceiling, so it sort of floated in the air.

“Empire” refers to the state of New York. “Papa” refers to the fact that it looks like it's the father of many things. It was about changing things, and, it was about magic. It was about all sorts of parodies of worshipping magic forms sort of a tongue-in-cheek, religious approach. It one of the things that was said about “Ray Gun” was “Annihilate, illuminate.” And that connection “When Ray Gun shoots, no one dies.” So it had these sayings.

And “Ray Gun” became a catch title for all sorts of things. Looking down on the street, I would find this angle in the shape of a ray gun everywhere. And I would collect the ray guns. They became quite an obsession. So this was the beginning of a period called "The Street."

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