Oldenburg first showed this work in a 1959 two-person exhibition, with Jim Dine, at the Judson Gallery. Constructed of torn newspaper pasted to wire armatures and loosely painted with a wash of casein, the sculptures in that exhibition marked a radical departure from the figurative paintings and drawings that had dominated Oldenburg’s artistic production in the preceding years. Thematically, the ray gun epitomized this shift. “Ray Gun is both a form of deception (to everyone, including myself) and a form of play . . . i.e., only the comic is serious, only the offhand is effective,” Oldenburg wrote in his notebook. “Therefore Ray Gun is a series of contradictions, paradoxes. Ray Gun is ultimately the unknowable, pursued futilely through all its disguises.” An impossible invention of science fiction, the ray gun in Oldenburg’s work can assume any number of forms and exist in a range of materials.
Gallery label from Claes Oldenburg: The Street and The Store, April 14–August 5, 2013