Claes Oldenburg: The Street and The Store

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“Empire” (“Papa”) Ray Gun
Date: 1959
Medium: Casein on papier-mâché over wire
Dimensions: 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: 791.1969

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

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). Gift of the artist. © 2018 Claes Oldenburg

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 in 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.