Remembering Claes Oldenburg, 1929–2022
We celebrate the artist through his words and voice, and some words from those who knew him.
Jul 19, 2022
Claes Oldenburg and curator Alicia Legg installing the exhibition Claes Oldenburg, 1969
Claes Oldenburg. Proposed Monument for the Intersection of Canal Street and Broadway, N.Y.C. -- Block of Concrete with the Names of War Heroes. 1965
Claes Oldenburg. Pastry Case, I. 1961–62
The first image that came to my mind at the announcement of Claes’s death was one of a formidable buffet. Made with local produce of all shapes and colors, the sight was just too beautiful to eat.
I met Claes about 20 years ago, when Paula Cooper asked whether I would edit an artist’s book that she wanted to publish with Claes and his wife, Coosje van Bruggen. As I was living in Switzerland, Paula suggested a meeting in their home in France, in the village of Beaumont-sur-Dême, located about 35 kilometers north of the city of Tours. After a long train ride, Claes, whom I had never met in person, was waiting for me at the station. I remember him driving an old station wagon that had clearly seen better days but perfectly blended in with the rural surroundings. About 40 minutes later, we entered a carefully landscaped park dotted by some of Claes’s signature sculptures. In the middle of the estate stood an 18th-century castle, le Château de la Borde, which he and Coosje had restored to its original splendor.
Coosje, who became a dear friend until her death in 2009, greeted us and offered to give me a tour. As she was pointing out various architectural details, she shared that it was the building’s history that compelled them to acquire it. In the early 1830s, Alexis de Tocqueville had written his most influential book, Democracy in America, there. The irony that one of the earliest and most important studies of the world’s greatest democracy had been written by a French aristocrat in a castle nested in the Loire valley was not lost on Claes and Coosje—two European-born artists who redefined public sculpture in the United States and beyond.
After my tour, Coosje guided me into a reception room, where the buffet from my recollections had been set. I turned around, expecting other guests, but realized that I was the only one. The feast in front of me was obviously meant for the eyes first. The food was real, but everything else felt like a trompe-l’oeil, the artform so distinctively popular at the time of de Tocqueville. The artist’s book we ultimately created together bore, perhaps because of our initial meeting, a French title: Images à la Carte. Its pages included some of the exquisite watercolors that Claes used to sketch of the food he was served at restaurants—memorializing everything from half-eaten apple pies to juicy pork chops. When I asked him how such a habit came about, he confided that it was his way to share with Coosje the beauties and the delights of things she couldn’t enjoy herself because of various allergies. As much to sooth her eyes as his heart.
—Christophe Cherix, Chief Curator, Department of Drawings and Prints, July 19, 2022
Claes Oldenburg. Flying Pizza from New York Ten. 1964, published 1965
Remembering Susan Rothenberg, 1945–2020
Artists and curators pay tribute to a painter who reinvented figuration.
Amy Sillman, Guillermo Kuitca, Joan Jonas, Michael Singer, Kathy Halbreich, Christophe Cherix, Michelle Kuo
Jun 16, 2020
Three Artists on the Gifts of John Baldessari, 1931–2020
An homage in three acts: Louise Lawler shares a postcard, Christopher Williams remembers Baldessari’s studio, and Stephen Prina sings one of the great Conceptualist’s paintings.
Louise Lawler, Christopher Williams, Stephen Prina
Jan 15, 2020