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Born in Sweden, Claes Oldenburg (American, b.1929) is a well-known sculptor associated with the Pop Art movement. While he was a baby, Oldenburg’s family moved to the United States, first settling down in New York, and from 1936 in Chicago, where Oldenburg lived until he attended Yale University. Oldenburg moved to New York in 1956, where he met artists Jim Dine (American, b.1935) and Allan Kaprow (American, 1927–2006), who were working to break the mold of the prior generation of Abstract Expressionists. Oldenburg’s early exhibits in New York feature environments assembled from images, papier mâché, and plaster sculpture, such as his project The Street, which included debris, signs, silhouettes of figures, and other objects evoking an urban setting.

In 1961, Oldenburg staged his most famous happening, The Store, in which he rented space amidst actual shops on the East Side to sell traditional store goods recast as plaster sculptures, exposing the relationship between art and commodities. Naming his performances the product of the invented “Ray Gun Theater,” Oldenburg began to incorporate monumental soft sculptures, made from stuffed vinyl or inflatable materials. These works, sagging with gravity, humorously evoke the human body, forcing viewers to confront everyday objects in radically different circumstances. In 1965, Oldenburg began to design imaginary outdoor monuments, most of which were never realized, with his inflatable Lipstick Ascending, on Caterpillar Tracks being the most notable exception after its installation at Yale University.

From the 1970s onward, Oldenburg focused his attention on large outdoor public sculpture constructed with Cor-Ten steel, such as his Free Stamp, in Cleveland Ohio, Giant Trowel in Otterlo, the Netherlands, and Crusoe Umbrella in Des Moines, Iowa. Oldenburg often collaborated with his wife, artist Coosje van Bruggen (Dutch/American, 1942–2009), on these large-scale projects.