Claes Oldenburg, Soft Toilet, 1966. Wood, vinyl, kapok fibers, wire, plexiglass on metal stand and painted wood base, 55 1/2 × 28 1/4 × 30 in. (141 × 71.8 × 76.2 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; 50th Anniversary Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Victor W. Ganz 79.83a-b
ADAMWEINBERG: Soft Toilet’s shiny material is vinyl. You may recognize its appearance and can probably recall what it feels like to slide into a vinyl diner booth. In 1963, artist Claes Oldenburg lived in Los Angeles, where he discovered this fashionable new material. He used it for many of his sculptures, knowing that our bodies would have a pre-existing relationship to it, and perhaps certain associations with the material. The sculpture’s pliancy is not unlike the elasticity of our own bodies. Ellen Tepfer is an art historian who has written extensively on Claes Oldenburg.
ELLENTEPFER: This was one of the most attractive things about the work. And in many sculptures there is a hands-off message somehow that is communicated to the spectator and this one you’ll really—well, in a museum you’re not going to go up and touch it, but you want to. There is this sort of texture to it, and the idea that you could imagine how it would feel to sort of sit on that toilet. It would feel quite different than a porcelain one, you’d almost fall into it. It’s a very tactile piece.
ADAMWEINBERG: Our connection to the piece is further strengthened by our familiarity with—not only its material—but its subject: the common household toilet.