Claes Oldenburg, Braselette, 1961. Muslin, plaster, chicken wire, and enamel, 41 × 30 1/4 × 4 in. (104.1 × 76.8 × 10.2 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; gift of Howard and Jean Lipman 91.34.5
ADAMWEINBERG: For one month in 1961, Claes Oldenburg operated a store on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Among other things, Oldenburg sold shirts and women’s underwear. There were probably other stores in that neighborhood that sold the same thing. The unusual thing about Oldenburg’s store was that his merchandise was made out of wire, strips of muslin, plaster and paint. This merchandise was sculpture, and with their jagged edges, crude shapes, and dribbled colors, the works appear to be some combination of consumer product and abstract painting.
Oldenburg sold his unwearable clothing, inedible food, and other impractical sundries for mercantile prices like ninety nine dollars and ninety nine cents. He worked diligently in the store’s back room, creating these fragmented plaster sculptures for display up front in glass cases or on metal stands. When one object was sold, he immediately produced another to take its place.
The store’s location transformed the experience of visiting a gallery. Going there required a trip to the Lower East Side, a part of Manhattan not known at the time for its prestigious or traditional art galleries. By putting his store there and making sculpture that reflected elements of the surrounding neighborhood, Oldenburg disrupted the traditional gallery experience and challenged visitors’ expectations of what such a visit entails. In his store, Oldenburg was not the absent artist—represented by carefully arranged sculpture in a spotless museum or gallery. He was present—not only as an artist, but as a small business owner—in the messy back room, surrounded by his wares.