After studying art at Yale University and the Art Institute of Chicago, Oldenburg moved to New York City. In the winter of 1961, Oldenburg began a project called The Store where he displayed his art for sale. In a rented storefront on New York’s Lower East Side, he made and arranged more than one hundred plaster objects that looked like food, clothing, and jewelry.
“Everything I do is completely original—I made it up when I was a kid.”
Claes Oldenburg came to the United States from Sweden when he was a child. To prepare for their arrival in this country, his mother cut out images of items that Americans at that time may have seen or used every day, but that he was not familiar with, and made a notebook of them to help her young son learn about the objects.
From 1976 until 2009, Oldenburg made works of art with his wife, Coosje van Bruggen. As working partners, they created numerous public sculptures, that were often inspired by small, everyday things such as a spoon, a lipstick, or a flashlight. By making gigantic sculptures of humble, commonplace objects and installing them in public places, Oldenburg and van Bruggen gave these small objects a new beauty and importance. These works are installed in Europe, Asia, and the United States.
“I am for U.S. Government Inspected Art, Grade A art, Regular Price art, Yellow Ripe art, Extra Fancy art, Ready-to-eat art, Fully cleaned art, Spend less art, Eat better art, Ham art, pork art, chicken art, tomato art, banana art, apple art, turkey art, cake art, cookie art . . . ”
As a young artist in the 1960s, Oldenburg was involved in an early type of performance art called Happenings. He started to experiment with soft sculpture as props for these performances. Soft sculptures were Oldenburg’s invention. His recreations of common household items and food soon linked him with Pop art.
“During the first two or three weeks in a new city, I try to visit as many places as possible and be taken around by people who live there and know the city. I listen to what they say about it. Also, I try to read every newspaper and magazine on sale. I sketch a lot. And I observe food.”