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Giant guffaws at a pompous art world

from The New York Times

Dark Roots of a Pop Master’s Sunshine


Todd Heisler/The New York Times

Paying a visit to Claes Oldenburg, one of the last surviving giants of Pop Art, you’d be forgiven for expecting a wacky guy living in chaos. His crowd-pleasing masterworks — a canvas hamburger the size of a couch, a rusting clothespin as big as a house, a lipstick tall as a tree — can easily be read as giant guffaws at a pompous art world. His gorgeous sketches for those projects are as wild and woolly as could be. So yes, you’d be forgiven for expecting a scene from a shaggy New Yorker cartoon by Ed Koren — forgiven, and mistaken.

Mr. Oldenburg’s five-story studio, on the western edge of SoHo, is utterly tidy, its classic loft spaces furnished with rigorous Bauhaus classics and hard-edge Minimal pieces by Donald Judd. Mr. Oldenburg, who is 84, wears stylish round tortoiseshell glasses and receives his guest with more Old World gentility than New York pushiness. (He was born in Sweden, into a diplomat’s household.) He reveals a sense of humor, joking about how a big newspaper ad for his forthcoming show at the Museum of Modern Art, opening Sunday, has been upstaged by one for a show about whales. But there’s no trace of the clown, and there’s plenty of orderly retrospection.

“If you really want to be an artist, you search yourself, and you find a lot of it comes from earlier times,” he said. “I have pretty much built the work around my experiences. When I’ve moved from one place to another, the work has changed.” He came to New York in 1956 from Chicago, where he was mostly raised, and settled on the Lower East Side, which he describes as New York’s “most creative and stimulating part.”

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Posted on April 12, 2013 by Editor

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