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MoMA explores the beginnings of Claes Oldenburg's career with works from the 60s and 70s
Claes Oldenburg (American, born Sweden 1929). Mouse Museum. 1965 – 77. Wood and corrugated aluminum, plexiglas display cases with 385 objects, sound, 8′ 7 9/16″ x 31′ 5″ x 33′ 7/16″ (2.63 x 9.6 x 10.07 m). mumok museum moderner kunst stiftung ludwig wien. On loan from the Austrian Ludwig Foundation, since 1991. © 1965 – 77 Claes Oldenburg. Photo: mumok.

NEW YORK, NY.- The Museum of Modern Art presents Claes Oldenburg: The Street and The Store and Claes Oldenburg: Mouse Museum/Ray Gun Wing, from April 14 to August 5, 2013. At the start of the 1960s, Oldenburg’s audacious, witty, and profound depictions of everyday objects transformed the field of sculpture. This exhibition brings together more than 150 works to provide an in-depth look at the beginnings of Oldenburg’s extraordinary career in Pop art. On view on the sixth floor of the Museum are The Street, an installation that conjures the gritty and chaotic atmosphere of New York City’s Lower East Side, originally shown at the Judson Gallery of the Judson Memorial Church in 1960, and The Store, a large body of brightly painted sculptures depicting a vast array of commodities and comestibles, which was presented in various locations between 1961 and 1964. This extensive presentation of sculptures and works on paper is joined by two notable projects from the 1970s—Mouse Museum and Ray Gun Wing—on view in The Donald B. and Catherine C. Marron Atrium.

Claes Oldenburg: The Street and The Store and Claes Oldenburg: Mouse Museum/Ray Gun Wing are organized by Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien and The Museum of Modern Art. The exhibition is organized by Achim Hochdörfer, Curator, Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien; and Ann Temkin, The Marie-Josée and Henry Kravis Chief Curator, and Paulina Pobocha, Assistant Curator, Department of Painting and Sculpture, MoMA. The present exhibition developed from the exhibition Claes Oldenburg: The Sixties (Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien, Museum Ludwig Cologne, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, all 2012; Walker Art Center, September 2013.) The narrower focus at The Museum of Modern Art enables the largest ever presentation of Oldenburg’s earliest sculptures, which laid the foundation for the artist’s career and redefined the potential of his medium.

The Street translates Oldenburg’s experience of living on the Lower East Side of Manhattan into an immersive sculptural environment. The installation consists of objects made from cardboard, papier-mâché, newspaper, and burlap that evoke the characters and vistas of a neighborhood where junk and trash lined the streets and derelict tenements were razed on a regular basis. Oldenburg cut, tore, and crumpled his materials to create a panorama of the contemporary city, complete with cars, barking dogs, street signs, and passersby. Letters and scraps of words, hearts, exclamation points, and crudely rendered figures recall the graffiti that flows through city streets while the sculptures’ torn and frayed forms speak to a fragmented field of vision, evoking the bustle of life and the hardscrabble spirit of downtown New York. The majority of The Street sculptures are on loan from the Museum Ludwig, Cologne. Others include “Empire” (“Papa”) Ray Gun (1959), C-E-L-I-N-E Backwards (1959), and Street Head I (1959), along with a range of drawings and posters from that period.

In December 1961 Oldenburg filled a rented East Second Street storefront in New York City with a new body of work whose subject matter was culled from the clothing stores, delis, and bric-a-brac shops that flourished on the Lower East Side. The earliest examples of these Store sculptures depicted everyday items like shirts, dresses, cigarettes, sausages, and slices of pie. The works began with armatures of chicken wire overlaid with plaster-soaked canvas; Oldenburg then used enamel paint straight from the can to give these sculptures their bright color finish. The finished works were lumpy, unruly, and occasionally brash.

In setting up The Store, Oldenburg packed more than 100 objects into a modestly sized room, including previously exhibited wall-mounted reliefs alongside new, primarily free-standing sculptures depicting goods of all sorts. Everything was available for purchase in this environment. In the years following 1961, Oldenburg created several versions of The Store; and for this exhibition at MoMA, a large selection of Store sculptures and drawings are brought together to demonstrate the breadth and complexity of Oldenburg’s vision as well as the daring inventiveness of his methodology at this remarkable moment in his career. Among the many objects on view are the seven-foot-diameter Floor Burger (1962) and 11-foot-long Floor Cone (1962), along with a wide range of works that includes 7-Up (1961), Braselette (1961), Pastry Case, I (1961–62), Two Cheeseburgers, with Everything (Dual Hamburgers) (1962), and Giant BLT (Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato Sandwich) (1963). The section also includes a wealth of studies, notebook pages, and posters from that period.

The exhibition concludes in the Marron Atrium with two large-scale architectural structures, Mouse Museum and Ray Gun Wing. Completed in the 1970s, they present careful arrangements of readymade objects alongside various tests and experiments from Oldenburg’s studio. Begun during the second half of the 1960s, Mouse Museum formalized Oldenburg's practice of collecting readymade objects and displaying them on shelves in his 14th Street loft beneath the label "museum of popular art, n.y.c." He based the design of the architecture on that of his Geometric Mouse motif, and filled its interior with a selection of items that had accumulated on his shelves over time, alongside altered objects, various prototypes, and sculptural experiments from his studio. The resulting work is approximately 33' by 31' by 8' and contains 385 objects. A complement to the Mouse Museum, Ray Gun Wing is more specific in its focus. On display in the right-angled structure that resembles a ray gun are 258 ray gun specimens, ranging from brightly colored plastic toy guns to found scraps of wood or metal that share a right angled ray gun form. Together, Mouse Museum and Ray Gun Wing propose equivalence between collecting and creating, while dissolving the distinction between everyday items and museum treasures.

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April 15, 2013

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