An exhibition of Claes Oldenburg's drawings, at Pepperdine University's Weisman Museum of Art, is a welcome reminder of the many strengths of the artist, who contributed mightily to the staying power of American Pop Art. Several dozen drawings follow the trajectory of his career from the late 1950s until today, with emphasis on the glorious decade of the 1960s, when his art practically defined the essence of Pop Art with its elevation of every day objects to the status of high art. Oldenburg's drawings from this early era are bursting with mischievous energy. Whether it's Mickey Mouse salivating at the sight of a big red heart, or a bulky refrigerator stuffed with food, his best drawings convey the image of America as a place of plenty and wonder. Looking at the superb drawing of a gigantic, slightly bent clarinet, envisioned as an actual bridge, one recognizes the artist as a prankster, magician and poet rolled into one. In the later decades, when Claes Oldenburg started to collaborate on his artistic projects, with his wife, Coosje van Bruggen, his drawings and large public artworks became more elaborate, more theatrical and somewhat less spontaneous.
Here in L.A. we are familiar with his gigantic Binoculars as a part of the Frank Gehry designed Chiat/Day Building. You might recall as well, his monumental Swiss army-knife turned into a boat, which is periodically displayed on the MOCA Plaza. Before the year ends and, if everything goes according to plan, Los Angeles will get another monumental public artwork by Claus Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. A gigantic sculpture in the shape of a white shirt collar and a black bow tie will be installed in front of Frank Gehry's Disney Hall at the intersection of Grand Avenue and First Street. In a recent L.A. Times article about this project, there is a photographic rendition of the sculpture as it will actually look in front of the building. Initially it was planned to be 35 feet high, but the artists in collaboration with Frank Gehry decided this was not tall enough and doubled its height to 70 feet.
To put it mildly, I am not convinced that the superb Disney Hall needs any embellishment. This building, with its Baroque sculptural forms, requires a lot of space around it to be appreciated, to be seen and explored to its full advantage, as is the case today. But the impending installation of the gigantic "Collar and Bow", offers all the pleasure of a noisy visitor crashing on your living room couch, and never leaving. In front of Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, there is a 43 feet tall sculpture by Jeff Koons in the shape of a puppy, whose body is covered in 70,000 multi-colored perennial flowering plants. The complimentary contrast between the titanium skin of the building and the sculpture is startling, highly theatrical and very satisfying. Here in L.A., the proposed sculpture, as seen in the photograph, fails to provide complimentary contrast to the building, giving instead the impression that it simply mimics the shapes and volumes of the Disney Hall. The impression is of one sculpture jammed against another, resulting in an unwelcome, crowded effect.
It is probably too late to change anything about the impending installation, but can we fantasize a little bit? What if "Collar and Bow" were instead installed on plaza in front of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, replacing the god-awful, sculpture by Jaques Lipchitz, which has been standing there since the 1960s? I swear, if that ever happens, I will start to believe in God and offer my daily prayers to the heavens.
Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen drawings
Weisman Museum of Art
11am - 5pm, Tuesdays through Sundays
Ends: Aug 8
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