“Look for beauty where it is not supposed to be found.”
The tag line of the Walker’s new ‘Claes Oldenburg: The Sixties’ juggernaut retrospective aptly describes the breadth of what can be discovered within. As the art-world is still recovering from it’s pop art hangover, this window into Oldenburg's process is like retracing the steps of a three decade long pack rat bingefest. For anyone who’s seen Todd Phillips’ ‘The Hangover,’ you could recall the slideshow that catalogs the events from the evening before. Oldenburg's obsessive process of discovery is reveled in a similar way, including over 300 sketches, models, sculptures, and a most revealing slide carousel of shots from the Macy’s Day Thanksgiving parade. Regardless of any preconceived notions of his work, what is most compelling about this exhibition is the virtual door inside the mind of the artist. Unlike most art star retro’s of this ilk, we can walk inside his head for a while, connect the dots, and discover the work like never before. This is possible though the many opportunities to examine a multitude of genres ranging from the written word to large scale public art ala the Walker’s ‘Spoonbridge and Cherry.’
As Warhol’s spot on prognostication for 15 minutes of fame, Oldenburg equally predicted a consumer culture fascinated with objects and an almost spiritual connection with them. It’s not hard to imagine Claes on an episode of “Hoarders” if this art star thing hadn’t worked out for him. It can be argued that he even trumped Warhol with his 1960’s ‘The Store’ exhibition. Entirely under his control and without a formal gallery setting, he ran the exhibition space, created the work, and sold it himself. Sounds an awful like Warhol’s ‘Factory’ that would happen years later.
Museums shaped like the objects they display. ‘Ray Gun Wing’ and his ‘Mouse Museum’ are quite literally just that. A black crudely shaped Ray Gun enclosure that holds nothing but a lifetime collection of Ray Gun shaped objects. We are invited to enter, but watch your step or you’ll trip over the oval entrance. Claes has taken over all aspects of display here, which raises the question, “Is he artist, curator, archivist, or archeologist? The list could go on, but that is just the point. The minute you turn the camera on, put a frame on it, give it attention, the object of your attention becomes that object of desire. It is the initial incubus of art where the artist says, “Look at that, isn’t it cool?” Much in the same way a five year old brings you a drawing, “See what I did daddy?” As children, we don’t have to look for beauty that isn’t supposed to be there, because the world is an endless buffet of wonderment just outside the womb. Take this child metaphor further and one might make the conclusion as to why an artist creates giant french fry pillows, a vinyl bean bag toilet, or black melting fan the size of truck. What’s the point, you don’t get it? Yea you do. The point is, these things are freakin cool, the world’s has beauty everywhere, you just have to be open to it and look.
Claes Oldenburg: The Sixties runs until Jan. 12th at the Walker Art Center, 1750 Hennepin Ave. S Minneapolis, MN