Claes Oldenburg (b. 1929)

Three-Way Plug, Scale C, Soft

Claes Oldenburg (b. 1929)
Three-Way Plug, Scale C, Soft
acrylic and graphite on sewn canvas with zipper, string and lead;
with artist's base: acrylic and graphite on canvas laid down on panel, with Plexiglas vitrine
overall dimensions: 40¼ x 25 x 24¾ in. (102.2 x 63.5 x 62.9 cm.)
Executed in 1970.
Private collection, New York
Margo Leavin Gallery, Los Angeles
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1981
New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, New Work by Claes Oldenburg, November 1970, no. 7 (illustrated on the cover).
Pasadena Art Museum; Berkeley, University of California, University Art Museum; Kansas City, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art; Fort Worth Art Center Museum; Des Moines Art Center; Philadelphia Museum of Art and Art Institute of Chicago, Claes Oldenburg: Object into Monument, December 1971-February 1973, p. 2, no. 53.
Minneapolis, Walker Art Center; Denver Art Museum; Seattle Art Museum; Boston, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Institute of Contemporary Art, Hayden Gallery and Art Gallery of Ontario, Oldenburg: Six Themes, April 1975-May 1976, p. 3, no. 102.
Sale room notice
Please note this work is accompanied by an artist's base with a Plexiglas vitrine. The overall dimensions are 40¼ x 25 x 24¾ in. (102.2 x 63.5 x 62.9 cm.)

Lot Essay

"Basically collectors want nudes. So I have supplied for them nude cars, nude telephones, nude electric plugs, nude switches, nude fans" (Oldenburg, "America: War & Sex, Etc.," Arts Magazine, Summer 1967, p. 36).

Three-Way Plug, Scale C, Soft is a soft fusion of an ordinary household appliance with what Oldenburg once described as a "perception of mechanical nature as body." As such Oldenburg's three-way plug is a bizarre and extraordinary mixture of inanimate mechanical object and human form. Executed in 1970, it is a work that anticipates the earliest group of Oldenburg's large-scale civic projects from this period which the artist had begun to sketch and design after moving into a huge studio on 14th Street in New York in the late 1960s. In the mid-1970s the three-way plug would be among the first of Oldenburg's large-scale sculptures intended as civic monuments to be executed on the vast scale he envisaged. Giant "hard" plugs made in wood or corten steel were exhibited in city parks and urban spaces while an enormous soft version executed in vinyl and belonging to the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis was suspended like a vast hanging carcass from its high ceilings at an important exhibition held there in 1975 in which this smaller version was also featured. Oldenburg even devised a Colossal Floating Three-Way Plug on a lake (humorously suggestive of a dangerous mix of water and electricity) and to transform the plug into a quaint English house.

"We do invest religious emotion in our objects," Oldenburg has said, "Look at how beautifully objects are depicted in ads on Sunday newspapers. It's all very emotional. Objects are body images, after all, created by humans, filled with human emotion, objects of worship" (Claes Oldenburg, quoted in Mark Rosenthal, "'Unbridled' Monuments; or, How Claes Oldenburg Set Out to Change the World", Claes Oldenburg: An Anthology, New York, 1995, p. 259). Of particular appeal in this anthropomorphic respect towards objects is the clear androgyny of the three-way plug. Unlike single plugs it contains within itself both vaginal-like sockets and phallic protruding inserts, and this was a feature that was not lost on Oldenburg who repeatedly emphasized the essentially nude nature of the plug even on occasion sketching it in the company of human nudes, such as his 1967 Nude with Electric Plug.

Suspended from a string and resting on its two limb-like inserts, Three-Way Plug, Scale C, Soft with is sagging flesh colored canvas form seems to expresses its own naked and apparently fragile humanity. "What I see is not the thing in itself," Oldenburg once wrote in a note to himself, "but - myself - in its form" (Notebook entry Dec. 1-7 1960, cited in Claes Oldenburg and Emmett Williams, Store Days, New York, 1967, p. 65).

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