Claes Oldenburg (b. 1929)
Claes Oldenburg (b. 1929)

Slice of Birthday Cake

Claes Oldenburg (b. 1929)
Slice of Birthday Cake
signed with initials and dated 'C.O. 1963' (on the reverse of the plaster element)
two elements—enamel on plaster and wire and plastic plate
overall: 3 1/4 x 10 x 10 in. (8.2 x 25.4 x 25.4 cm.)
Executed in 1963.
France Raysse, New York
The Estate of Ileana Sonnabend
By descent from the above to the present owner
J. Shioda, Y. Watanabe, et al., Revolution: Art of the Sixties, from Warhol to Beuys, Tokyo, Museum of Contemporary Art, exh. cat., 1995, p. 219 (illustrated).
A. Goldstein, A Minimal Future? Art as Object 1958-1968, Los Angeles, The Museum of Contemporary Art, exh. cat., 2004, p. 312 (illustrated).
New York, Dwan Gallery, Oldenburg, October 1963.
New York, Museum of Modern Art, Claes Oldenburg, September-November 1969, p. 83 (illustrated in color).
Deichtorhallen Hamburg, Sammlung Sonnabend: Von der Pop-art bis heute Amerikanische und europäische Kunst seit 1954, February-May 1996, p. 75 (illustrated in color).
Princeton University, The Art Museum; The University of Texas at Austin, Archer M. Huntington Art Gallery and Minneapolis, The Walker Art Center, Selections from the Ileana and Michael Sonnabend Collection: Works from the 1950s and 1960s, February 1985-March 1986, p. 72 and 111, no. 41 (illustrated).

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Jennifer Yum
Jennifer Yum

Lot Essay

“I feel my purpose is to say something about my times…for me this is a recreation of my vision of the times…my reality, or my drama reality, and this demands a form of theatrical nature… I am making symbols of my time through my experience…” (J. Robinson, “Fetish or Foil: The Caprices of Claes Oldenburg,” quoted in Claes Oldenburg Early Work, Zwirner Wirth, New York, 2005, p. 21).
Within a generation of reinventing and transforming familiar objects into the extraordinary, Claes OIdenburg’s Slice of Birthday Cake, 1962, epitomizes a groundbreaking shift that took place when he departed from Abstract Expressionism and ushered in American Pop Art. Best known for his food constructions from his exhibition The Store, 1961, Oldenburg crafted brightly colored, painted plaster sculptures, which were intended to resemble typical commodities of the ubiquitous stores and diners that epitomized American consumerism.
The present lot is a plaster recreation of a rich brightly colored slice of cake, rendered with expressive and lustrous brushstrokes. His food sculptures were constructed of chicken wire, on which Oldenburg adhered strips of muslin soaked in plaster, which he then painted in enamel. His sculptures exudes energy through the vibrancy of the paint and texture of the muslin. Slice of Birthday Cake embraces the cynicism of consumerism and the irony of high versus low art in Oldenburg’s ‘inedible edibles’. As the artist explains, "I am for the art that a kid licks, after peeling away the wrapper. I am for an art that is smoked, like a cigarette, smells, like a pair of shoes” (C. Oldenburg, "I Am For an Art...” in Environments, Situations, Spaces, Martha Jackson Gallery, New York, 1961, p. 39).
In 1961 Oldenburg opened a store in the Lower East Side of Manhattan where he executed painted plaster sculptures of commercial and consumer products, such as desserts, cigarettes and shoes, mimicking the surrounding storefronts. These hand crafted objects were then sold, and constantly replenished by Oldenburg in the rear of the store. Once these precocious objects were purchased and removed from the store, they became “relics” of this performance.
Slice of Birthday Cake represents the simultaneity of his plastic art and performativity of the Happening, which defined Oldenburg as one of the most preeminent innovators of the 1960s. Through The Store, he explores new forms of expression of Pop Art and developed the Happening into a form of improvisational Expressionist theater.

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