Claes Oldenburg (b. 1929)
The Miles and Shirley Fiterman Collection
Claes Oldenburg (b. 1929)

Typewriter Eraser

Claes Oldenburg (b. 1929)
Typewriter Eraser
incised with the artist's signature and number '6/18 Oldenburg' (on the underside); incised with the artist's name, title, number and date 'TYPEWITER [sic] ERASER 6/18 COPYRIGHT © 1977 CLAES OLDENBURG' (on the base); stamped with the Lippincott foundry mark (on the base)
acrylic on aluminum, ferrocement and stainless steel
32 x 35 x 23 in. (81.3 x 88.9 x 58.4 cm.)
Executed in 1977. This work is number six from an edition of eighteen plus five artist's proofs.
Leo Castelli Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Twentieth Century Sculpture: Process and Presence, exh. cat., New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, 1983, p. 18 (another example illustrated).
Citywide Contemporary Sculpture Exhibition, exh. cat., Toledo Museum of Art, 1984, p. 39 (another example illustrated).
K. Shimizu, Shimizu Kusuo to Minami garō, Tokyo, Minami Gallery, 1985, p. 91 (another example illustrated).
P. Harper and K. Hinds, Contemporary Sculpture from the Martin Z. Marguiles Collection, Coconut Grove, 1986, p. 106 (another example illustrated in color).
A. S. Lane and D. Dreishpoon, The Terese and Alvin S. Lane Collection: Twentieth-Century Sculpture and Sculptors' Works on Paper, Madison, Elvehjem Museum of Art, University of Wisconsin, 1995, p. 143 (another example illustrated).
S. McCullagh and F. Borne, Gray Collection: Seven Centuries of Art, Chicago, 2010, p. 169 (another example illustrated).
H. W. Blunt and F. Simpson, The Lunder Collection: A Gift of Art to Colby College, Waterville, Colby College of Art Museum, 2013, p. 345 (another example illustrated).
Chicago, Richard Gray Gallery, Claes Oldenburg: An Exhibition of Recent Small Scale Fabricated Works and Drawings, September-November 1977, no. 12 (another example exhibited).
Cincinnati, Carl Solway Gallery, Claes Oldenburg: A Complete Survey of Sculptures in Edition 1963 - 1990, April-June 1990, no. 22 (another example exhibited).
Miami, The Art Museum at Florida International University, Miami Pops! Pop Art from Miami Collections, September-November 1996, p. 27 (another example exhibited and illustrated).
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, An American Legacy, A Gift to New York, October 2002-January 2003, p. 81 (another example exhibited and illustrated).
Nashville, Frist Center for the Visual Arts, Real Illusions: Contemporary Art from Nashville Collections, February-June 2003, no. 33, p. 46 (another example exhibited).
New York, Nicholas Robinson Gallery, Donald Judd and 101 Spring Street, March-April 2010 (another example exhibited).
Las Vegas, Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art, 12 + 7: Artists & Architects of City Center, September 2009—April 2010 (another example exhibited).

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Sara Friedlander
Sara Friedlander

Lot Essay

“What I want to do is to create an independent object which has its existence in a world outside of both the real world as we know it and the world of art. It’s an independent thing which has its own power, just to sit there and remain something of a mystery. I don’t want to prejudice the imagination. I want the imagination to come and make of it what it wants to make of it, but the object will always slip out of whatever definition it may be given…My intention is to make an everyday object that eludes definition” (C. Oldenburg in 1965 quoted in G. Celant, “Claes Oldenburg and the Feeling of Things,” Claes Oldenburg: An Anthology, Guggenheim Museum, 1995, p. 12).

Claes Oldenburg’s 1977 Typewriter Eraser is striking in its unexpected elegance. A colossal, gleaming disk-shaped eraser appears to have just gracefully alighted upon the ground, the majestic blue bristles of its brush turned upward. Object fetishism gives way to a profound aesthetic experience in the beautiful form of a common object made strange, scaled up and frozen in balletic motion. One of Oldenburg’s favorite office supplies, the typewriter eraser has personal resonances for the artist: as a child, the young Claes enjoyed playing with a typewriter eraser in his father’s office. Commemorating an old childhood memory and a now obsolescent office supply, Typewriter Eraser subverts sculptural conventions as it toys with the idea of the monument or memorial (as postmodernist art historian and critic Rosalind Krauss has noted, the logic of sculpture is inseparable from the logic of the monument). Oldenburg has visually explored the functional yet nostalgic typewriter eraser across media, going as far as to imagine it as a towering New York monument. Beloved large-scale versions entitled Typewriter Eraser, Scale X—constructed in collaboration with his wife, the writer and art historian Coosje van Bruggen, in 1998 and 1999 respectively—can be found in the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden in Washington D.C. and the Seattle Art Museum Olympic Sculpture Park.

Typewriter Eraser features a ridged silver disk gleaming against a bold red, circular ground in a glorious magnification of a metal mechanism clasping an eraser. From the end of the disk spring blue bristles, fanning as if in spirited motion. The bristles bring an industrial inflection to Pablo Picasso’s notion of “drawing in space.” The eraser sits atop a plinth which calls to mind the somber office desk along which young Oldenburg would run the eraser in play. A sleek vision in aluminum, stainless steel, ferroconcrete, and bronze, the present sculpture takes a “found design,” or banal object—a typewriter eraser that is small, unglamorous, and, today, wholly superfluous and discredited—and draws profound beauty from it. “I am for an art that grows up not knowing it is art at all, an art given the chance of having a starting point of zero,” Oldenburg wrote in his 1961 manifesto, I Am For An Art (C. Oldenburg, “I Am For an Art,” in C. Oldenburg and Emmett Williams (eds.), Store Days, Documents from the Store (1961) and Ray Gun Theater (1962), New York, 1967). The humble typewriter eraser, unaware of its grand aesthetic potential, is one such art. Oldenburg enlarges the eraser’s scale with a nod to the giganticism of Pop and advertising and refines and abstracts its form with an eye to art history, and the commonplace consequently becomes capable of producing a sense of surprise, wonder, and delight. Taken politically, wonderment at the strangeness and literal prominence of consumer objects has certain implications with regards to mass consumption in America.

Because of their inherent banality, office supplies are a rich source of inspiration for the artist, and he has sculpted stamps, scissors, and typewriters. However, the strangely exuberant typewriter eraser has special significance to Oldenburg. In his Notes—the artist compulsively keeps notebooks of sketches, writings, and ephemera—Oldenburg included a 1968 magazine photo of a typewriter eraser that would provide the basis for this motif, which the artist explored in drawing, prints, and sculpture and across a range of scales. Oldenburg considered the eraser to be a “fine anti-heroic object” for a colossal public sculpture. A 1970 sketch by the artist depicted a monumental version in an imagined landscape; he also envisioned a version towering alongside office buildings in a plaza on 57th Street in Manhattan. By the time of the present sculpture’s creation, Oldenburg had wholly turned away from his earlier soft sculpture and toward the more industrial-looking, monumental approach that made him a household name and a Pop master. The large typewriter eraser evokes a monument while subverting the genre, questioning what deserves to be monumentalized and whether traditional public sculpture gives its public any joy.

“I am for an art that is political-erotical-mystical,” wrote Claes Oldenburg (C. Oldenburg, “I Am For an Art,” in C. Oldenburg and Emmett Williams (eds.), Store Days, Documents from the Store (1961) and Ray Gun Theater (1962), New York, 1967). The artist’s sculptures intriguingly vacillate between a literalization of the commodity fetish and a proclamation of the mystical beauty of common objects—a beauty available to anyone, if they are open to a strange visual encounter retooling their perception. Typewriter Eraser aptly demonstrates Oldenburg’s widely celebrated capacity to bring out the magic in the humdrum. With its nostalgic associations for the artist, the present sculpture feels like a personal monument to a child’s rich imaginative ability to see things a little bit differently.

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