CLAES OLDENBURG (B. 1929)
The Collection of Margo Leavin
CLAES OLDENBURG (B. 1929) AND COOSJE VAN BRUGGEN (1942-2009)

Knife Slicing Through Wall

Details
CLAES OLDENBURG (B. 1929) AND COOSJE VAN BRUGGEN (1942-2009)
Knife Slicing Through Wall
incised with the artists' signatures 'CO. / Cos' (on a metal plaque accompanying the work); stamped with the artist's names, title, number and date 'KNIFE SLICING THROUGH WALL 1⁄2 1989 CLAES OLDENBURG/COOSJE VAN BRUGGEN' (on a metal plaque accompanying the work)
stainless steel
overall installation dimensions vary
92 x 64 x 144 in.
Executed in 1989. This work is number one from an edition of two.
Provenance
Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner
Literature
S. Muchnic, "Oldenburg Sculpture Cuts to the Heart of Art as Architecture," Los Angeles Times, August 1989, pp. 1 and 9 (illustrated).
S. King, "Cutting Edge?," Art in America, October 1989, p. 31 (illustrated).
F. Garcia-Marques, "Oldenburg/van Bruggen: Il Cotello Affetta-Muro," Domus, May 1990, pp. 14-15 (illustrated).
K. Lucie-Smith, Art Today, London, 1995, p. 26 (illustrated).
S. C. Regen, "LA Gallery History, Part One of Margo Leavin in Conversation with Shaun Caley Regen," GalleryPlatform.LA, September 2020.
K. Smith, The Architectural Possibilities of the City: Claes Oldenburg's Urbanism in Postwar America, California, 2021, pp. 7, 216, 215, 231 and 232 (illustrated).
Post lot text
This lot is located offsite and available to view by appointment only. Please call Christie’s Client Service team at +1 212 636 2000 to schedule an appointment.

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Lot Essay

“In our thinking, the Slicing Knife was an architectural form creator, a device to arrive at a new kind of building design. In the sculpture, the Knife is frozen in time as it sinks into a typical example of the frozen pastry construction of Los Angeles.”
C. Oldenburg, Margo Leavin Gallery Press Release, Los Angeles, 1989.

“The thing enlarged makes the private public, the invisible visible, the internal external… Oldenburg and Van Bruggen choose their subjects so as to touch the heart of the place.”
(G. Celant, “The Indiscreet Knife”, The Course of the Knife, Milan, 1986.)

Chronologically situated in between two seminal works from Oldenburg’s oeuvre – Knife Ship (1985) and Binoculars, Chiat-Day Building (1991) – Knife Slicing Through Wall is a feat of artistic bravura and architectural ingenuity. Completed in 1989, Knife Slicing Through Wall was originally installed on the exterior of the Margo Leavin Gallery in Los Angeles, permanently on view until 2013. In 1988, Margo Leavin had a maquette for Knife Slicing Through the Wall installed on the inside east wall of her West Hollywood gallery on Hilldale Avenue. It was at that time, she recalls, that she said to Claes, "It should be on the front of the building" (M. Leavin quoted in "LA Gallery History: Part 1 of Margo Leavin in Conversation with Shaun Caley Regen," Gallery Platform, September 2020). When he agreed, Knife Slicing Through Wall as it is known today was born. Leavin commissioned the piece for the facade of her gallery, a former post office, near the Pacific Design Center designed by César Pelli, whose forest green building features unique, sliced corners. Leavin recalls of her gallery, "It had the perfect, simple architecture for this. There were no tall buildings behind it, it was just the hills and the sky. It was really a great experience but took a year to complete, so the actual installation would have been 1989" (Ibid.) The six by twelve foot stainless steel blade was designed to appear as though it was cutting into the side of the building, dividing and peeling away its outer wall, like a slice of butter.
Adding to the excitement of Knife Slicing Through Wall is its direct engagement with architecture – Oldenburg and Van Bruggen frequently collaborated with world-renowned architect Frank Gehry to create works that both enchanted and disrupted our perception of everyday objects and urban spaces. Knife Slicing Through Wall, executed only a year before the construction of the Chiat/Day Binoculars, sets the foundation for Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s foray into dissolving the borders between art and architecture. The giant knife first appeared as both a character and prop in The Course of the Knife, a 1985 performance which took place throughout the city and canals of Venice, Italy. Created in conjunction with his wife and collaborator Coosje van Bruggen as well as Frank Gehry, the performance featured a vast array of sculptures and costumes. Most notable of these sculptures was Knife Ship, a boat which took the form of a swiss army knife, equipped with fold-out blades, corkscrew, and eight oars. Immensely popular, Knife Ship has been exhibited at the Solomon R. Guggenheim museum as well as the Reina Sofia in Spain. In many ways Knife Ship set the stage for Knife Slicing Through Wall. In addition to the obvious similarity in subject matter there is a rich performative aspect found in both works– just as Knife Ship cut through the waters of Venice, the present work seems to smoothly slice between the building’s exterior walls. The spectacle of a giant swiss army knife traversing the waterways of Venice is perhaps only bested by a humongous knife cutting through a building as if it were a fluffy piece of cake.
Crafted in stainless steel, a six by twelve foot blade begins its downward trajectory through the building’s front façade. Oldenburg and Van Bruggen visually transmute the solidity of architectural space into a soft, malleable substance. Oldenburg has stated, "In our thinking, the Slicing Knife was an architectural form creator, a device to arrive at a new kind of building design. In the sculpture, the Knife is frozen in time as it sinks into a typical example of the pasty construction of Los Angeles" (C. Oldenburg quoted in Margo Leavin Gallery Press Release, Los Angeles, 1989). This radical reversal of scale and materiality destabilizes the ordinary and re-invigorates our internal sense of reality. What once appeared as indomitably large and concrete has now become psychologically approachable and ethereal within the mind’s eye. The principal player of this visual drama– the titular knife – both unites and divides the bisected building. Knife Slicing Through Wall epitomizes the artists’ ambitious approach to large-scale sculpture, and showcases the dynamic relationship that can exist between art and architecture.

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