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

Giant Trowel II Model

Details
Claes Oldenburg (b. 1929)
Giant Trowel II Model
inscribed with the artist's signature and stamped with the title 'Oldenburg TROWEL II' (on the reverse); incised with the artist's signature, title and date 'TROWEL II MODEL 1976' (on the base)
aluminum and steel
sculpture: 103 x 27 1/8 x 20 in. (261.6 x 68.9 x 50.8 cm.)
base: 3/4 x 30 x 30 in. (1.9 x 76.2 x 76.2 cm.)
Executed in 1976. This work is unique.
Provenance
The artist
Private collection, circa 1979
Michael Berger Gallery, Pittsburgh
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2002
Exhibited
Chicago, Richard Gray Gallery, Claes Oldenburg: An Exhibition of Recent Small Scale Fabricated Works and Drawings, September-November 1977.
Special notice

On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial interest in the outcome of the sale of certain lots consigned for sale. This will usually be where it has guaranteed to the Seller that whatever the outcome of the auction, the Seller will receive a minimum sale price for the work. This is known as a minimum price guarantee. This is such a lot.
Please note that this lot remains in situ in New York State. Please contact Rachel Ng at RachelNg@christies.com, if you would like an appointment to inspect the lot at its current location. This lot will be shipped directly from its current location to the successful bidder of the lot upon Christie's receipt of full payment.

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Ana Maria Celis
Ana Maria Celis

Lot Essay

Looming over eight feet in height, Giant Trowel II Model is an arresting sculpture by Claes Oldenburg. Typical of his distinctive Pop practice, the work transforms an everyday object into a surreally oversized presence; the humble garden trowel, its simple metal planes coated in a flat brown hue, here takes on the soaring dynamism of a Futurist masterpiece. With the sculpture’s base hidden in the ground, the trowel appears as if plunged into the earth by a giant, enacting the tool’s real-world purpose on monumental scale. Giant Trowel II Model was completed in 1976, the year that Oldenburg first worked with the curator and artist Coosje van Bruggen. For the installation of his 38-foot sculpture Trowel I at the Netherlands’ Kröller-Müller Museum in August that year, he accepted her suggestion to rework its color from silver to blue; they also agreed to site it where the museum garden became wilder parkland, underscoring the trowel’s landscaping function. Oldenburg and van Bruggen married in 1977, and went on to collaborate upon a number of what they called “large-scale projects” over the following decades. The even more colossal Trowel II—which the present work models at roughly one-fifth scale—would be installed at the Donald M. Kendall Sculpture Gardens at Purchase, New York, in 1984; among their other iconic public works are Philadelphia’s famous Clothespin (1976), and the 96-foot baseball bat Batcolumn (1977) on display in downtown Chicago. Beloved the world over, these vast, playful sculptures aim to provoke a sense of estrangement, delight, and wonder at the quotidian which Oldenburg called “the poetry of everywhere” (C. Oldenburg, “Extracts from Studio Notes (1962-64),” Artforum 4 no. 5, January 1966, p. 33).

Oldenburg was born in Stockholm in 1929, and grew up in Chicago. He studied at Yale University, and then at the Art Institute of Chicago, before moving to New York in 1956. There he became involved in early “happenings” and performance art, meeting pioneers such as George Brecht and Allan Kaprow, whose immersive, interactive works sought to break down the wall between artist and viewer experience. This radical spirit lay behind Oldenburg’s installation The Store, which marked a seminal moment in Pop history when it opened at a Lower East Side storefront in 1961. Oldenburg filled the space with nearly one hundred sculptural versions of consumer objects that he found in the shops and bodegas of his neighborhood. Women’s clothing, shirts, ties, sausages, slices of cake, and a multitude of other ubiquitous items were all reimagined in the artist’s unique style, and offered for sale. Made of chicken wire, muslin and plaster, and painted with dripping enamel paint straight from the can, these sculptural reliefs were distinctly handmade. Their splashy, rough-hewn craftsmanship made for a shrewd riposte to post-war America’s adulation of gleaming luxury goods; at the same time, Oldenburg was parodying the techniques of the Abstract Expressionism which had dominated the previous decade, bringing its high-flown rhetoric down to the real world.

In the same manner, Oldenburg’s later colossal objects like Giant Trowel II Model can be seen to riff on aspects of Modernist visual language. It has been noted that the embracing halves of his celebrated Clothespin echo the lovers in Brâncu?i’s The Kiss (1913), while Batcolumn seems to refer to the same sculptor’s Endless Column (1938); the swooping handle of the trowel, meanwhile, bears no small resemblance to Bird in Space (1928), one of the most iconic forms in all twentieth-century art. These formal similarities could of course be found in the original objects themselves, if one looked close enough. But it is through envisioning them on astonishing scale—in their estrangement from the everyday into the world of sculpture—that Oldenburg makes such congruences startlingly apparent. Subverting the language of memorial and monument, he restages these banal items as marvels. If sculptures like Giant Trowel II Model  have an edge of sharp Pop commentary in their literalization of the commodity fetish, they also overwhelmingly proclaim the mystical, even heroic beauty of common objects—a beauty available to anyone, if they are open to a strange visual encounter that retools their perception. It is in this magic act that Oldenburg’s “poetry of everywhere” unfolds.

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