"Art should be literally made out of the ordinary world; its space should be our space, its time our time; its objects our ordinary objects" (C. Oldenburg, quoted in B. Rose, Claes Oldenburg, exh. cat., New York, 1970, p. 53).
Light Switches--Hard Version (1964) captures Claes Oldenburg's revolutionary approach to sculpture as an objectification of mundane objects. Deriving from his Home period, this work presciently radicalizes the concept of art and established artistic practice by limiting the artist's involvement to merely its design, outsourcing its actual production to commercial fabricators. Light Switches--Hard Version evinces the removal of the artist's hand and the relocation of artistic value in concept.
Oldenburg moved from Chicago to Manhattan in the summer of 1956, stepping into an art world that was still in the throes of Abstract Expressionism. The movement would loom large in the artist's development insofar as he believed that art should be infused with emotion; he did not, however, believe that this could be achieved through abstraction. Rather, he believed in form that fed into real life.
Spending time in Los Angeles in the fall and spring of 1963-64 inspired Oldenburg to approach the product lines of industry and technology using manufacturing methodology. Paradoxically relating to his series of The Home, the first of these works, The Bedroom Ensemble executed in November-- December 1963, marked a full collaboration with commercial fabricators. He stated, "The style I am concerned with in these works from Los Angeles is the style of manufacturing and production, a rehearsal of machine style, affecting not only the image or object produced but the method of producing it. Involving others, involving technicians, visits to industries, having parts made. The style of manufacturing abstracted into the production of art" (cited in B. Rose, Ibid., p. 93). Engaging with the various mechanical devices of the home, Oldenburg rendered these objects hard and soft, dilated, one-to-one and miniaturized, but always via the facilitation of outside manufacturers.
Light Switches--Hard Version is a scaled-up professional fabrication of a one-to-one drawing that Oldenburg executed, obtaining part of it from a rubbing of an actual switch from his bungalow in Venice, California. Abandoning the malleability, tactility, sensuality and inherent anthropomorphism of his soft sculpture, Oldenburg silences all human presence, putting himself and the viewer on the level of the cold, hard-edged, geometric, impersonal industrial object. The fleshiness and organic nature of his soft-sculpture has been negated and hidden beneath a cloak of artificial materials. Desire is thwarted; moreover the object is rendered impotent since the light switch does not work. It exists only as a presence, an object, since it is rendered completely neuter of function and is enlarged to distance itself from its functional identity. In its cool geometry and smooth, industrial monochrome surface it comes even closer to the Minimalist object than his previous efforts. Indeed, occupying the same space as the viewer such that he becomes aware only of its physicality and concreteness through his entire being, Light Switches--Hard Version is apprehended on the same plane as a "Specific Object".
Light Switches--Hard Version straddles elements of Pop, Minimal and Conceptual art and remains open to multiple interpretations as Oldenburg intended. Attached to the wall, it elides painting and sculpture, representation and "Specific Object".