The son of a Swedish diplomat, Claes Oldenburg was born in Stockholm in 1929. When the family settled in Chicago in 1936, the young Claes spoke no English. He created a fantasy world for himself, Neubern, an imaginary island whose language was half English and half Swedish. "What is significant [about Neubern] is how coherent Oldenburg's childhood fantasy was, how inclusive of every aspect of living . . . and how complete its staggering inventory of concrete factual detail" (B. Rose, Claes Oldenburg, New York 1970, p. 19).
In 1956, Oldenburg moved to New York and four years later opened "The Store," a studio/museum/theater on 2nd Street in the East Village. "The Store" was, in effect, a precursor of the kind of "integration of art into the community and was conceived as a museum of popular art" (ibid., p. 69). Like Neubern, it was a completely coherent fantasy fraught with paradox, yet Oldenburg's museum was inspired by the everyday items of the lower East Side slum.
The artist initially used The Store to exhibit and sell objects made of painted plaster, such as Mannikin with One Leg, 1961. Oldenburg wanted his representational works to reflect the images of every day life in the city. The human-scale size of the sculpture in relation to the other works being sold at The Store sets the object apart from the smaller products being produced at the time. Mannikin with One Leg, constructed of plaster, enamel, and muslin was, like the other earlier works manufactured in The Store, "blotched, spattered, and overpainted like a city wall" (ibid, p. 65). While the precedent of this interest in consumer goods and urban debris was set by the Dadaists, the splattered manner in which Oldenburg painted Mannikin with One Leg recalls the style of the Abstract Expressionist, Jackson Pollock.
Pop Art hit America full force at the outset of the 1960s and the presence of Oldenburg's Store as a museum/store/theatre was testimony to the new-found interest in the mundane aspects of the everyday and American consumer culture. Artists associated with this movement, such as Warhol, Lichtenstein and Oldenburg, realizing the potential of the everyday environment such as advertisements, comics, store-bought products and other aspects of popular culture validated these objects as art forms themselves. Although these Pop Artists reacted against the Abstract Expressionists, their pictorial depictions were nonetheless dependent on the innovations of their predecessors. While Warhol based his works on consumerism and mass media, Lichtenstein found inspiration in the mass produced comic-strips of the 1960s. Oldenburg, like his contemporaries, was interested in the notion of art as a business; however, unlike the more graphic works of Warhol and Lichtenstein, Oldenburg wanted to portray the raw power of "fleshy matter."