By the early 1960s, Claes Oldenburg focussed on themes that strongly related to architecture and urbanism. No longer satisfied with fashioning consumer objects such as food or clothing items, he went on to explore spaces of the home, the landscape, and the perfect conduit in between: the car. For Oldenburg, it is a potent symbol of the duality between the notions of the public and private. In his notes from 1966, Oldenburg writes:
"The Airflow is imagined as a place with many different sized object inside it, like a gallery, a butcher shop, like The Store--and could be just as inexhaustible a subject. Science/fiction. Auto-eroticism. I am a technological liar" (C. Oldenburg, 1966 cited in G. Celant, ed., Claes Oldenburg: An Anthology, exh. cat., Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1995, p. 216).
Oldenburg became inspired to do the Airflow project, which is based on a 1936 car model called the De Soto Airflow sedan, when he visited the inventor of the car, Carl Breer, in Detroit. He took extensive photographs and made drawings of the exterior and interior, the colors, the textures, and even noted the experience of riding in the car. The works that were produced from this visit, such as Soft Tires for Airflow, not only bear the accuracy of his scrutiny but also embody the utter transformation of the original object of metal and rubber into something soft and pliable. The uncanniness and bodily form of the work typify the witty eroticism inherent in Oldenburg's sculptures.
Fig. 1 Soft Tires for Airflow and other words in progress in Oldenburg's studio, 404 E. 14th Street, New York, c. 1965-66