In 1959, Oldenburg embarked on a project in which he sought to explore fundamental philosophical questions of life and death, the coexistence of the organic and inorganic, consciousness versus insensation-- as they existed and he experienced them in the urban environment. He spent hours drawing in the street, observing the flow of people and things. The following year, the results of this work were exhibited at the Judson Gallery, then later at the Reuben Gallery, in an installation entitled The Street. It was a world inspired by the lower East side of Manhattan, and consisted of a myriad of flat figural sculptures in corrugated cardboard hung from the ceiling, dispersed along the floor and protruding from the walls in a confusion of imagery and detritus. The experience of the installation and its components was based on the idea, as Germano Celant has explained, of the flow of these shapes amongst each other: "In the street one can no longer claim that things and bodies have stable, durable qualities; rather, they participate together in the multiform world of life and its endless excitation." ("Claes Oldenburg and the Feeling of Things," Claes Oldenburg: An Anthology, op. cit., p. 21)
The Street exhibits the influence of Dubuffet and l'Art brut. Oldenburg once explained that "Jean Dubuffet influenced me to ask why art is made and what the art process consists of, instead of trying to conform to and extend a tradition." (quoted in ibid.). Yet while Dubuffet portrayed urban life through representation, Oldenburg's art centered on the appropriation of the materials and the silent, inherent language of the street.
When the installation was removed from the galleries, the various cardboard pieces were essentially ripped from their environment, removed from the flow of The Street. The torn edges of the works render them like artifacts, refuse from the urban landscape. It is not accidental that the subject of the present fragment combines the organic and the inorganic -- a girl and a car -- with their forms dissolving inextricably into a single mass.