Claes Oldenburg Sculptures and Pop Art Exhibition at MoMA

Claes Oldenburg's hamburger sculpture at the MoMa Pop Art exhibition

Claes Oldenburg, whom the New York Times recently called "one of the last surviving giants of Pop Art", has made a career of creating true showstoppers.

Think of the giant Spoonbridge and Cherry in Minneapolis, or the giant Binoculars at Venice Beach, or the giant Clothespin in Philadelphia. They stop you dead in your tracks. They make you smile. They are sculptures you never forget. So it's no surprise that the just-opened Claes Oldenberg MoMA exhibition is a classic crowd-pleaser, filled with surprise and delight. But because the show focuses on the Oldenberg's earliest works, the pleasures here are (sometimes) more subtle than you might expect.

Woman admiring one of Claes oldenburg's sculptures at  The Street and The Store MoMa exhibition

Claes Oldenburg MoMA exhibition

The Claes Oldenburg MoMA exhibition is divided into two parts, equally excellent. On the museum's sixth floor gallery you'll find works from two of Oldenburg's first-ever major shows here in New York City, where the Swedish artist has lived and worked since the mid 1950s. For The Street, which was originally shown in the basement of Judson's Church in 1959, Oldenburg sought to "bring the urban outdoors indoors", and succeeded in brilliant fashion. These large sculptural pieces–of, among other things, a monster in a mini skirt, a tenement building, a gun–have been forged in ragged cardboard, chicken wire, and plastered newspaper. There's a gritty, almost sinister edge to these, but there's also a good deal of affection in evidence, and even humor. This was my favorite part of the whole show. Maybe. 

Sneaker sculpture at Claes oldenburg The Street and The Store pop art exhibition at the MoMa

Claes Oldenburg MoMA exhibition

Because behind The Street at MoMA is Oldenburg's also-awesome The Store, which first appeared in an actual, working East Village market, and featuring dozens of common objects–food, clothing, supplies–done up in plaster or papier mache and splattered with bold-colored paint. At the time, in 1961, Oldenburg made new pieces for The Store almost every day. How cool would it have been to experience that in real time? Very cool, is the correct answer. And there are a few of Oldenburg's first real giant works here as well, including a hamburger and an ice cream cone, which he had to make "soft", using fabric and foam rubber, to keep the weight of the things manageable. These were initially placed in a window on 57th Street, to the wonder and delight of Midtown passers-by.

Arial view of the MoMa's Mouse Museum Ray Gun Wing, where people are walking to see Claes Oldenburg Sculptures

Claes Oldenburg MoMA exhibition

In MoMA's massive atrium are two more Oldenburg classics, Mouse Museum and Ray Gun Wing. Sealed off in black, appropriately-shaped galleries, both of these are crammed with wonderfully relevant found objects. Mouse Museum is what it says it is, a museum as curated by mice, real and cartoon. Part of the fun is finding the mouse-logic behind each item. And Ray Gun Wing is Oldenburg's astonishing collection of ray guns and ray gun-looking things, like driftwood, scraps of metal, a soiled glove, dozens more. Because of their limited capacity and the sheer number of "art works" to look at once you're inside, there are likely to be long lines to get into these. But if you can spend the time waiting (and looking, when you get in) they are fantastic.

Image of Claes Oldenburg sculptures in the Ray Gun Wing of the MoMa

Claes Oldenburg MoMA exhibition

Claes Oldenburg: Mouse Museum, Ray Gun Wing, The Street, and The Store will be at MoMA through August 5. For lots more details, please see MoMA's website!

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