Clothespin by artist Claes Oldenburg – Museum Without Walls™: AUDIO


[Claes Oldenburg] My name is Claes Oldenburg and I created this sculpture in 1976 for Philadelphia. (“The Shawl” by Alex Gallafent begins to play) Well, I’ve always been interested in clothespins, which tend to lie around the studio, pinning things together. And the way I work, I derive my subjects from my surroundings. [Harry Philbrick] A real clothespin, you could hold in your hand. And it’s gone from being something small and domestic and intimate into something overwhelming. [Julia Guerrero] I definitely see the two figures in an embrace and it’s, for me, a beautiful kind of pick up on the idea of Philadelphia being the City of Brotherly Love. [Philbrick] One of the goals of contemporary art, minimal art, Pop art in particular, is to make you see the world anew, make you see things fresh. And I think Oldenburg does that with “The Clothespin.” I’m Harry Philbrick, I’m the Director of the Museum at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, which is right around the corner from “The Clothespin.” When you think about public sculpture, traditionally you think about monuments to battles, you think of memorials to heroes, you think of really large subjects. And what Oldenburg is doing and what Pop art did was to take the every day, to take mass-produced objects, or mass-produced images, and elevate them to the place of art. [Guerrero] In the 1970s, Jack Wolgin developed Center Square, the office complex at 15th and Market Street. And Center Square is built on land purchased by the Redevelopment Authority, which means that the Percent for Art Requirement is in effect. I’m Julia Guerrero, I’m the director of the Percent for Art Program at the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority. Well, Jack Wolgin had a great eye for art, and he wanted to create something truly iconic and unique for his development, and so he commissioned “The Clothespin.” [Oldenburg] Jack and his wife did collect art, they were one of the important collectors in Philadelphia, and I said well, “you don’t mind of what I come up with?” And he said “no, I just want a beautiful sculpture.” It’s forty-five feet tall and made out of Corten steel and stainless steel. It has a certain gothic quality, and it definitely has a soaring effect, going up and then spreading out into the sky. It’s kind of an abstract building, it definitely has that feeling for me anyway, of a tower, the essence of a tower. [Guerrero] Also spring on the coil has a reference to the number 76, being the year it was installed. [Oldenburg] No, that was somewhat of a coincidence, but there it is, it just sort of happened by itself. [Guerrero] Most people consider “The Clothespin” a masterpiece of Pop art now, but at the time, people were really divided over it. The Philadelphia Inquirer called it an “artistic eyesore from the cuckoo school of art.” But there were also people who really liked it. The Bulletin had a headline saying, “Bravos All Around. Clothespin A Triumph.” [Philbrick] When you look at “The Clothespin,” it certainly looks like a clothespin, but you can also, if you use your imagination, see it as two people kissing. You can see two people in profile, closely embracing, and that brings to mind Constantin Brancusi’s sculpture The Kiss, which is down the parkway at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. [Guerrero] You can say because it’s so close to City Hall, it’s an interpretation of airing dirty laundry. So you can really interpret it however, however you’d like. And you’re, you’re always right. [Oldenburg] If you give people a starting point, with something they can recognize I think it helps. Rather than a totally abstract work. I mean this work is very abstract, you could see it that way too, but, it is something you could get a handle on, and you could say, “Oh it’s a clothespin,” and then you can begin from there.

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