Life of Pop: Up in Smoke
We still have a few more opportunities to feature lesser-known Pop art works in the Albright-Knox’s Collection before Sweet Dreams, Baby! Life of Pop, London to Warhol closes on September 8.
Claes Oldenburg (American, born Sweden, 1929) is best known for incorporating imagery from American consumer culture into fun, yet sometimes ominous, sculptural entities. From giant inflatable hamburgers to a towering, missile-like lipstick tube set inside military caterpillar tracks, the artist uses everyday items to depict the grime of the streets and the remnants of consumerism.
Cigarettes are a common subject for Oldenburg, showing up in charcoal drawings, plaster maquettes, and larger-than-life pillows. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the artist had a studio in New York’s gritty Lower East Side and made work that captured the look and feel of his surroundings. Untitled (Cigarette Butts), 1968, while small in size and simply executed, has a powerful physical presence, with used and discarded cigarette butts arranged in rows on a wood board. The work’s small size forces the viewer to get up close, only to be confronted by the ugly remains of littered streets and ashtrays.
It is no surprise that Oldenburg returned to this subject over and over, given his 1961 manifesto-like statement: “I am for the art that a kid licks after peeling away the wrapper. I am for an art that is smoked like a cigarette, smells like a pair of shoes. I am for an art that flaps like a flag or helps blow noses like a handkerchief. I am for an art that is put on and taken off, like pants, which develops holes, like socks, which is eaten like a piece of pie.”