Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen

Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen

The Menil Collection

Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen
Shuttlecock/Sphinx, 1996
Pencil and pastel on paper
38 x 50 in.
Collection Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen
Courtesy the Oldenburg van Bruggen Foundation
© Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen

May 8, 2009

Drawings On Site: Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen
May 9 – October 11, 2009

1515 Sul Ross
Houston, Texas 77006

Presented by the Menil Drawing Institute and Study Center

For more than three decades, artists Claes Oldenburg (b. 1929) and Coosje van Bruggen (1942-2009) created large-scale works that reconfigure our conception of ordinary objects, transforming them into humorous public monuments. These initial studies reveal a spontaneity and wit that subvert the solemn and inert character of public monuments.

Drawings On Site: Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, organized by Bernice Rose, chief curator of the Menil Drawing Institute and Study Center, in cooperation with the artists, will showcase more than a dozen large-scale drawings assembled primarily from the artists’ private collection.

An innovator of New York’s nascent Pop Art movement, Claes Oldenburg gained critical acclaim for his offbeat return to “realism” during the waning years of Abstract Expressionism. Drawing inspiration from his urban surroundings, Oldenburg transformed fragments of the debris found in the streets of his Lower East Side environment into artworks, creating a new genre of installations in exhibitions.

In 1965, Oldenburg began drawing ideas for Proposed Colossal Monuments, a series of “unfeasible” large sculptures planned for several of the most recognizable spaces in the United States. In 1969 he constructed his first colossal monument at Yale University, Lipstick (Ascending) on Caterpillar Tracks, a twenty-foot tube of lipstick placed atop a pair of tank treads. Other large commissions followed in the next several years, including Three-Way Plug (1970) at Oberlin College and Giant Ice Bag (1970) at the U.S. Pavilion of Expo ’70 in Japan. Whether visionary or fully realized, monumental public works and large-scale sculptures remained a central focus of the work.

After collaborating with Oldenburg in 1976 on the siting of his 41-foot sculpture Trowel I (a work conceived in 1971), Dutch writer and art historian Coosje van Bruggen joined the artist as a creative partner. They married the following year in the Netherlands and returned to New York to focus on the challenges of producing large-scale public works. Each project began with a conversation between the two artists – an exchange of words and images.

Concentrating on drawings for projects developed from the 1980s onward, Drawings On Site offers a rare glimpse into work such as Cleveland’s Free Stamp (1984) and the Vitra Museum’s Balancing Tools, Position Study (1983) from the artists’ perspective – a preview before the sculptures reached a public audience. In the large presentation drawings Oldenburg has recorded his impression of the couple’s ever-evolving interpretations of how their sculptural object interacts with its environment. The exhibition takes into account visualizations of both feasible and unfeasible sculptures as they appear (or could appear) in situ at various locations around the world. Included will be imagined works such as the colossal Golfbag Ruin (1999), a romantic vision of verticality in an imaginary landscape of Scotland.

From the mid-1970s on, Oldenburg and van Bruggen realized nearly fifty public projects in the United States, Europe, and Asia. All have been conceived in the singular drawing practice that stands as not simply as a creative generator of large-scale sculptures, but as a remarkable testament to the act of drawing.

Coosje van Bruggen died in January of this year after battling a long term illness. Drawings On Site commemorates one of the most important artistic collaborations of modernist sculpture.

This exhibition is generously supported by David Teiger, Janie C. Lee and David B. Warren, the Susan Vaughan Foundation, The Brown Foundation, Inc./Nancy and Mark Abendshein, Leslie and Shannon Sasser, Beth and Rick Schnieders, and the City of Houston.

For further information and images, please contact the press office, 713.525.9469, or

The Menil Collection, located within Houston’s Museum District,
is open Wednesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Admission and parking are free.

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