Monumental gift for whimsy; Claes Oldenburg: Large-scale Projects, 1977-1980, by Coosje van Bruggen and Claes Oldenburg. New York: Rizzoli. $20 (paperback).
Monuments all too often seem to dwindle over the years from an impressive intent to a banal reault. Claes Oldenburg's aims is in the opposite direction. Having examined, with his Pop colleagues, those everyday, mass-disseminated objects and images that might have seemed aesthetically invisible, he has insisted on raising the banal to the monumental.
This handsomely designed paperback documents, through "notes, statements, contracts, correspondence," his eminent title to do so. "Conceived and organized" by Coosje van Bruggen, amply illustrated, and rounded out with some thoughts on monumentality by R. H. Fuchs, it chronicles nine projects from as many cities, from the commissioning of "Batcolumn" for Chicago in 1975 to plans for the installation of "Flashlight" in Las Vegas this year.
The rest, equally surprising, could suggest a set of joke-monuments: giant concrete pool balls for Munster, West Germany; buildings projected in the shape of three-way plugs for Oberlin College in Ohio; a bridge in the form of arched screws for Rotterdam; giant light switches for a lobby wall at CBS in New York; "Paint-splats" on Philip Johnson's imposing facade for Marshall Field & Co., Houston; and more.
But there's no joke about Miss van Bruggen's gifted and orderly arrangement. Her scheme, after charting each stage of each work, gives us the story's pieces project by project, concept by concept. Oldenburg emerges as a man rather of reasoned and explored methodology than of whimsy. Banality falls away, blows away, as monumental scale is eeveloped. In one or two cases the results are not only unique but strangely beautiful.
The "Batcolumn," for instance, standing in front of Chicago's gleaming new Social Security Administration building, is a willowy, erect cage of remarkable grace, whose open grid seems hospitable to the sky.
Of the other eight projects two were rejected by clients after the model stage, and three more are hovering, incomplete, with different momentums. But it's en lightening to put together even the imcomplete stories -- as with the Marshall Field "Paintsplats," and the sporty way Philip Johnson (the architect) tried to anticipate Oldenburg's approach.
What he found out -- as we may here and in the work of any real artist -- is that to anticipate an Oldenburg project is inextricably bound up with being Claes Oldenburg.