Theater and Installation 1985–1990: Il Corso del Coltello and The European Desktop
The Pace Gallery is honored to present the first major New York gallery exhibition in seven years of works by Claes Oldenburg and his long-time partner Coosje van Bruggen (1942–2009). Theater and Installation 1985–1990: Il Corso del Coltello and The European Desktop, will be on view from April 27 through June 23, 2012 at 545 West 22nd Street. An opening reception will be held on
April 26 from 6 to 8 p.m.
The two-part exhibition will feature enlarged costumes and original props from Il Corso del Coltello (a collaborative work with architect Frank Gehry, produced and curated by Germano Celant, performed in Venice in 1985) and The European Desktop, 1990, Oldenburg/van Bruggen’s last installation piece. This will be the first public presentation of The European Desktop in the United States. The sculptures of Il Corso del Coltello were last exhibited in Barcelona in 2007 and have not been seen in the United States since 1995.
Il Corso del Coltello (The Course of the Knife), performed three times on the Campo dell’Arsenale in Venice before a combined audience of 1,500 people, was a seminal work in Oldenburg/van Bruggen’s career. The performance led the powerful duo to utilize the cultural, historical and physical properties of a site—as they did in their large-scale projects for public spaces of the same era—to realize smaller-scale works for indoor installation.
The enlarged costumes of the central characters of the Coltello performance, Frankie P. Toronto (Frank Gehry), Georgia Sandbag (Coosje van Bruggen), and Dr. Coltello (Claes Oldenburg), made in 1986, will be on view at the gallery, as will original props in the form of the letters "C-O-L-T-E-L-L-O" that served as Dr. Coltello's baggage. Knife Ship is presented here as the definitive fabrication model of the 78-foot Swiss army knife (with a 28-foot vertical corkscrew), which made its maiden voyage down the Arsenale canal during the 1985 performances. The original Knife Ship is in the collection of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Studies, drawings, and photographs documenting Il Corso del Coltello will also be on display, as well as a slideshow of the entire performance.
The costumes of the Coltello formed a launching point for new installations, and also recalled Oldenburg’s early soft sculptures and his performances of Ray Gun Theater in the 1960s. Oldenburg/van Bruggen would eventually realize three post-Coltello installations utilizing carved Styrofoam: The Haunted House, 1987, From the Entropic Library, 1989, and The European Desktop, 1990.
Inspiration for The European Desktop stems from a headline in the International Herald Tribune in 1990 that captured van Bruggen’s attention: “Undoing Yalta: 45 Years Later, a New Europe.” Designed as a total environment, The European Desktop addresses the headline’s unfounded optimism by immersing viewers in a ravaged landscape of intellectual chaos: a monumental collapsed European postal scale, stamp blotters, a writing quill, an exploding ink bottle, and a shattered desk pad will be strewn across the gallery, appearing as though they have fallen from the sky. Two texts written in van Bruggen’s hand are cut from aluminum and attached to the blotters: one from the notebooks of Leonardi da Vinci, written in reverse which was his habit; the other, a poem to Frédéric Chopin composed by van Bruggen. Continuing the play on mirror imaging, the blotters transfer the texts in reverse onto the desk pad. Studies for The European Desktop will also be on view in the exhibition, including Oldenburg’s apocalyptic “sketches and blottings,” inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s A Cloudburst of Material Possessions, which served as the announcement for Oldenburg/van Bruggen’s original exhibition in 1990 at Galleria Christian Stein in Milan.
Oldenburg/van Bruggen’s work can be found in nearly 50 public collections at major institutions worldwide.
Together, they designed and executed more than 40 large-scale projects throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia, including Batcolumn (1977), Chicago; Flashlight (1981), University of Nevada, Las Vegas , Spoonbridge and Cherry (1988), Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, Walker Art Center; Bicyclette Ensevelie (Buried Bicycle) (1990), Parc de la Villette, Paris; Monument to the Last Horse (1991), The Chinati Foundation, Marfa, Texas; Mistos (Match Cover) (1992), Barcelona; Shuttlecocks (1994), Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City; Soft Shuttlecock (1995), Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation; Saw, Sawing (1996), Tokyo; Lion’s Tail (1999), Musei Civici Veneziani, Venice; Ago, Filo e Nodo (Needle, Thread and Knot) (2000), Milan; the 40-foot-high Dropped Cone (2001) atop the Neumarkt Galerie, Cologne, Germany; Cupid’s Span (2002), Rincon Park, San Francisco; Big Sweep (2006), Denver Museum of Art. Oldenburg/van Bruggen’s oeuvre also encompassed many smaller park and garden sculptures as well as indoor installations. Their work has been featured in numerous exhibitions since 1979.
Van Bruggen died in 2009 and the couple’s final collaborative project, Tumbling Tacks, was installed in the Kistefos Sculpture Park in Norway in May of the same year. In August of 2011, Oldenburg’s Paint Torch, a 53- foot-high sculpture of a paintbrush with a stylized glob of orange paint on the ground beside it, was unveiled in Lenfest Plaza at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. The installation marked a return to Philadelphia, where Oldenburg realized his first large-scale civic sculpture, Clothespin, in 1976, which was also the last before partnering with van Bruggen.
This exhibition coincides with Claes Oldenburg: The Sixties, the largest exhibition of the artist’s ground-breaking works of the 1960s organized to date, on view at Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien (MUMOK), Vienna through May 28. The exhibition is the first installment of a five-museum tour, which also includes the Museum Ludwig, Cologne; Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao; The Museum of Modern Art, New York and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis. The retrospective features Oldenburg’s iconic early installations such as The Street and The Store, in addition to his original designs for colossal monuments for public spaces and the Mouse Museum—a miniature, walk-in museum in the form of a Geometric Mouse, filled with nearly 400 souvenirs, kitsch objects, and studio models. Oldenburg’s pivotal role in performance art in the early 1960s was recently explored in Happenings: New York, 1958– 1963 at Pace (February 10 through March 17, 2012).