Oldenberg / Think Big / Wim
Oldenberg / Think Big / Wim
Oldenberg / Think Big / Wim
Oldenberg / Think Big / Wim
Oldenberg / Think Big / Wim
Oldenberg / Think Big / Wim

Oldenberg / Think Big / Wim

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Claes Oldenburg (born January 28, 1929) is an American sculptor, best known for his public art installations typically featuring large replicas of everyday objects. Another theme in his work is soft sculpture versions of everyday objects. Many of his works were made in collaboration with his wife, Coosje van Bruggen.

In the 1960s Oldenburg became associated with the Pop Art movement and created many so-called happenings, which were performance art related productions of that time. The name he gave to his own productions was "Ray Gun Theater". The cast of colleagues who appeared in his Performances included artists Lucas Samaras, Tom Wesselman, Carolee Schneemann, Oyvind Fahlstrom and Richard Artschwager, dealer Annina Nosei, critic Barbara Rose, and screenwriter Rudy Wurlitzer. His first wife (1960–1970) Patty Mucha, who sewed many of his early soft sculptures, was a constant performer in his happenings. This brash, often humorous, approach to art was at great odds with the prevailing sensibility that, by its nature, art dealt with "profound" expressions or ideas. But Oldenburg's spirited art found first a niche then a great popularity that endures to this day.

In December 1961, he rented a store on Manhattan's Lower East Side to house "The Store," a month-long installation he had first presented at the Martha Jackson Gallery in New York, stocked with sculptures roughly in the form of consumer goods.

Oldenburg moved to Los Angeles in 1963 "because it was the most opposite thing to New York [he] could think of".

In 1967, New York city cultural adviser Sam Green realized Oldenburg's first outdoor public monument; Placid Civic Monument took the form of a Conceptual performance/action behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, with a crew of gravediggers digging a 6-by-3-foot rectangular hole in the ground.

From the early 1970s Oldenburg concentrated almost exclusively on public commissions. His first public work, Three-Way Plug came on commission from Oberlin College with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Many of Oldenburg's large-scale sculptures of mundane objects elicited ridicule before being accepted.

His collaboration with Dutch/American writer and art historian Coosje van Bruggen dates from 1976. Their first collaboration came when Oldenburg was commissioned to rework Trowel I, a 1971 sculpture of an oversize garden tool, for the grounds of the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, the Netherlands. Oldenburg has officially signed all the work he has done since 1981 with both his own name and van Bruggen's. In 1988, the two created the iconic Spoonbridge and Cherry sculpture for the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota that remains a staple of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden as well as a classic image of the city. Typewriter Eraser, Scale X (1999) is in the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden. Another well known construction is the Free Stamp in downtown Cleveland, Ohio. This Free Stamp has an energetic cult following.

The year after the four giant badminton shuttlecocks were installed on the lawn of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, The New York Times described it as a public art piece making "the world a better and livelier place." But, in Kansas City, there were grumblings from critics who called it "not art" and a "giant waste."

“One of the jokes going around at that time referenced the fact that there were four birdies, but where’s the racket?” “Someone responded that the racket was commissioning these sculptures.”

Over the years, the sculptures grow in popularity and notoriety. “After we installed the sculptures, people got used to them and now you see them portrayed all over town in advertisements promoting the city,” he observed. “Today, they represent Kansas City as well as the museum.”

Think Big! was a retail store originally established in New York City in 1979.
The store was a joint endeavor by two friends, an artist Phyllis Prinz and a business man Robert Malkin. The two, who had an affinity for collecting oversized antique display pieces, opened their store against the advice of friends and experts. The product line started with a small offering consisting of giant 6 foot pencils and replicas of giant 5-foot Crayola crayons.

The entrepreneurs had great success and expanded into a nationwide catalog retail concept. The Think Big! product line grew to offer over 100 different larger-than-life objects. With the added success of catalog sales many franchise locations began to open across the country as the pop art style caught on through the 1980s. The unique creations have been featured in many films including Forrest Gump and Big both starring Tom Hanks.


Think Big flourished in the 1980s, when the scaled-up aesthetic was popular. Other companies, such as Swatch, also created comically large versions of their wares. In the early 1990s the retailer was at its peak and was sold to the high-end art gallery firm Martin Lawrence Galleries. The gallery already had many retail locations and attracted the interest of pop art fans with their huge collection of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein artwork. However, the Think Big franchise stores began to disappear, subject to high-rent retail locations and increased expense for catalog production.

By 1994, all retail locations of Think Big had been closed down.

Wim Crouwel is recognized for his love of grids and typographic systems to create dynamic, experimental work. In 1963, he was one of the founders of the design studio Total Design (currently named Total Identity). From 1964 onwards, Crouwel was responsible for the design of the posters, catalogues and exhibitions of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.

In 1967 he designed the typeface New Alphabet, a design that embraces the limitations of the Cathode Ray Tube technology (and the early screens that made use of it) and thus only contains horizontal and vertical strokes. Other typefaces from his hand are Fodor and Gridnik.

On the London Design Museum site they describe Wim Crouwel as follows:
“Regarded as one of the leading designers of the twentieth century, Crouwel embraced a new modernity to produce typographic designs that captured the essence of the emerging computer and space age of the early 1960s. Spanning over 60 years, this exhibition covers Crouwel’s rigorous design approach and key moments in his career including his work for design practice Total Design, the identity for the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, as well as his iconic poster, print, typography and lesser known exhibition design. The exhibition will explore Crouwel’s innovative use of grid-based layouts and typographic systems to produce consistently striking asymmetric visuals.”

Claes Oldenburg has had 2 solo exhibitions at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. The first in 1970 and the second in 1977. With both exhibitions, catalogues by Wim Crouwel were published , but the one from 1970 has a special lettering by Wim Crouwel. The same letter was used as the one on the poster which was printed in a bold deep blue color. Underneath the title of the catalogue there was in the same letter a blind print of the SM logo.

The “padded letters” are simply built on an elementary three-by-three unit grid, slightly altered for the ascenders, descenders, and the letter “m,” and employ an inner rounded corner to imply Oldenburg’s soft work. Crouwel later remarked, in Kees Broos’s Wim Crouwel Alphabets, about his experience of working on the project: “When the catalogue was finished and Claes saw it, he asked me if I would do the whole alphabet, so I did…. Then he sent me a lovely drawing, of his ice-cream alphabet, with the dripping letters.”

Until the end of De Wilde’s directorship in 1985, Crouwel was solely responsible for the Stedelijk’s identity and for almost all posters and catalogues. While at the Stedelijk, Crouwel developed a unique grid system that acted as a template for the museum’s graphic identity, which created visual consistency for the museum.

Embracing the modernity in the 1960s, with the dawn of the space age and computer technology in mind, Crouwel designed the radical New Alphabet typeface in 1967, specially made for the computerized typesetting and composing machine. The New Alphabet appeared almost alien, a cipher script of vertical and horizontal lines. This illegible font challenged the design establishment and provoked debate, which Crouwel was happy to engage in, having openly admitted to placing aesthetics above function. The New Alphabet was reused by Brett Wickens and Peter Saville for the Joy Division album Substance in the late 1980s and then digitized and made available for use in 1997 by The Foundry. Crouwel designed a number of other fonts, including Gridnik, whose title refers to his use of grid systems, which also resulted in the endearing nickname Mr. Gridnik.

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