Claes Oldenburg at the DMCA, April, 1962 (WFAA Collection, SMU)
by Paula Bosse
Claes Oldenburg, the Swedish-born American sculptor, died this week at the age of 93. Among his connections to Texas are two of my favorite Oldenburg pieces: the fabulous “Monument to the Last Horse,” a permanent fixture of Donald Judd’s Chinati Foundation in Marfa which he created with his wife Coosje van Bruggen, and the much-missed “Stake Hitch,” a site-specific work commissioned by the Dallas Museum of Art (installed in the brand-new DMA in 1984, and, sadly, de-installed in 2002 after a nasty contretemps between Oldenburg and the museum).
Oldenburg’s first visit to Dallas was in April, 1962, at a time when he was known mainly to NYC art-world hipsters — well before he had achieved anything approaching his later international acclaim. He came to Dallas to present “The Store,” a pop art installation which was part of the group show “1961” at the Dallas Museum for Contemporary Arts (the DMCA, was merged with/absorbed by what is now the Dallas Museum of Art in 1963). While Oldenburg was in Dallas exhibiting “The Store” (comprised of 45 individual works, the placement of which he re-created from the original December, 1961 run in Manhattan), he also presented “Injun,” the first-ever “happening” held outside New York or Los Angeles and the first such interactive event commissioned by a museum (Oldenburg’s Ray Gun Theater performance-art “happenings” were much talked about and had gained a cult following in New York, and having him in Dallas to present a “happening” was a definite “get” for the DMCA).
“The Store” and “Injun” — and Claes Oldenburg himself — were very un-Dallas. The reception Oldenburg received from Dallas’ followers of edgier contemporary art appears to have been positive, but his work was handily dismissed by Dallas Morning News art critic Rual Askew, who, invoking the “royal we,” wrote this rather laborious sentence:
Claes Oldenburg’s ‘The Store,’ a painted-plaster waste of time in our view, has interest as assembled pattern with carnival colors at a considerable distance perhaps, but displaces space out of all proportion to aesthetic experience. (DMN, April 15, 1962)
As I work with the WFAA Collection (held by the G. William Jones Collection at SMU’s Hamon Arts Library), I was pretty excited when film footage popped up a couple of years ago showing Oldenburg and his first wife, Patty Mucha (who collaborated with Oldenburg and helped with the making of many of the art pieces), at the DMCA on Cedar Springs, a place I’d heard about for several years but had never seen an image of. The Oldenburgs are seen walking into the DMCA, tinkering with the installation before the show opened, inspecting the store’s “foods” and other “merchandise,” and playfully “playing store” and exchanging imaginary cash at his “cash register.” Sadly, there is no sound for the one-minute-45-second film, but — being an art history major (that always sounds pretentious…) — I really, really love this. A young, happy Claes Oldenburg and his moth-eaten sweater, here in Dallas, in the early years of his what would become an artistically important career.
I have been meaning to write this post since I first saw the WFAA footage two years ago. I’m sorry that it’s taken the death of the artist to finally get me to do it. RIP, Claes.
UPDATE: Morgan Gieringer, Head of UNT Special Collections, alerted me to a WBAP-Channel 5 news script they have in their collection which describes much the same sort of thing that is going on in the WFAA-Channel 8 film above. In the script, Oldenburg discusses some of the pieces — read the two pages here. (The Ch. 5 report was filmed on March 29, 1962, which could be the same date at the Ch. 8 footage.)
“The Store” at the Dallas Museum for Contemporary Arts, 1962 — in vivid color:
“1961” catalogue, via DMA/Portal to Texas History
Screenshots from the WFAA footage, showing Oldenburg and his wife, Patty (who worked alongside her husband and was a frequent participant in the “happenings”) preparing “The Store” for its opening at the DMCA.
Sources & Notes
Top image (and all other black-and-white images) are screenshots from the WFAA Newsfilm Collection, G. William Jones Film and Video Collection, Hamon Arts Library, Southern Methodist University; the footage was filmed in early April, 1962; the clip may be viewed on YouTube, here.
The color photograph of “The Store” and the poster for “Injun” are both from a publication of the Dallas Museum of Art, here.
Other Oldenburg-related sources:
- The “1961” exhibition catalogue — this group show featured heavy-hitting up-and-comers such as Robert Rauschenberg, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Motherwell, James Rosenquist, Joseph Albers, Morris Louis, Jasper Johns, Jim Dine, and Richard Diebenkorn — see the fully scanned Dallas Museum for Contemporary Arts catalogue here, via the Dallas Museum of Art Exhibition Records, Portal to Texas History
- Candid photos from the “Injun” performance can be seen here
- See several great photos of Oldenburg taken during the installation of “Stake Hitch” in 1984, in a DMA Bulletin here, here, here, and here
- Watch a short video about “The Store” when it was restaged at the Museum of Modern Art in 2013, with comments on the pieces by Oldenburg; see what the pieces shown in the 1962 black-and-white film made in Dallas looked like 51 years later, in color, in the MoMA video, here
Copyright © 2022 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.