Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

San Francisco, CA


California Palace of the Legion of Honor, photos: John Hazeltine


Claes Oldenburg: Prints and Multiples

June 5 ­ September 19, 1999


Swedish-born American artist Claes Oldenburg (b. 1929) is perhaps best known for his monumental public sculpture in which he takes commonplace, everyday items such as silverware, food, and machinery and transforms them in surprising and humorous ways. During the course of his career he has also produced a large body of over 250 prints and editioned works. Oldenburg's prints and multiples, witty and frequently unconventional, range from traditional etchings and lithographs such as the monumental Floating Three Way Plug (1976) and The Letter Q as Beach House, with Sailboat (1976) to unconventional hybrid multiples like Profile Airflow (1969) to innovative kinetic sculptures like Ice Bag--Scale B (1971).

The sixth in a series of exhibitions presented in the Legion of Honor's Anderson Gallery of Contemporary Graphic Art, Claes Oldenburg: Prints and Multiples is drawn from the collections of the Fine Arts Museums, including the Anderson Graphic Arts Collection, the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts, and the Crown Point Press Archive. The exhibition follows Oldenburg's printmaking career from the 1960s through the late 1970s, and includes works from presses like Gemini G.E.L., Los Angeles; Universal Limited Art Editions, West Islip, New York; and the San Francisco Bay Area's Crown Point Press.

Oldenburg's interest in traditional printmaking did not really manifest itself until the late 1960s. In the late 50s early 60s most of his work in this medium reflected his "anti-print phase": Oldenburg's "prints" were generally mimeographed or commercially produced works relating to his installations or performances. By the mid 1960s Oldenburg was promoting "multiples," small scale editioned sculptures like Baked Potato, from the Tanglewood Press portfolio 7 Objects in a Box. In 1968, Oldenburg was invited by Gemini G.E.L. to try his hand at lithography. He insisted, however, on producing a multiple or hybrid print as his first project. The result was Profile Airflow, a cast polyurethane relief of a 1937 Chrysler Airflow, the world's first streamlined production car, mounted over a lithograph. His subsequent printmaking effort at Gemini G.E.L., the portfolio Notes, was much more conventional in form.

Oldenburg later experimented with the traditional techniques of soft ground etching and aquatint, introduced to him by Kathan Brown at Crown Point Press. These methods allowed him to easily transfer the spontaneity of his crayon-and-wash style of drawing into print. The monumental prints produced by Oldenburg in the mid-70s, such as Floating Three Way Plug, made at Crown Point Press, and the Soft Screw series produced at Gemini G.E.L became typical of his printmaking style. Other works on display that exemplify Oldenburg's take on traditional printmaking include Landscape with Noses (1972), Tea Pot (1975), and Butter Pat in Berkeley Hills (1976).

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