In a recent New York Times article, Claes Oldenburg talks about his earliest inspiration to create works of art, recalling the graffiti that popped up in his 1950s New York neighborhood and in “garbage containers made out of burlap.” Oldenburg hails from an early group of artists—along with Jim Dine, Red Grooms, and Allan Kaprow—who looked to the dirt and muck of the streets for inspiration during a time when Abstract Expressionism still had a stronghold on New York. While he would never truly depart from these initial sources of inspiration, in the 1960s Oldenburg began to place a strong emphasis on commonplace objects — food, clothing, and appliances are only a few examples of what one might encounter in his sculptures.
Wedding Souvenir presents two of the nearly two hundred slices of cake Oldenburg created over time as wedding gifts for friends. The artist plays with our perception by creating a work that—in scale, shape, and consistency—sharply contrasts with the actual function of a piece of wedding cake. This work and Ice Cream Being Tasted are faithful reminders of Oldenburg’s approach, as these usually soft and delicious desserts, which initially appear real and palatable, are actually composed of hard, inedible plaster. The contrast Oldenburg establishes here, as striking as it is humorous, is manifested in many different ways in the artist’s work. Wedding Souvenir also communicates the notion that an artwork can be mass-produced and, therefore, more accessible.
Label from Sweet Dreams, Baby! Life of Pop, London to Warhol, May 31–September 8, 2013