TABLE OF CONTENTS

PRINT November 1969

The Origins of Ray Gun

I have a dream about a “happening” at the Yale Art School. A costume of baroque gold chandelier and a white body with detachable bra-tits (worn by) the resident genius whom I know. I later assist in the presentation in a clean hall before a conservative audience. I look in tube, am popped in eye. Surprised but play along. Followed by rubbing out of traditional paintings accomplished by trick of turning off light behind chromo of painting.
—Claes Oldenburg, notebook entry
Provincetown, July 18, 1960

ONE OF THE DIFFICULTIES IN attempting to reconstruct Claes Oldenburg’s development is that he has left a mass of material, in the form of constantly proliferating notebooks, diaries and interviews; much of which is confusingly contradictory. This task of self-documentation is a central part of his artistic activity, serving as more than mere occupational therapy. It is, in fact, as if Oldenburg has achieved the ultimate Surrealist ambition of creating an art work of his life. For the cumulative effect of the documentary material appears the opposite of fact; in the end we are convinced not that Oldenburg’s hamburgers and ice cream cones are real, but that his life is a work of fiction.

Like a thrifty housewife (one of his many transsexual disguises), Oldenburg seems determined to use every leftover, reprocess any waste, resurrect every theme. For this reason, themes which he explored early in his career often re-appear later altered by metamorphosis. One such recurrent motif is the eroto-mystical theme of the Ray Gun, which re-emerges in the guise of the drainpipe and ultimately as the Drainpipe-Crucifixion. The theme of Ray Gun is perhaps the most important iconographical as well as formal motif in Oldenburg’s oeuvre, because it provides the key to his reformulation of sculptural values: his projection of body onto object, permitting the creation of a body-related object art of extreme originality.

Although Ray Gun is first mentioned in Oldenburg’s notes in 1959, his creation was a slow and laborious process involving Oldenburg’s conversion from an Expressionist figure painter to an object sculptor. Oldenburg left Chicago in 1956, arriving in New York shortly after Pollock’s death in an auto accident. For the first few years after his arrival in New York, he had few social or professional contacts. Perhaps the principal reason that Oldenburg felt so isolated was that the style then dominant in New York, although painterly and Expressionist, was abstract, while he, like many of his friends in Chicago, continued to paint the figure. Most of his early years in New York were spent reading, observing and drawing. Some of these drawings were strange metamorphic images that combined plants and machines. For a few months in 1957, in the course of attempts to elicit erotic fantasies, he also made collages. In the resulting montage, the irregular contour of an unrecognizable single image was silhouetted sharply against the white background of the paper. Later, the eccentric silhouette of these collaged fragments was to find expression in the twisting outline of the Empire (Papa) Ray Gun.

When, in the fall of 1959, Oldenburg had returned from Lenox, Massachusetts, to New York, the impact of renewed contact with the Lower East Side and the disparity between the idyllic countryside of Lenox and the “city nature” of the slums produced an outpouring of observations. “The switch from the country (which I had associated with a Romantic idea of purity) to the city (where there is no purity) is a maturing development,” he wrote. In Lenox, Oldenburg ran a small art gallery to earn money. He thought of opening his own gallery to show his friends’ work and of calling it the Ray Gun Gallery. When he returned to New York, he began thinking again of nature themes. Ultimately, the original form of the Empire or prototype Ray Gun took its irregular form from the first “object” Oldenburg had made—a small seed pod he had collected in 1954, which he mounted on a stand after his return from Lenox in 1959 so that it could be exhibited in his first show.

After his return from Lenox, he became increasingly concerned with seeing the human and natural qualities in the city. Recapturing the human element in contemporary American urban experience became the ultimate goal of Ray Gun art: thus the way to survive in the slums was to consider the environment as nature, and create art from that environment. Oldenburg had always interacted with his environment. His first three-dimensional sculpture, a papier-mâché elephant head that Oldenburg sometimes took off its stand at the Judson Gallery and wore around Greenwich Village was suggested by the masks that he and the printmaker Dick Tyler made with slum children in the neighborhood.

Beginning in late 1959, drawings of the metamorphic Ray Gun begin to appear, culminating in a free form hanging in space. In the exhibition of The Store at the Judson Gallery, there was a series of small mounted “ray guns,” battered recreations of a child’s toy gun. During the following summer in Provincetown, Oldenburg was obsessively preoccupied with the theme. In his notebooks, pages of free association read like an existentialist novel with a Freudian plot line, as the artist struggles to “define” himself through the medium of his double. The appearance of Ray Gun is accompanied by a burst of creative activity and, for want of a more specific explanation, of inspiration. Ray Gun is now visualized as a house front with a head and described as an “instrument for survival.” Survival is to be found, evidently, in the home—in Oldenburg’s close, sustaining relationship with his wife—and in the head; that is, in an art that is strictly conceptual and therefore diametrically opposed to the improvisations of the Abstract Expressionists.

Rejecting the forms and attitudes of Abstract Expressionism, Oldenburg began to shift his focus to the content of American culture, which in recent art, at least, remained unexplored. The lingering pall of American puritanism, with its repudiation of sex and leisure, its guilt, and its denial of pleasure, became identified in his mind with the “ghost” that he wished above all to exorcise. Cutting out photographs of monuments to American history around Provincetown, such as the Pilgrim Monument, he pasted them into his notebooks alongside reproductions of various local and national flags. His ambition was eventually to replace these monuments to the old culture with contemporary monuments, conceived in his own image and presumably appropriate for the new culture in the making. For the time being, however, he was involved in finding a series of protean forms that would take on a variety of “disguises”: “an archetype that the mass magazines want to find or will find.”

Although by this time Oldenburg had virtually stopped painting, he was still thinking in terms of a figurative art. Ray Gun was born—and it is hard to think of any other term to describe the sudden appearance of Oldenburg’s alter ego—as both a person, with a name that could have been borrowed from any of the TV Westerns popular at the time, and an object. His birth allowed an actual transition to take place from Oldenburg’s previous pictorial, figurative art to the making of three-dimensional objects, which for all their “objectness” nevertheless continue to serve as surrogates for the human body.

The appearance of Ray Gun solved many problems for Oldenburg. Previously, he had attempted to make the leap from the figure to the object by using early American figureheads, which, like Ray Gun, were both figure and object; but he rejected this solution because the figureheads were “too close to the real thing.” In other words, he wished his objects to stand at a certain remove from reality; they should be close enough to be identifiable, but not so close as to be confused with the thing itself. As he strained to find a ”simple and obvious form“ that would not be simple and obvious, he asked himself in a moment of desperation, ”Why do I make it so difficult for myself; why not use figures?"

The grafting of figure onto object that Oldenburg accomplished with the invention of Ray Gun made further innovation possible. As the great liberator, Ray Gun was defined as “an assertion of a new and rude potency,” and later as “the necessity of composing true and vulgar art” (by now taken to be identical). As Ray Gun became more firmly identified as Oldenburg’s Doppelgänger, he became more articulate. He began to issue prophecies and serve as a medium for visionary experiences. At this point, Oldenburg fused the technique of free association with the notion of the artist as medium—a seismographic recorder of cultural vibrations, or a kind of Ouija board receiving from the forces of history their collective message to be read by future ages.

Soon the notebooks were filled with references to Ray Gun, the hero of a thousand faces and wearer of a thousand disguises—metamorphic transvestite, aphorist, visionary, destroyer of old cultural values, and defender of the new faith; in short, the artist’s projected fantasy of himself as an all-powerful and all-embracing creator and saviour. Religious overtones are paramount in Oldenburg’s earliest conception of Ray Gun. Indeed, one of the original associations that Ray Gun had for Oldenburg was with Hart Crane’s “religious gunman,” who is identical with Christ; hence, Ray Gun is not only the artist’s alter ego but the “religious gunman,” or Christ, as well.

In the tradition of socially oriented artists like Goya and Picasso, whose names appear repeatedly in his notes, Oldenburg wished his own salvation to become the instrument of salvation for all. This Christian theme of martyrdom and salvation can be traced both in Oldenburg’s notebooks and in his work. For example, the jelly mold made in Stockholm in 1966 in the form of Oldenburg’s face, which was meant to be consumed, is an obvious reference to the communion rite; instead of the religious community consuming the Saviour’s blood and flesh, however, the public consumes the artist. There are of course numerous previous examples in the history of art of an artist’s identification of himself with a religious figure: for example, Dürer’s self-portrait as Christ, Rembrandt’s self-portrait as the Apostle Paul. More recently, we have Ensor’s representation of himself as the crucified Christ and Gauguin’s self-portrait with a halo. Such an identification with religious leaders is entirely in keeping with Oldenburg’s view that the artist functions in society as a priest or shaman, who exorcises evil spirits and thereby effects a psychological catharsis; in a moral vacuum, the artist provides the moral example.

Obviously, this attempt to reconstruct Oldenburg’s thinking in a logical way is a simplification of his actual thought processes. In point of fact, it was not until after he had analyzed his activities in retrospect that he became fully aware of what he had been engaged in. Looking back, he realized that finding his identity as an artist was the means to finding his identity as a man, and that arriving at an art style uniquely his own meant the integration of his personality.

As it turned out, in order to bring about this resolution Oldenburg had to invent a double—someone who could act for him if he did not feel capable of acting for himself. This double would permit him to act as a social artist, even while society at large was still mired in the stultifying years of the Eisenhower administration. The “secret sharer,” to borrow Conrad’s term, that Oldenburg invented began to take on specific characteristics of thought, form, and values during the summer while Oldenburg explored the lakes and woods around Lenox. Just as solitary children invent imaginary playmates, so Oldenburg allowed his fantasy to shape the personage who would serve as his double. But by the time that this double had taken on sufficient characteristics to be identifiable, it was clear that Oldenburg had conceived not another person, but an object with human attributes.

And Ray Gun was no ordinary hero. He is cast in the image of Beckett’s pathetic anti-heroes and is thus far removed from the dignified, tragic, and humanistic heroes of Hemingway, Camus, and Sartre, who struggle against extreme obstacles—a “heroic” vision which coincides closely with that of the Abstract Expressionists. While Oldenburg’s conception is clearly existentialist, in its cold and passionless detachment it has far more in common with the pessimistic acceptance of the human condition put forth in the “objective” new novel of such contemporary French authors as Alain Robbe-Grillet, who, like Artaud, describe a world beyond tragedy. Oldenburg’s is in no way a tragic vision; he accepts the gritty, earthy, macabre, and devastating elements of life as primary. He belongs, then, to that group of writers and artists, which includes Artaud, Beckett, Céline, and Du-buffet, who have rejected Unamuno’s “tragic sense of life” and have in a sense gone beyond tragedy and the tragic hero in the direction of the absurd, the ridiculous, the banal, and the cruel. Emptied of passion, beyond tragedy and heroics, such a “cold” existentialism can view matters of life and death with equal calm and objective detachment. The artist in this case is an anatomist who dissects the emotions, not an egotist who projects his emotions onto his surroundings or experience.

If contemporary humanism can express itself only in terms of the comic and the absurd, then the artist can no longer assume the lofty Mosaic stance of the Abstract Expressionists; he must descend to the people and, transforming the “hero into the loonie,” mask his sensitivity in the guise of vulgarity or folly.

This phrase, “hero into loonie,” first appears in the original Ray Gun notes tacked to the walls of the Judson Gallery. The notes were lost or destroyed (a fact that Oldenburg later interpreted as a kind of suicide from which he was “resurrected”) and survive only in fragments. Oldenburg saw the turning of the “hero into loonie” as a necessary way of practicing disguises, enabling the artist to avoid assimilation into the very society of which he is critical (corresponding to Herbert Marcuse’s definition of the fate of criticism in a “one-dimensional” society). “The artist must practice disguises,” Oldenburg advises. “When his intentions are best, he must appear the worst (which is often so, even when he doesn’t try). I admire good people who are not afraid to appear evil. Céline, ‘to be a pain in the ass.’ That is the meaning of the Céline plaque.”

In the Ray Gun notes Oldenburg praised “the beauty and meaning of discarded objects, chance effects. . . . The city is a landscape well worth enjoying—damn necessary if you live in the city. Dirt has depth and beauty. I love soot and scorching. From all this can come a positive as well as a negative meaning.” He admonished himself to “seek out banality, seek out what opposes it or what is excluded from its domain and triumph over it—the city filth, the evils of advertising, the disease of success, popular culture . . . Look for beauty where it is not supposed to be found.”

Speaking through Ray Gun, Oldenburg declared his impatience with the limitations of painting: “We are just a little tired of four sides and a flat surface.” Painting calms man down and soothes him, whereas Ray Gun sees man as “only alive when he is constantly arranging to upset his existence, when he is solving situations”—a definition of art that conforms to Morse Peckham’s conception of the goal of the contemporary esthetic experience. “Every simple thing is the incarnation of human obsession,” Ray Gun concludes, and he states his aim: “To make hostile objects human.”

From his first appearance, Ray Gun was omnipresent—in the notes just quoted, in the mono-prints posted on the façade of the Judson Gallery and throughout the neighborhood, during the period of the exhibition; in the drawings on stencils for “Ray Gun Poems,” “More Ray Gun Poems,” and “Spicy Ray Gun,” which were mimeographed and distributed from January to June; and in the announcement for “Ray Gun Specs,” a series of six group performances given February 29, March 1, and March 2, 1960 in the Judson Gallery, an adjoining room, and a gymnasium. Participants in organizing these events were Oldenburg himself, Jim Dine, Al Hansen, Dick Higgins, Allan Kaprow, and Robert Whitman. Thus, from its inception, Ray Gun had theatrical connections.

Oldenburg’s own contribution was his first happening, Snapshots from the City. Presented within the setting of The Street, it consisted of events “such as one might encounter on the streets,” in the form of a series of tableaux or compartmented scenes, briefly illuminated and set off from one another by interludes of darkness. As recorded on film, its static quality and dramatic, expressionist images reveal a closer resemblance to Red Grooms’ The Burning Building than to any of Kaprow’s happenings. In fact, Grooms was the original prototype for Ray Gun and has the same initials; but after he left the country later in 1960, to remain abroad for two years, he became a “fading memory” for Oldenburg. At the time, however, Grooms was, for him, the naïf, the ever-innocent eye that looked on banality with wonder.

On his return to New York from Provincetown in the fall of 1960, Oldenburg began considering making “objects, plaques, flags, monuments, space forms, house-rooms.” Eventually he was to make them all, but at the moment he complained that “the limitation of space forces me to consider making only smaller pieces at home.” To execute larger pieces, he would obviously need more room. The following spring, passing an empty store while on his way to work at Cooper Union, he realized that the answer was to allow Ray Gun to become the Horatio Alger of the Lower East Side and, like generations of Americans before him, realize his entrepreneurial ambitions.

By this time, the rough outlines of Ray Gun art had been sketched. With his usual obsessive, circular reasoning, Oldenburg concluded that since Ray Gun backwards was Nug Yar (New York), the Ray Gun was an ideal metaphor for Manhattan Island, whose shape it could also be made to resemble. Ray-Gun art was also “a social art: that is true art: form as idea.” While Oldenburg was searching for the American archetypes toward which he was determined to take “a double view, both for and against,” Ray Gun was making his own rules, seeking to create “the extraordinary out of the ordinary.”

During this period of trial and search, Ray Gun took on many identities: a sacred phallus, repository of strength and power (the taboo of Puritan America turned into its totem), a weapon of self-defense as well as an instrument of aggression. The paradox that the ray gun is both a means of survival as well as of destruction had many implications defining it as such, Oldenburg was recognizing his own ambivalent feelings—toward the self as well as toward the outside world. Ray Gun, the phallic object, allowed the artist, perhaps for the first time in his life, to look outward, to direct his energy, even his aggression, toward the world around him. Through the force of Ray Gun—that is, his own potency—Oldenburg would subvert values that he regarded as antagonistic to his own; he would “attack materialistic practices and art.” Ray Gun thus became the metaphor for a new kind of art, one dedicated to “spiritualizing American sensation.” But Oldenburg realized that his attitude toward American culture was complex: “I detest it—to begin with—those who pretend to ‘love’ it are fake or shallow. But I neither avoid it nor love it. I try to discover the human in it.”

Beginning with his return from Provincetown in the fall of 1960, Oldenburg’s focus shifted. He described the change in his outlook as “the change from the denial of evil to the recognition of evil.” His shift in emphasis from an involvement with violence and the death instinct which characterized The Street to an affirmative attitude based on the healing powers of the erotic had much in common with the post-Freudian concepts of Norman O. Brown. While The Store was in operation, Billy Klüver (referred to ironically in Oldenburg’s notes as “Billy Lugosi”) had presented Oldenburg with a copy of Brown’s book. Oldenburg was immediately struck by the analogies between Brown’s thinking and his own. The central thesis of this book—the eradication of the dualism between mind and body—was especially congenial to Oldenburg, who had been raised as a Christian Scientist; for Christian Science, like neo-Freudianism, recognizes no such dualism. Brown also counseled the renunciation of repression and sublimation in favor of a return to the polymorphous perverse condition of infancy. His advice to give up formal logic and the laws of contradiction, because they are “rules whereby the mind submits to operate under general conditions of repression,” was welcomed by Oldenburg, who had already accorded himself this permission.

Oldenburg’s “discovery,” in 1959–1960, of the identity of Ray Gun as the phallic totem, the priapic hero who would bring man back into contact with his true nature by liberating his instincts, meant a freeing of his own imagination as well. A comparison of The Street with The Store is like a capsule history of the distinction between Freudian and neo-Freudian thought. In contrast to the pessimism and morbidity of The Street, which was a metaphor for the anxiety of city life, The Store presented “power vitality health (hope hope)”; it was “a place of ‘quick love’ as well as a museum, an archeology.” With its brilliant color, sensuous surfaces, and abundance of goods, The Store hinted at the joys and pleasures that industrial civilization might bring; it was the popular museum where art was democratically available, not only to the happy few who visit elite art museums, but to the slum-dweller too. It was also both a satire on the American obsession to consume and the newly won status of American art as a commodity, and a celebration of the vitality of American culture. Whereas The Street expressed the pessimistic, 19th-century European attitude toward civilization, with its concomitant evils and the sacrifices of the instinctual life that it demands as necessary, The Store accepted the message formulated by Norman O. Brown and confidently predicted the triumph of Life against Death.

With the creation of The Store and the discovery of an American “style,” Ray Gun had found the means to self-expression. Secure in his identity, he began to entertain megalomaniac fantasies of power and world domination (which coincidentally paralleled America’s expansionist foreign policy of the sixties). Announcing that “All will see as Ray Gun sees,” he foresaw that objects, events, natural forces, and places would be transformed and recast in the artist’s image. But since the artist is a large, soft mesomorph, the hard plaster of The Store objects must be replaced by the pliant, yielding forms of soft sculpture. These in turn would become a series of self-portraits—Oldenburg’s own body image in increasing dimensions.

Finally, having created the new world, like God, and having saved humanity, like Christ, the artist will preside over the peaceable kingdom, where the instinctual has returned and the repressed been liberated—a land of contented, relaxed individuals, working, trading, and playing together like the good people of Neubern, the utopia Oldenburg fantasized as a child. Art will be reintegrated into society. The artist will regain his central role as priest of leisure and as the medium of communication with the higher realm of the spirit. Ruling with an easy, permissive hand, he will encourage self-expression and child-like play. He will overthrow the old value system, not through violence and revolution, but through subversion and humor; he will accede to power, not through force, but through the will of the people. Reigning with love, not fear, he will eventually oversee his vast domain from his throne in Central Park, the center of his peaceful, prosperous empire. Like the portraits of Roman emperors in mythological guise, the first monuments constructed during his benevolent reign will express the goals and values of the civilization he has created. Visible for miles around, the giant Teddy Bear monument will be a constant reminder of the ruler’s gentleness and affection, and his dedication to the resurrection of the honest joys of childhood—security, play, and the expression and gratification of instinctual needs. The cathartic-metamorphic powers of Ray Gun, first hero of the state, will transform the land of violence and social injustice into the land of pleasurable, natural satisfaction and affluent enjoyment.

Obviously, we are dealing here neither with reality nor the super-reality of Surrealism, but with a line of wish fulfillment that runs directly through the center of American thought. For, ultimately, Oldenburg’s vision is a grandiose utopian fantasy of a democratic Paradise Regained; in short, as Sidney Tillim was the first to point out, it is the American Dream. The nostalgia that permeates Oldenburg’s work, causing him always to use old-fashioned, obsolete stereotypes of his objects (pay-telephones, typewriters, the Airflow), is typical of American intellectuals, and reveals, according to Mircea Eliade, their “desire to turn back and to find their primordial history, their absolute beginnings. This desire to return to one’s beginnings, to recover a primordial situation, also denotes the desire to start out again, the nostalgia to relive the beatitude and the creative exaltation of the ‘beginnings’—in short, the nostalgia for the earthly paradise that the ancestors of the American nations had crossed the Atlantic to find.”

Frank E. Manuel states that two alternative utopian visions have come to the fore in contemporary Western society and appear to be moving in opposite directions: “In one, based upon the hypothesis of a growing spiritualization of mankind, the dross of the body seems to be left behind. In the other, a fantasy of greater rather than diminished sensate gratification is pivotal, and all human activity is libidinized.” Oldenburg’s utopia, like that of the neo-Freudians, is obviously of the latter type. (A case might also be made that 20th-century abstraction, with its basis in neo-Platonic aspirations to a condition of “pure spirituality,” conforms to the former.) In such a context, the transformation of The Street into The Store can be seen as a recapitulation of American utopian thought, representing the progress from Puritan eschatology to neo-Freudian millenarianism.

What is obscured in Oldenburg’s art is not the line between life and art, but rather the boundary between reality and fantasy, which seems to blur as the two merge in a fluid continuum. Clearly, Ray Gun’s courage in transforming the nightmare of The Street into the affirmative vision of The Store was meant to be an inspiration and an example to society in general. Ray Gun’s early career was devoted to exorcising two demons of American history: puritanism and violence. His ultimate goal, however, was the restoration of the transcendentalist vision of the pure land where nature and man are once more reconciled—but now, within the context of an industrial urban society, where “people are again not made afraid of expressing themselves.”

Unquestionably, Oldenburg’s personality conforms to Manuel’s description of the utopian fantast: “A bit of schizophrenia, a dose of megalomania, obsessiveness, and compulsiveness fit neatly into the stereotype”; and he adds that to be effective, the utopian must also “be endowed with genius and stirred by a creative passion.” Schizophrenia, according to Brown, testifies to “experiences in which the discrimination between consciousness of self and the consciousness of the object was entirely suspended, the ego being no longer distinct from the object; the subiect no longer distinct from the object; the self and world were fused in an inseparable total complex.” He further declares: “Contrary to what is taken for granted in the lunatic state called normalcy or common sense . . . the distinction between self and external world is not an immutable fact, but an artificial construct . . . Here is the fall: the distinction between ‘good’ and ‘bad,’ between ‘mine’ and ‘thine,’ between ‘me’ and ‘thee’ (or ‘it’).”

It is precisely these distinctions that Oldenburg refuses to make. The dissolution of boundaries between people and objects, the tangible and intangible, the solid and the gaseous, first in The Street and later in the soft sculpture, has analogies with the thought of schizophrenics, who cannot separate themselves from the world outside themselves. It is also obvious that Oldenburg agrees with Brown that the “adualistic” world of the schizophrenic, a world of “mystical participation . . . and indescribable extension of inner sense” may be the cure for civilization’s discontents. He reaches a conclusion identical to that of Brown: regeneration—survival, even—requires exchanging the rationality of Apollo, which has dominated Western thought since the Middle Ages, for the instinctual call of “Dionysus, the mad god (who) breaks down boundaries; releases the prisoners; abolishes repression; and abolishes the principium individuationis, substituting for it the unity of man with nature.”

Oldenburg’s world, in which play, fantasy, and permissiveness liberate the instinctual life buried within modern man, is thus related to two currents of utopian thought: that of the neo-Freudian, and that which has found expression throughout American literature, both popular and classical, as well as being echoed in American folklore. From the transcendentalists’ vision of the pure land to actual utopian communities like New Harmony, to Paul Goodman’s “communitas,” the American Dream has been of abundance, surplus, affluence, and leisure for all. It is not, however, a place of purely materialistic delights, but an earthly paradise: Jonathan Edwards’ New Jerusalem without his angry God.

Ray Gun’s vision is, of course, a fantasy; but it is a beautiful, radiant, affirmative fantasy—a vision of “PARADISE that is the place of no taboos, natural and full of hot white sunlight (Provincetown’s light).” It offers the possibility that the life force will triumph over the collective will to destruction, if the pleasure principle can become the reality principle. Oldenburg’s polymorphous perverse utopia, where even the machines are sexy and friendly rather than destructive and antagonistic to man’s human nature, coincides with Herbert Marcuse’s description of the ideal society in which “the sexual impulses, without losing their erotic energy, transcend their immediate object and eroticize normally non- and anti-erotic relationships between individuals, and between them and their environment. . . . The pleasure principle extends to consciousness. Eros redefines reason in his own terms. Reasonable is what sustains the order of gratification.”

In such a neo-Freudian utopia, fantasy and reality can mingle freely, as they do in Oldenburg’s art; and in prescribing such an accommodation, Oldenburg is a visionary artist, a social reformer in the tradition of Goya or Daumier. But, since ours is a society in transition, Ray Gun’s ultimate destiny is unknown. His prophecy offers two clear alternatives: either our power will be used to humanize the environment, creating a truly democratic society of leisure and abundance, or else Ray Gun will become an instrument of death and destruction. History alone will discern Ray Gun’s true identity, hidden beneath its layers of ambivalent disguises.

Barbara Rose