PRINT January 2023


Claes Oldenburg’s 1962 Assorted Food on a Stove at the 32nd Venice Biennale, June 1964. Photo: Sergio del Grande/Mondadori Portfolio/Bridgeman Images.

AS I CONTINUE TO REFLECT on the loss of Claes Oldenburg, the sadness remains but is now accompanied by the realization of so much once taken for granted: the presence and company of the serious and mischievous Claes, the cheerful dinners involving many toasts, the productive working lunches, and the inimitably fulfilling studio visits. These were all enhanced by the presence of Coosje van Bruggen before her death in 2009.

I vividly remember Claes’s Happenings in 1959 and 1960, to which Henry Geldzahler introduced me; every awe-inspiring show at Sidney Janis; and the pivotal 1964 Venice Biennale, where Claes and seven of his contemporaries represented the United States. Claes was a well-respected artist, becoming internationally known, when I met him in the mid-1960s. His striking and innovative work was already affecting his peers, and his freedom of thought and radical mode of expression continue to wield a huge influence on succeeding generations.

Only now do I truly comprehend my great good fortune in learning from, working with, and being friends with such an extraordinary person. Now it is time to celebrate his bold, surprising, and delightful sculptures, which are found around the world. He has left us a truly great gift.

Paula Cooper is the owner of Paula Cooper Gallery, New York.