1960s After graduating from Yale University, Oldenburg moved to New York City, where he and a group of artists challenged Abstract Expressionism with a performance art project called “Happenings” — partly scripted, partly spontaneous theatrical vignettes. Like many of his sculptures yet to come, the performances referenced the function of objects within an environment and broke down barriers between art and commodity.
1961 While his peers were displaying most of their work in galleries, Oldenburg opened a storefront on Manhattan’s Lower East Side called The Store to sell his work and host theatrical performances. A bold symbol of the Pop Art movement, The Store’s products included plaster sculptures of food and commercial objects ranging from pastries to underwear.
1962 Canvas props that Oldenburg sewed for “Happenings” inspired the artist to create oversized, soft and sagging sculptures such as Floor Burger and Pie A La Mode. The development of Soft Art challenged assumptions of big and small as well as flimsy and sturdy, waxing parody from a combination of fine art and the ordinary.
1969 Continuing to pursue the “poetry of scale,” Oldenburg shifted his concentration to colossal outdoor monuments. What began as a series of sketches of massive familiar objects occupying relatively tiny landscapes turned into the artist’s lifetime passion for making commissioned, permanent monuments. The first public sculpture, Lipstick (Ascending) on Caterpillar Tracks, was installed on Yale’s campus.
1976 Oldenburg’s first public piece built in urban scale, the 45–foot Clothespin made from steel, was installed at the corner of 15th and Market Street. Since then, over 40 similar pieces created collaboratively by Oldenburg and his late wife Coosje van Bruggen have landed in the U.S., Europe, Japan and Korea.
1981 Split Button was unveiled in front of the Van Pelt Library and met with a fair amount of criticism and a typo–ridden DP article. Now, the sculpture is a quintessential part of Penn’s campus — a butt to jokes involving public sex and Benjamin Franklin’s legendary size–too–tight sweater vest.
August 20, 2011 Oldenburg, 82 years old, watched the installation of his 51-foot-long Paint Torch in Lenfest Plaza at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Philadelphia, now home to four of his large-scale public sculptures, has more than any other city in the world.