We’ve been so wrapped up in Leslee Fraser and Obamania around here lately that we neglected to mention the passing of sculptor, art critic and historian Coosje van Bruggen last week. Van Bruggen and her husband, the Swedish pop artist Claes Oldenburg, worked together on over 40 large-scale public sculptures all over the world. Though critics often downplayed van Bruggen’s contribution to their projects, the couple always asserted that they were true collaborators.
Dutch-born van Bruggen married Oldenburg in 1977. They met in 1970 when she was a curator at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, where Oldenburg was installing a traveling retrospective. Their first collaboration coincided with their courtship six years later, when Oldenburg was commissioned to rework the giant “Trowel 1” sculpture at a museum in the Netherlands. As van Bruggen remembered it years later, “Claes said, ‘I made the trowel for you.’ I said, ‘It is not for me, and I don’t like it!’ ” (Haha, BURN!) Van Bruggen famously told him to paint the trowel a Dutch blue instead of silver, and from then on they collaborated in earnest, producing over 40 giant public artworks together–usually putting their playfully surrealist stamp on mundane objects from everyday life, like knives, garden hose, a flashlight, and a needle and thread. Their 1981 Split Button sculpture at Penn State was even immortalized on the Simpsons.
Oldenburg was an established art star before he and van Bruggen teamed up, which, in addition to her gender and the boys-club art climate of the 1970s, may have accounted for the way many critics viewed van Bruggen more as muse than creative partner. However, though Oldenburg made the drawings for their sculptures, it was van Bruggen who was responsible for the fabrication and siting of their projects. Spring, the 60-foot tall seashell pictured above, was entirely conceived, designed and directed by van Bruggen for the city of Seoul.
Visit the duo’s website, oldenburgvanbruggen.com for background information and sweet pics of each Oldenburg & van Bruggen project.