Fifteen years ago, four giant shuttlecocks landed on the grounds of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri. Designed by sculptors Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, the shuttlecocks received a mixed reception when they were first installed, but now they’ve become Kansas City icons. They add a whimsical touch to the classical exterior of the Nelson-Atkins. The contemporary glass Bloch Building (and it does look like glass blocks) addition to the east further lightens the mood. The Bloch contains the museum’s contemporary and African collections nad provide access to the outdoor sculpture garden, which features the works of many artists, including Henry Moore.
Bridal parties swarm around the shuttlecocks for wedding photos, impromptu soccer games arise among the sculptures, picnickers settle near them. In the beginning, many people thought (and wished) the shuttlecocks were a temporary exhibition, but Kansas Citians aren’t letting go now.
Inside the Bloch are smaller Claes Oldenburg sculptures, (small is a relative term) including a large orange vinyl light switch that slumps from the wall. A docent told me that Oldenburg’s first wife did the actual construction. I need to find out more about her!
ABOUT CLAES OLDENBURG AND COOSJE VAN BRUGGEN
(From http://nelson-atkins.org) Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen are artists/collaborators and husband and wife. In the 1960s, Oldenburg became one of America’s famous Pop artists. He is also known for creating the first soft sculptures made of fabric, many of which were foodstuffs—slices of cake, ice cream cones and hamburgers that are staples of daily life in America. As his repertoire grew, Oldenburg created typewriters, electric fans and toilets. The Museum’s Switches Sketch (1964) and Soft Saxophone, Scale B (1992) are classic examples of Oldenburg’s soft sculptures of familiar objects.
Oldenburg and van Bruggen’s first collaboration was in 1976, when the sculptures Trowel I (1971–1976) in Otterlo, The Netherlands, and Trowel II (1976) in Purchase, New York, were commissioned. The artists married in 1977 and have since executed more than 40 large-scale sculptures worldwide. Whimsical works like the soft sculptures are based on everyday objects from popular culture. By making ordinary objects the focus of their art rather than depicting more traditional, heroic and commemorative subjects, they challenged conventions and reinvigorated the history of sculpture.
Created on a monumental scale, works such as Clothespin (1976) in Philadelphia; Spoonbridge and Cherry (1988) at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis; Typewriter Eraser, Scale X (1999) at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. and Shuttlecocks (1994) at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art continue to delight and surprise visitors.
Oldenburg was born in 1929 in Stockholm, Sweden. Van Bruggen was born in 1942 in Groningen, The Netherlands. She died in 2009.