Andrew Graham-Dixon on innovative sculptor Claes Oldenburg's retrospective at Leeds Art Gallery
"I AM for an art that is political-erotical-mystical," Claes Oldenburg declared in 1961, "that does something more than sit on its ass in a museum." The young Oldenburg wanted to make art that could express the messy, frag¬mentary, mobile nature of modern city living — that would reflect urban culture's insistent consumerism, that would cherish its rubbish-tip residue.
Declarations tumbled out of him with a kind of inspired fervency, each one the seed of an aesthetic revolt: "I am for art that is put on and taken off like pants, which develops holes, like socks, which is eaten, like a piece of pie, or aban¬doned with great contempt, like a piece of shit... I am for the art of scratching in the asphalt, daubing at the walls. I am for the art of bending and kicking metal and breaking glass, and pulling at things to make them fall down... I am for the art of underwear and the art of taxicabs. I am for the art of ice cream cones dropped on concrete. I am for the ma¬jestic art of dog turds, rising like cathedrals. .. "
Last week, to mark the Leeds opening of his large retrospective exhibition, "A Bottle of Notes and Some Voyages", Oldenburg gave a public slide talk in the City Art Gallery. He is, perhaps, a little less declarative than he used to be, but the ideas still come pouring out with the old, irrepressible energy. The man who gave the world the 45-foot-high clothes-peg and who dreamed of constructing a giant teddy bear in New York's Central Park, was meditating new sculptural impossibilities.
Near the end of his talk, he outlined a projected monument to President Ken-nedy: a giant, underground mould in...