• The Accidental Possibilities of the City: Claes Oldenburg's Urbanism in Postwar America
    Katherine Smith
    University of California Press, 2021
    Katherine Smith

Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, Alternative Proposal for the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin, Ohio, 1979. Hard-ground and soft-ground etching, aquatint, and spit bite, 34 x 40 3/4 in. (86.4 x 103.5 cm). Edition of 60, 12 AP, BAT, TP. Various collections, including the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College. Courtesy of Oldenburg van Bruggen Studio, New York. © 1979 Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. Photo: D. James Dee, NY.

Claes Oldenburg’s commitment to familiar objects has shaped accounts of his career and extended associations with pop art and postwar consumerism. This book proposes that his foundational and enduring relationship with the city is the critical perspective on his career; his art is urban theory. Oldenburg has adapted lessons of context, gleaned through direct interactions with and material integration of New York’s cityscape in the late 1950s, to large-scale objects and architectural plans, some in dialogue and collaboration with Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, Philip Johnson, and Frank Gehry. This book examines disparate projects in the United States, in New York and Los Angeles, and between coasts, to trace connections of Oldenburg’s sculptures to local geographies and national discourses in art and architecture and to understand patterns of postwar urbanization through the important interventions of one of our country’s leading postwar artists.

Katherine Smith is associate professor of art history at Agnes Scott College, where she has taught courses in modern and contemporary art and architectural history and theory since 2003. Her research focuses on intersections in American art and architecture from the 1960s to the present, with emphases on sculpture and urbanism. Her publications have addressed the influence of pop art on Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown’s architectural projects, pedagogical practices, and theoretical writings and considered the position of Claes Oldenburg's sculptures in discourses on public art, contemporary architecture, and urban design. The early research for this project was also supported by the Graham Foundation. Smith holds a PhD in modern and contemporary art and architecture from the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University.