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Art : When Bigger Is Better : Claes Oldenburg has spent the past 35 years blowing up and redefining everyday objects, all in the name of getting art off its pedestal.

July 02, 1995|Kristine McKenna | Kristine McKenna is a frequent contributor to Calendar

Their collaborative work has focused almost exclusively on large-scale public projects, among them two L.A. projects in collaboration with architect Frank O. Gehry: "Toppling Ladder With Spilling Paint," which was installed at Loyola Law School in 1986, and "Binoculars, Chiat/Day Building," completed in Venice in 1991.

Their collaboration with Gehry also involved a return to performance for Oldenburg when the trio presented "Il Corso del Coltello," in Venice, Italy, in 1985. "Coltello" is the source of "Knife Ship," a large-scale sculpture that served as the central prop; it was first seen in L.A. in 1988 when Oldenburg, Van Bruggen and Gehry presented "Coltello Recalled: Reflections on a Performance." It will be on view on the Plaza at MOCA for the duration of the show.

"Knife Ship," a gigantic Swiss Army knife complete with moving blades, oars and corkscrew, is a wonderfully audacious form that is clearly reflective of a comment Oldenburg once made about his work being in pursuit of a "satanic vulgarity." Elaborating on that comment today, he observes that "for me, vulgarity means 'of the people,' and there's always an element of vulgarity in art that attempts to bridge the gap between art and life.

"That's always been the overriding idea in my art; it's anti-elitist, it makes use of its surroundings, it's located in personal experiences and relationships, it struggles to get out of the museum, and it revolves around the forms that hold man together. At the bottom of everything I've done is a desire to touch and be touched."

* "Claes Oldenburg: An Anthology," Museum of Contemporary Art, 250 S. Grand Ave. Through Sept. 3. Tuesdays-Sundays, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; Thursdays, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. (213) 626-6222.

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