The name Claes Oldenburg may bring to mind sculptures of giant lipsticks, ice cream cones and shuttlecocks. Today, the esteemed 83-year-old artist is known for his larger-than-life, playful public art installations of ordinary objects. This conversation between art and the everyday is one Oldenburg has been having since the start of his career more than 50 years ago, as a rare exhibition currently on view at The Menil Collection demonstrates.
"Strange Eggs" consists of 18 collages Oldenburg made within two years after moving to New York in 1956. Notably, curator Michelle White has brought the complete works together for the first time with this show; until now, surprisingly, the series has never been shown in its entirety.
The show is found in the surrealistic section of the Menil. It's an appropriate space; these experimental works are composed of photographic reproductions of advertisements and images in newspapers and magazines, melded together in unnatural ways. The black-and-white collages feature self-contained forms (the "strange eggs"), two to five to a page. The imagery used is mostly, disturbingly, indiscernible; the photographs are manipulated beyond recognition from the source material to the point where they're just texture. They even seem to drip down the page in "Strange Eggs V."
None of the works are named after anything in particular. In fact, they're simply numbered in Roman numerals from "I" to "XVII." However anonymous, these strange eggs do sometimes contain recognizable imagery. Long manes of hair, likely from shampoo ads, pieces of pie and even the limbs of horses can be found within the world of each collage. It's this familiarity amid all the strangeness that keeps you coming back for more.
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"Claes Oldenburg: Strange Eggs" at The Menil Collection, 1533 Sul Ross Street, runs now through February 3. For more information, call 713-525-9400 or visit www.menil.org.