Oldenburg’s Vision – Catherine

Alphabet in the Form of a Good Humor Bar is a 1970 offset lithograph by Claes Oldenburg. A lithograph is a form of printmaking that uses a stone that has had grease-based paint applied and then has other ink applied over top. Lithography is a common medium through which images are reproduced for mass consumption. This image is a reproduction of a drawing done in pencil and crayon by Oldenburg done the same year.

Several intriguing questions are raised by mere visual observation of this piece. First, and most obviously, Good Humor bars are not sold in the color depicted by Oldenburg, so why that color choice in this print? It has been suggested by observers that the color and texture of the letters evokes either the intestines or the brain. The soft but brown-tinged pink is often associated with interiors and human anatomical tissues. This makes it an interesting choice for the outside of the Good Humor Bar of Oldenburg’s imagination. However, this connection to the intestines may reflect the tendency towards the scatological as Oldenburg’s career progressed. Juxtaposing such imagery alongside a commercial food object creates a subtle connection between the object and the process of consumption. Good Humor Bars appeared in other works by Oldenburg, and he is in general associated with a focus on food products. This is a major part of why he is associated with early Pop Art, because this subject involves the elevation of everyday commercial products and his work comments on consumption.

Finally, it is exceptionally interesting to consider this work and the sculpture it inspired in light of Oldenburg’s 1961 statement I am for an art. In this manifesto, Oldenburg states “I am for an art that (…) spits and drips (…) that a kid licks after peeling off the wrapper (…) 7-UP art, Pepsi-art (…) cake art, cookie art”. Aspects of all of these fundamental principles of Oldenburg’s art come together in this work—there are literal drips in the art and Good Humor bars can indeed be licked by children. This broadly reflects his previously-referenced interest in food items, many of which were featured in The Store around the time of I am for an art. It is interesting to see all these ideas come together in a single work more than a decade later, and it points to the enduring focus of Oldenburg’s vision during this time. Besides the superficial comparisons the aesthetic of an art that captures imperfections and common everyday objects in an accessible manner is also very much present in the statements and the sculpture. He ends the statement with the sentence fragment “square which becomes blobby.” Given the typically square or block nature of alphabetic characters as opposed to their appearance in Oldenburg’s work, this is a very interesting statement and reflects important aspects of Oldenburg’s belief about transforming the everyday in the works he created.

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