VAN DER ROHE VS. CLAES OLDENBURG

Throughout the ages the world has seen and encountered many artists, practicians and innovators who come up with new ideas that have changed the way we appreciate and interact with art. Many of these practitioners have collaborated with each other and have created remarkable and outstanding forms of art. Through this illustrated essay my goal is to compare and assimilate how the work of design from Van der Rohe and Claes Oldenburg has impacted the world we live in. I will demonstrate strong connections in between each of the artist’s work of art and their ideas. Through a concrete analysis, drawings and primary sources I will state how their thinking translated and gave birth to their art objects.

First of all, in order to achieve this relationship I must give some history on the artist’s biography in order to understand their potential and intention. What ideas and thoughts they were trying to achieve at the time their art work became mainstream? Are they a product of their own or a product of society for the time stated in their work? Do we encounter any differences and similarities within their work? What do the primary sources tell the reader about their knowledge and contribution to the world of art? All the questions stated above will be examined and answered as I reinforce my analysis with the use of graphics.

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Van Der Rohe

Mies Van der Rohe was a German-American architect and along with Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius and Frank Lloyd Wright, he is recognized as one of the pioneers of modern architecture. He was born on March 27th, 1886. As a Post-World War I contemporary artist, he established a new architectural style that could represent modern times. His architecture was defined by different iconic shapes, which he referred to them as “skin and bones.” Mies thought about his work as rational and creative and he always wanted to express the soul and spirit of the modern era. One of Mies greatest architectural buildings is situated in Montreal. It is the Westmount Square, which is is a residential and office complex located in Westmount.

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                  Front entrance of the Westmount Square – designed by architect Mies van der Rohe

The complex was built on 1964 and it opened on December 1967. The exterior features curtain walls, and is made of black anodized aluminum and smoked glass windows. It was conceived on the existing idea of The Lake Shore Drive Apartments in Chicago, which is a series of four high-rise apartment buildings that were built between 1949 and 1951.

Looking back in time and knowing that Mies served as the last director of the Bauhaus and relating this new architecture to his older art forms like the Chicago Federal Complex built from 1959, we are able to see that he created an influential twentieth century architectural style. Mature buildings like the one from Westmount Square combined industrial steel and plate glass to define interior spaces. Rohe’s main purpose while designing this type of art form was to achieve somehow simplicity and to be as clear as possible. As stated in the reading “Theory and Organization of the Bauhaus,” by Walter Gropius. The main purpose and goal in visual arts design is to achieve space and form while undergoing the development of an artwork. This is exactly what Mies achieved when he designed many of his buildings, including, as we can see in the drawing above, the exterior of the Westmount Square. He gathered space and gave the building life, through its foundation and the materials used. The glass clearly defines the interior of the building, making it a unique masterpiece and a must see while visiting Montreal.

On the other hand, I also have to mention the background of the second practitioner that will be introduced throughout this illustrated essay before I can start making connections between both artists. Claes Oldenburg was born in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1929. He moved to Chicago in 1936. Just like Mies, they both started their great work in the windy city of Chicago.

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Claes Oldenburg

Using as his subject matter the common and commercial objects in his urban surroundings, especially the city’s lower east side, Oldenburg established himself at the beginning of the 1960s with a series of installations and performances, among them The Street (1960), The Store (1961), and Ray Gun Theater (1962), which contributed significantly to the emergence of American Pop Art. He is well known for being a pioneer in the Pop Art movement. He was without a doubt a unique sculpture and public artist who created shapes and figures that were placed on top of buildings, around the city and also collaborated on the creation of buildings with different art shapes. One of his most iconic designs features an actual ice cream that was placed on top of a building. The

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                                    Dropped cone – located in Neumarkt Galerie, Cologne, Germany

design is called “Dropped cone,” and it was created in 2001 and it is located at the Neumarkt Galerie, Cologne, Germany. Oldenburg used mediums such as stainless steel, reinforced plastic, balsa wood, and than painted the art form with polyester gelcoat. The cone exhibits a very nice pattern of repetition, with the repeated pattern on the surface of the waffle. The colour is very simple, with only ivory, a light brown and a darker brown. The main purpose of the artwork was to make that particular shopping mall stand out from the rest of the malls in the area. It also serves to entice buyers to consume ice cream, this of course is sell-marketing and mind control on the consumer’s side. The art form will doubly benefit any surrounding ice cream shops as customers would be influenced by the large, wacky sculpture.

The most important part of this illustrated essay is the actual connections between these two artists. It is a true fact that both artists began creating artwork in Chicago. This leads already to a strong relationship of artwork that was placed around all over the city while their movement was at the peak of the their game. Both artists used in many of his designs and creation of buildings modern materials such as industrial steel and plate glass to define interior spaces. Van der Rohe strove toward an architecture with a minimal framework of structural order balanced against the implied freedom of free flowing open space; while Claes Oldenburg was well known for bringing pop art to the masses, by enlarging every day objects and placing them on top of buildings and in the middle of parks. Both Van der Rohe and  Oldenburg tried to communicate with the public through their artwork. the conception of Rohe’s buildings and Oldenburg’s gigantic objects questions the art movement of the new era and the previous years. I am able to connect both artists with a clear vision that was brought to life though the making of massive sculptures that created a “Wow Factor” on the audience, in this case the public.

When I say, “Wow Factor,” I’m making reference to the impact of their artistic movement in society. The impact of a small idea sketched in paper, translated into a sculpture and brought to life with the use of diverse materials. On the images below, we are able to see two of Oldenburg’s enlarged objects and how they contrast next to each other. The first one, is the already well known and talked about “Dropped cone,” and the second one is the famous building called “Binocular with Lightbulb,” which was designed by Oldenburg in collaboration with Canadian-born American architect Frank Gehry. Both designs incorporate a dialogue between art and architecture, meaning they show and represent the artist’s statements and points of view, but are also architectures were people interact, dream, expand their ideas and enjoy their time. The artists were able to take a type of material and were able to play with it, pull it apart, turn it around, create, synthesized it and at the end they were bale to achieve a foundation that represented their artwork. “Binocular with Lightbulb,” in the Chiat/Day Building located in Venice, California; suggested a tradition in southern California, and the precedent of imagining functional objects as buildings. Oldenburg gave plenty of attention focused as much on the interior as the exterior of the Binoculars and on the addition of windows. The two curved rooms were intended to serve as places of retreat. Each and one of them was furnished with a huge elongated lightbulb of resined cloth, suspended from the ceiling. The art form was inaugurated in September 1991. Just like the “Dropped cone,” “Binocular with Lightbulb,” is a massive form of art that was placed in the middle of two buildings. The only difference is that the “Dropped cone,” was placed on top of a structure and the “Binocular with Lightbulb,” was placed in between. Proving once again the power of Oldenburg’s public art movement.

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Binocular wuth Lightbulb – Oldenburg

I can come to the conclusion that  we live in a world of design. Everything from the shapes of our buildings to a simple painting in an art gallery, had and was involved in a process of design. The process of thinking of an idea which evolves through time and generates a larger than life work of art is what the two artists accomplished. This process is obviously created and achieved by different artists, sculptors, painters, architects from different places in time. Everyone is a product of their generation and so was Van der Rohe and Claes Oldenburg. They have chosen the shapes and figures we should look at and appreciate. The simple thought of changing the way we view art was drawn by these two practitioners. Van der Rohe and Claes Oldenburg used space and form in the best way in order to achieve life changing architectures that continue to blow people’s minds up until this day.

Works Cited

Vitullo-Martin, Julio.The Biggest Mies Collection: His Lafayette Park residential development thrives in Detroit. The Wall Street Journal. 2007. Print.

Gropius, Walter. The Theory and Organization of the Bauhaus. 1923. Page 311. Print.

McCracken, David. The Art Fair That’s Been In the Picture the Longest. Chicago Tribune. June 5th, 1987. page 3. Print.

Foucault, Michel. This Is Not a Pipe. University of California Press. 2008. page. 41. Print.

Cragg, Tony. Cutting Up Material. 1990. PDF Document.

Pye, William, David. The nature of Design. London. Studio Vista. 1964. Page 7-9. Print.

Written by Felipe Medina for the Thinking Through Making course at Concordia University in Montreal.

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