An Outsize Oldenburg Cuts a Wide Swath at the Guggenheim
For perplexed viewers Oldenburg explains that he wants his works to reveal the many symbolic meanings in familiar objects. "The Swiss Army knife had always looked to me like a ship," he says. "The blades look like sails and the corkscrew like a mast." The blades and corkscrew also juxtapose "the rational and completely screwy sides" of the Swiss personality. In 1985 Oldenburg floated an identical sculpture (now in storage) on a Venice canal. There, the blades were meant to mimic and clash with Venetian towers.
Since he became a Pop Art star in the '60s, Oldenburg has designed such odd objects as ceramic sandwiches, a 48-foot clothespin and a 24-foot lipstick. But the knife ship (which will move permanently to L.A.'s Museum of Contemporary Art) may have been his most painstaking effort. In Venice, Oldenburg and van Bruggen spent months creating a motorized barge that would steer the knife. "We kept bumping into the side of the canal," he says. Last month they had to remove a huge window and line the Guggenheim with a plastic bubble to keep out the cold weather while installing the sculpture. Now, as he sees the surprise on viewers' faces, he knows it was worth the trouble.