In the mid-1960s, writer Harris Rosenstein took on the formidable task of “Climbing Mt. Oldenburg,” to quote the title of an article he wrote in the January 1966 issue of ARTnews. At the time, Claes Oldenburg was at work on a new series, “Soft Chrysler Airflow,” a group of soft sculptures (made in his signature deflated-looking, stuffed, painted vinyl forms), based on a car Chrysler produced in the 1930s. On the occasion of Rosenstein’s essay, Oldenburg made a special preparatory drawing for one of the cars for the cover of ARTnews; readers could cut it out and make what Rosenstein called “a personal Oldenburg souvenir.”
At a time when many of us have turned from reading on paper to reading on a screen, we decided to resurrect Oldenburg’s cover project, with the artist’s blessing. It’s something only print can do; you can’t make a nifty little car that you can hold in your hand out of a bunch of pixels. And this is not just any car: As Rosenstein points out, the Chryslers on which Oldenburg modeled his sculptures were “the first American, mass-produced cars designed aerodynamically for minimum wind resistance.”
Several years before Rosenstein wrote his essay, Oldenburg had opened his Store in downtown Manhattan, where he sold outsize, cartoony, plaster-and-chicken-wire versions of ordinary things like ice cream cones, cigarettes, shoes, and sandwiches. He also started putting on Happenings—performances by volunteers that incorporated his sculptures. Rosenstein quotes him on these Happenings: “Before I get to people, I ask myself what things they would like to handle: the things they are used to or the things that are strange to them, in order to see how they will react. My method uses people and things.”
As you assemble his car—which you’ll find in a printer-friendly version here—think of it as a mini Happening, a way of getting in touch with Oldenburg’s work.
A version of this story originally appeared in the Winter 2018 issue of ARTnews on page 120.