signed with the artist's initials, titled and dated 'Nutella C.O. 1964' (lower edge)
enamel, muslin, plaster and wire mounted on Plexiglas
14 ⅞ x 13 ¼ x 4 ¼ in. (37.7 x 33.6 x 10.8 cm.)
Executed in 1964.
Ernest Ferriero
The Estate of Ileana Sonnabend
By descent to the present owner
Princeton University Art Museum; Austin, University of Texas, Archer M. Huntington Art Gallery and Minneapolis, Walker Art Center, Selections from the Ileana and Michael Sonnabend Collection: Works from the 1950s and 1960s, February 1985-March 1986, p. 75, no. 48 (illustrated).
Roslyn, New York, Nassau County Museum of Art, Contemporary American Masters: The 1960s, June-September 1999.
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Lot Essay

“I am for an art that takes its form from the lines of life itself, that twists and extends and accumulates and spits and drips, and is heavy and coarse and blunt and sweet and stupid as life itself” (Claes Oldenburg, “Statement,” in Environments, Situations, Spaces, New York: Martha Jackson Gallery, 1961. Quoted in Claes Oldenburg: The Sixties, New York, 2012, 44.)

Swedish-born American artist Claes Oldenburg has made a decades-long career of elevating everyday objects to objects of Pop art. Oldenburg crafts his reproductions of ubiquitous objects, often in a larger-than-life scale, out of synthetic materials. Oldenburg’s works echo objects familiar to his audience, but they are uncanny in their resemblance to their real counterparts, and humorous in their blatant lack of use value.

Oldenburg’s trademark wit and interest in the ordinary are evident in his mixed media Nutella, created in the same year the popular Italian hazelnut and chocolate spread was introduced to the market. Oldenburg sculpted his homage to the sugary topping with plaster and wet muslin over a wire armature, finally adding colored enamel to the surface. The sheen of the enamel and the shape into which Oldenburg molded his construction echoes the physical properties of the Nutella spread. By purposefully separating the enamel into dark and light brown shades, Oldenburg calls attention to the artificiality of his inedible, almost garish facsimile. Oldenburg allowed each layer of enamel paint to dry before he applied the next, maintaining the vibrancy of his colors while highlighting his role as a painter at a time when traditional painting was being questioned by the artists of the avant-garde.

Oldenburg’s Nutella is an expansion of the connections between art, food, commerce, and mass production the artist famously exposed in his groundbreaking 1961 show at 107 East 2nd Street in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. In the back room of his Store, Oldenburg created replicas of items of food and clothing that could be found in dime stores or cheap diners across the city. He displayed and sold his items in the front section of his store to eager art collectors, embodying the role of consumers of mass-produced goods. Oldenburg’s store can be interpreted as an extended Happening, a live performance art event pioneered by Oldenburg’s acquaintance Allan Kaprow in the late 1950s. Oldenburg’s sculpture are also quintessentially Pop, inextricably linking art and money-making in a brazenly public manner. By selling items out of his store, itself a functioning art space, Oldenburg was also an early forerunner of installation art. Oldenburg’s object assemblages, like Nutella, relate to new practices of art-making that emerged in the early 1960s that would permanently alter the way art was conceived and produced throughout the world.

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