When I visit my family in Kansas City, Missouri, we usually try to visit the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. I know I’m home when I see Claes Oldenburg’s Shuttlecocks in front of the Nelson so I was very happy to see Tube and Contents–Prop from the performance "Massage" here at the Modern. The work of this Swedish artist who studied at the Art Institute of Chicago just makes me smile. He’s a pop art great. I love his take on everyday things.
With Tube and Contents he takes canvas, sewn fabric, cardboard, and a broom handle and creates a fun soft sculpture. Oldenburg captures red paint being squeezed out of a life size tube. He doesn’t paint, take a photograph, or make a video of this moment. He creates a soft sculpture instead. The artist also brings my attention to the fact that squeezing the paint out of the tube is the basic beginning of a painting. The paint then goes onto a blank canvas. However, in this piece, the canvas is the tube and its content is red paint. The paint and canvas become the art in this piece. Paint is no longer the material the artist uses on a canvas to make an artwork vibrant, dramatic, and realistic. The canvas is no longer just the item the artist paints on.
Usually the finished work that is rendered onto the canvas gets all of the attention, but is Oldenburg giving the paint and canvas their time to shine? We wouldn’t have Mark Rothko’s Light Cloud, Dark Cloud or Jackson Pollock’s Masqued Image if the paint wasn’t squeezed out of the tube and painted on the canvas, right? Oldenburg allows us to look at how a painting begins—literally. He portrays bright red paint coming out a squeezed tube. I can tell the tube has been squeezed intensely because of the way the artist folds the canvas over the broomstick. This reminds me of how I’ve folded over a tube of toothpaste trying to get at least a small amount onto the toothbrush because I haven’t gone to the market to buy another tube of toothpaste yet. However, Oldenburg’s tube appears to still be pretty full since the red paint comes out in a steady, uniform stream resulting in a colorful puddle.
The paint is ready and waiting to be used by the artist. Will the paint become a great masterpiece or a failure once it’s on the canvas? What will inspire the artist to use the red paint? Will it be a red rose, the red cheeks of a small child, or the shades of red in a sunset? I think Oldenburg leaves that for us to decide.
What do you think the red puddle of paint will become? What do you ultimately think of this Swede’s soft sculpture?