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Art Outdoors: The Oldenburg Murals

by Erin Matson

Art Outdoors: The Oldenburg Murals video still


Footage showing the fabrication of Oldenburg's Pop Tart and Frayed Wire, shot by David Katzive, the MCA's first curator.

The second mural in the series was executed in 1969—and took on a notably different tone. The image on this mural was a visibly frayed, coiling red wire, which Oldenburg used to “describe more accurately his changed feelings toward Chicago.” Following the police violence that marked the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Oldenburg wanted an image that reflected the “tension and emergency” that came to define the city at that time.

Claes Oldenburg's Frayed Wire mural outside the MCA's original building at 237 E

Finally, in 1972, Frayed Wire was replaced with Emerald Pills. This mural was a “monumental blow up of emerald-colored aspirins loosely stacked within a space defined by the walls of the building.” The meaning of this last mural was less clear, largely leaving interpretation open to the viewer and the “changing seasons and moods.” As for Oldenburg's intent, the press release does mention Oldenburg's fascination with sleeping pills, but also notes that he was hoping to see the mural in a snowstorm. Oldenburg continued to explore the idea of these emerald pills in his sculpture work, creating a cast aluminum and stainless steel sculpture, Emerald Pill(1977), which the MCA holds in its collection.

Claes Oldenburg's Emerald Pill (1972) mural outside the MCA's original building at 237 E

The Pop-Tart mural was the first time that the MCA brought art outside of the walls of the museum. Over the years, the museum has shown an enduring commitment to bringing art outside of traditional gallery spaces and has been dedicated to increased accessibility to art for all. We look forward to sharing other examples of these artworks in our future posts on Art Outdoors.