Good Humor Bar

June 1, 2009

Good Humor Bar on Park Avenue (model), 1971, Claes Oldenburg, U.S. Fabric, vinyl, Plexiglas, foam, and polyester. 64 x 31 x 121⁄2 inches. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. J. Tomilson Hill III P '04.

This recent acquisition is an excellent example of the work of pop artist Claes Oldenburg, who is known for his larger-than-life sculptures of everyday objects—hamburger, clothespin, shuttlecock, among others—re-created out of unexpected materials like fabric and vinyl. His works are intended to be humorous, and their wide appeal reflects the artist's commitment to a democratic art available to all.

Oldenburg's aim is for his work to create a conversation with viewers. "The idea of endless public dialogue," he has said, "is very important."

This work is a model for a monument more than 800 feet tall intended for New York's Park Avenue, where it would have towered among the skyscrapers. The space left by the "bite" in the ice-cream treat would have created an arch, allowing cars to drive under and through the artwork.

Good Humor Bar is part of a series called Proposals for Monuments and Buildings, most of which were never realized on a large scale. One notable exception is Lipstick (Ascending) on Caterpillar Tracks, temporarily installed on a public plaza at Yale University in 1969 as part of a political protest by dissident students. It was permanently installed in the courtyard of Yale's Morse College in 1974.

Good Humor Bar, like the other works in Oldenburg's proposed series, is intended to subvert the traditional idea of a monument. Instead of serious, stoic, and long-lived, this piece is slouchy, silly, and made of materials that would quickly fall apart outdoors.

Even so, it invites the viewer to consider and reconsider the role of a monument by tapping into what Oldenburg calls the "poetry of scale": the unexpected new meaning and often lyrical quality that surfaces when the artist drastically changes the scale of everyday objects.