With pop art sculpture, I find that the rejection of abstraction communicates with a wider audience, a distinctive device of Pop artists. Artist Claes Oldenburg gained enormous recognition during the Pop art movement when he launched into his three-dimensional manifestations of large scale, soft sculptures resembling every-day cultural objects. Oldenburg usually chose food or objects of personal use, objects meant for handling or consumption. In doing so, active participation is called forth in viewing these objects which works to dissolve the concept of psychic distance—the sense of estrangement that the audience tends to bring to the art experience. Representational sculpture sways the viewer to react in terms
of their normal environment, not in terms of the specialized reaction typically associated with art. Art critic Barbara Rose suggests that this “works to short-circuit perception in a sense, forcing a more direct, intimate, personal contact with the work.”
My work Whisk (2016) and Claes Oldenburg’s Soft Dormeyer Mixer (1965) share many of the same qualities. They are both supersized, soft, sewn, and hung for viewing. Whisk hangs at four feet in length. It is scaled-up, but not to the colossal extent. The size is meant to be comparable to the length of a dress or costume therefore introducing the body into the conversation through both its softness and scale. Empathy and systems are at play. The handle (body) of the whisk is made from black vinyl and rubber grip liner, and stuffed with polyfill. Incorporating the garment construction of camisole spaghetti straps, the “wires” are made from tubing of
neon green fabric. Defying gravity in a small way (all that gravity will really allow with soft sculpture), clothesline rope and 18-gauge wire give shape to the tubing in the manner of an actual whisk. Oldenburg’s mixer is of similar size, but a bit shorter in length. It is made from vinyl, wood, aluminum tubing, rubber, and electric cord. Oldenburg usually chooses material color in line with the actual object, as he does with the mixer. It is black, silver, and beige. The “kitchen tool” is the subject matter. The connotative function of Whisk and Soft Dormeyer Mixer is the same; they mix. The function within each tool is sabotaged in that they serve no purpose except to represent the artists’ muse. Disrupting the function of an everyday object serves to amplify the metaphor of its function. Whisk threatens to mix the gender binary. The mixing of something changes its veneer which can be likened to mixing and disrupting cultural woman value. Oldenburg’s mixer is motorized whereas my mixer is not. The purity of the hand tool represents my desire to incorporate the notion of authenticity against vinyl (plastic) textile. I search for the ripple between subject matter and materiality—that being the distance between authenticity and pretense.
My work, in the way of content, aligns more closely with female pop artists such as Kiki Kogelnik,
Jann Haworth, and Christa Dichgans. In their provocative works, these artists critique consumerism, capitalism, gender stereotypes, and cultural sexism. Haworth made soft sculptures of exaggerated, over-dimensioned objects, many of which served to critique the commodity of women. Dichgans painted toy images in a sickly sweet and creepy manner in order to critique consumerism. Kogelnik worked to end the male cliché of the domestic woman through ironic photo-collages of herself. Employing the cool and anonymous style of Pop Art, these artists commented on social change by making the personal political.
I created Whisk to critique domesticity and the commodity of female sexuality. Kogelnik, Dichgans, and Haworth were among several female artists of the pop era who did not receive much recognition until the twenty-first century. History has defined the best-known artists of the pop generation as men—a rather ironic fate since the devaluation of female artists runs parallel to the critical content in much of their work.