For the first time in Europe, Portikus Frankfurt am Main presents the complete oeuvre of all multiples created by Claes Oldenburg (b. 1929 in Stockholm) until 1990. Oldenburg counts as one of the few genuine founders of American Pop Art.

The multiple was born in a time of radical change, a time in which artists like never before sought contact to life in the streets. It is no accident that Claes Oldenburg's early, radical works like The Street (1960) and The Store (1961) situated themselves - as did Warhol's shop-window decorations in the New York department store Bonwit Teller (1961) - in that wide-open terrain in which everyday-life and art were to meet and interact in an unusual way.

The item of everyday use - in the American context of unlimited production and consumption: the commodity in its ecstatic sense - seemed to be an adequate vehicle for catapulting art into the sphere of everyday life. It was not merely about reproducing or aestheticizing the trivial. The "fabricated object" - and that is precisely what a multiple is - meant for Oldenburg, as he wrote in 1963, an "object produced according to the plans of the artist in a conventional industrial process, serving his purposes and not the purposes the objects produced in this process are normally destined for."

The earliest multiples, the California Ray Guns (1963-64), are therefore not only casts of kitschy souvenirs, but hybrid products of commodity copulations. Since that time, Oldenburg, like no other artist, is on the tracks of a hidden sexuality which a society with puritan views of the world transferred into the realm of commodities. The multiple, itself acting like a commodity and thus representing a cross between a fetishized object and an object of disinterested pleasure, proved to be the ideal possibility for such explorations.

Not that the aspect of fetishism is always as obvious as in London Knees (1966), for example. A seemingly harmless motif like a tea bag turned into an object with a multitude of connotations in Oldenburg's Tea Bag (1966). And even Geometric Mouse (1971), stemming from a cartoon full of sexless figures, reveals its erotic valency in a playful way. Oldenburg's erotic projections are never superficial, they retain an associative openness characteristic of contemporary art from the very start.

Originally, the multiples were a form of art that could be purchased by anyone on account of their low price; Wedding Souvenir (1966) was even given away for free as a present. However, with Oldenburg's growing popularity and rising prices, this aspect has faded. What has remained unchanged, though, is the projective fantasy the artist places in his objects and which has become accessible for many people via the means of multiplication.

Photos: Katrin Schilling