At the end of the summer of 1963 Oldenburg left New York for California to prepare an exhibition at the Dwan Gallery in Los Angeles. He rented a former bank building on the main street of the Los Angeles beach-side suburb of Venice, and worked there until April 1964. Leopard chair was one of the first works he completed in his Venice studio and was included in his exhibition at Dwan Gallery which opened on 1 October 1963.
'LA is many things and many things to many people', Oldenburg wrote later in 1966. 'To me it is the paradise of industrialism. LA has the atmosphere (my selected part of it) of the consumer, of the home, the elegant neat result, like the frankfurter in its nonremembered distance from the slaughterhouse.'1
Vinyl, and in particular the vinyl imitation of animal skins as first used in Leopard chair, became Oldenburg's preferred medium in Los Angeles. Leopard chair is also the first work in which Oldenburg enlisted the assistance of commercial manufacturers to produce a clean 'machine style' finish2 and it initiates a series of furniture pieces which the artist collectively called 'The Home'.
Leopard chair is the prototype of the furniture which appears in Oldenburg's most ambitious project on this theme, the recreation of an entire motel bedroom which the artist worked on in Venice in November and December 1963 and installed as Bedroom ensemble at the Sidney Janis Gallery in January 1964 in the exhibition 'Four Environments by Four New Realists' (the other three installations being by Jim Dine (b. 1935), James Rosenquist (b. 1933) and George Segal (b. 1924).
Leopard chair also anticipates the furniture in the Bedroom ensemble in its angular construction. The chair is a rhomboidal shape, translating into physical fact the shape the chair would assume if rendered illusionistically on a two-dimensional surface according to the laws of perspective. Oldenburg has called it 'upholstering perspective' and this teasing of the convention was prompted by newspaper advertisements which Oldenburg saw in the Los Angeles Times and clipped into his notebooks, showing furniture in exaggerated foreshortening to accentuate its streamlined appearance.3
Leopard chair consists of four separate parts (and the cushion) that slot together to form the chair. However, it can be rearranged, if less neatly, in different ways, and has been rearranged to recall the billboards of Los Angeles which face in all directions.4
Michael Lloyd & Michael Desmond European and American Paintings and Sculptures 1870-1970 in the Australian National Gallery 1992 p.323.
- Barbara Rose, Claes Oldenburg, New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1970 (exhibition catalogue), p.193.
- The manufacturer's label is still stuck to the bottom of the chair: 'Associated UPH & MFG. Co, 312 VENICE WAY, VENICE CALIF', guaranteeing the construction of the chair from "ALL NEW MATERIAL / CONSISTING OF / BODY: romeo fome"'.
- In correspondence with the Gallery, 19 May 1986 Claes Oldenburg enclosed photocopies of notebook pages of that period filled with such newspaper clippings of furniture advertisements.
- See photograph of the Leopard chair so re-arranged in Coosje van Bruggen, Claes Oldenburg: Mouse Museum/Ray Gun Wing, Cologne: Museum Ludwig, 1979' p.52 fig. b.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010