‘Cupid’s Span’ in SF Reveals What Claes Oldenburg’s Pop Art Was About – SF Chronicle Datebook | Candle Made Easy

Newlyweds Flor Perez and Jose Ramirez use Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s “Cupid’s Span” as the backdrop to their kiss in a 2014 photo. Photo: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters 2014

When the sculpture “Cupid’s Span” made its debut in Rincon Park on the Embarcadero in November 2002, I was ecstatic. Famed pop artist Claes Oldenburg and his wife and artistic partner Coosje van Bruggen’s 60-foot-tall fiberglass and steel bow and arrow dotted where the city meets the water in a way that felt both joyous and loving.

The visual pun, the idea that the mythical love god Cupid left his signature tool in San Francisco, as so many people have left their hearts, was cheerful, and the golden curves of the bow and the Valentine’s Day cartoon character of the arrow had one amusing elegance. The work was so accessible that even as an 18-year-old college student, I “got” it when I first saw the sculpture while vacationing from the East Coast. Maybe that was one of the reasons I adored it; I had also left a significant part of myself in San Francisco.

The triangular arc of the chord at the bow was intended to refer to the suspension cables of the Bay Bridge beyond; The articulation of the feathers at the end of the arrow moves in the wind and reacts to the environment. The arch and cord frame views of the bay and bridge on one side and the Financial District on the other, perfect for a city obsessed with its views.

Corridor Pin, Blue, 1999, by Claes Oldenburg, pierces the sky in the de Young Museum’s sculpture garden. Photo: Sam Whiting / The Chronicle

It was another of Oldenburg’s standard works and the one that immediately came to mind when the 93-year-old artist died on July 18. It explained both his brilliant ability to re-contextualize objects and why Pop Art was so successful as a movement. Most people have seen a bow and arrow, a safety pin, an apple core, or the letter “q”—to name just a few of the artist’s most iconic works in the Bay Area. Oldenburg, like Marcel Duchamp before him, used our familiarity with these objects to twist and confound our perception, while at the same time seemingly celebrating their forms but approaching them with skepticism, a la Andy Warhol. But there was a lightness in Oldenburg’s work that was entirely his own.

“No viewer of American pop art has ever felt compelled to have an intellectual framework to explain it,” said Timothy Anglin Burgard, senior curator and executive curator of American art at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. “But what is often overlooked in pop art is that (although) it is accessible at a surface level, when artists like the Oldenburgs enlarge these objects to this monumental scale for site-specific projects, it becomes their own interpretation of the object. “

Burgard added, “Especially since Oldenburg is Swedish and originally grew up in another country, there is an anthropological element of an outsider’s perspective and an aspect of criticism of post-war American life and consumerism.”

When “Cupid’s Span” was unveiled, The Chronicle recorded “strong reactions — positive, negative, and questioning,” including people loving it, others confused as to what the object was (one person speculated “a creature” and “a flower”. ). They just thought it was “stupid”.

In their own explanation of the work, the artists said the choice of bow and arrow was “inspired by San Francisco’s reputation as the home port of Eros” and “the mythological account of Eros shooting his arrow into the earth to make it fertile . And by placing the arrowhead down, The Chronicle noted, it was also essentially disarmed.

Katie Fogelsong greets Katie Simpson near Oldenburg’s Geometric Apple Core during Modern Ball 2016 at SFMOMA. Photo: Santiago Mejia / The Chronicle 2016

The late Gap founder Donald Fisher, who along with his wife Doris was the sculpture’s main patron, told The Chronicle that he thought the work would “become an icon in the city. It will be photographed beautifully.”

When I visited Cupid’s Span after the news of Oldenburg’s death, there were the expected tourists taking selfies, but it also became clear how integrated the sculpture and park are into people’s lives. People with dogs gathered on the lawn; they used seating near the sculpture; they also just stood there and looked at this absurd image of an oversized, archaic object that was partially buried as if it had fallen from an animated sky.

The placement of the works transforms the park into a uniquely magical setting. I’ve seen people taking wedding photos there in baggy dresses and tuxedos. I once watched a giggling child slide down the bow before the low barrier was erected, a “Visit San Francisco” commercial if I’d ever seen one. I remember walking home from a disappointing date once and as I strolled past this illuminated emblem of love I thought, “Eat your heart out, Carrie Bradshaw from ‘Sex and the City’ – this is a moment of visual irony, only found in San Francisco. ”

Cupid’s Span isn’t the only work by Oldenburg and van Bruggen to be seen in the Bay Area. The de Young commissioned Corridor Pin, Blue for the Osher Sculpture Garden, one of many Oldenburg works in his collection. The work’s placement above the garden path, with the angle of the pointed end reflecting the shape of the building, was intentional, Burgard said, and I’ve always enjoyed the ridiculousness of this gravity-defying position. Oldenburg’s “Funeral Heart” sculpture from 1961 can be seen on the second floor of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. “Geometric Apple Core” was seen until recently.

“By taking the everyday object to a higher level, Claes Oldenburg inspired us to take a closer look at the world around us,” said Janet Bishop, the museum’s chief curator and curator of painting and sculpture. She called his works, including the more than 20 in the SFMOMA collection, “lasting reminders of his playful and distinctive practice.”

The Cantor Art Center at Stanford University also owns several works by the artist, with 1977’s “Soft Inverted Q” being one of the most famous.

What has always succeeded for me in “Cupid’s Span” and the other works of Oldenburg is both their surreality and their sheer amusement. How often can we truly enjoy our world? Especially in public art, this is not a quality we should appreciate.

Burgard summed up the artist’s ethos best: “By enlarging and elevating everyday objects into the poetic realm of fine art sculpture, it dissolves the barriers of art and life.”

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