Oldenburg’s Apple Core (1992)

Pop art, when made by a master like Claes Oldenburg, can look deceptively simple. So simple that critics sometimes mistake it as work made for the masses. Indeed Apple Core has been described as showing how modern consumers are focussed on materiality and lack consideration for nature. That stress on contemporary values sounds serious but would not, on its own, be art. There must be something universal in the work that transcends the issues of the day. True wisdom never changes.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen1, Apple Core (1992) Various materials. Israel Museum, Jerusalem

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Here's what I think. Quite a number of Oldenburg's pieces are essentially O-shaped like this light switch, pretzel and plug. Given how artists use their initials in similar ways, the O's probably refer to Oldenburg's name but are also a circle for one-ness and the eye.2 The underlying unity to existence is an integral part of art, the Inner Tradition and the original teachings of all major religions. However, our minds tend to see the world in polar terms, divided between male/female, good/bad, artist/model, etc. Art history itself is constructed like this. To be whole, happy and wise, we need to recognize that duality exists within unity.

Perhaps that's why there are dual forms in these examples (left): two switches, two inverted sides of a pretzel, two slots in a plug. They show, I believe, how duality is present in unity, in both the artist's mind and the One Mind, often symbolized by a universal eye.

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Captions for image(s) above:

Top L: Oldenburg, Soft Light Switch (1966)
Top R: Oldenburg, N.Y.C. Pretzel (1994)
Bottom: Oldenburg, Sketch of a 3-Way Plug (1965)

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In Apple Core unity and duality are less evident though the apple was once circular and round. Now eaten, two negative-spaces spell C for Claes, one inverted like a reflection in the mirror of his mind: two C's in one O3. What is left is the core (of existence), in part because Eve's apple symbolizes Man's fall from unity into the duality of consciousness, the couple's awareness they were naked. Newborns go through the same process too.

The black slot-like seeds in the core also resemble those of the 3-way plug (in prior thumbnail) because, to live fully, we need to plug into our origins in the core of existence where life's energy comes from. But what about the stem?

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Captions for image(s) above:

Oldenburg and van Bruggen, Apple Core (1992)

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Stems and straight lines extending from a circular form or from one nearby (like examples at left) are also quite common in Oldenburg's oeuvre. I believe they suggest, like a painter's pointing finger, the act of drawing a line.4 In doing so, true artists draw out wisdom (with the line) from the unity (circle) within, as we should too.

The best Pop art has far more meaning than museums give the artists credit for. So keep this in mind when you are next told that an artwork only comments on contemporary society. It's either not true or not art. It can't be both.5

 

Captions for image(s) above:

Top: Oldenburg and van Bruggen, Spoonbridge with Cherry (1985-8)
Bottom L: Oldenburg and Van Bruggen, Safety Pin (1999)
Bottom R: Oldenburg, Giant BLT (1963)

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Notes:

1. Apple Core was made in collaboration with Oldenburg's wife, Coosje van Bruggen, though the content and conception was almost certainly his.

2. For how artists have used their initials over many centuries, see the theme Letters in Art. EPPH has also shown how Goya's pictures are often eye-shaped in "Goya's Eyes" (publ. 2010) and Simon Schama, a British critic, has written the same of William Turner. See "The Poetry of Turner's Eyesight" (publ. 2016).

3. Other artists have used double initials with one inverted, as for example Raphael in Expulsion of Heliodorus (1512). We have also shown how a contemporary American artist, Sharon Core, has made use of apples for self-representation as well. See "Still-lifes by Peale and Core" (publ. 2105).

4. See the theme Pointing and Touch.

5. For EPPH's definition of art, see EPPH Principles. Any oeuvre that does not abide by those principles will not be described as art on EPPH even if made by a master craftsman or -woman. Illustration or design on its own is not, in our opinion, art.

Original Publication Date on EPPH: 10 Apr 2016. © Simon Abrahams. Articles on this site are the copyright of Simon Abrahams. To use copyrighted material in print or other media for purposes beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. Websites may link to this page without permission (please do) but may not reproduce the material on their own site without crediting Simon Abrahams and EPPH.