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The Accidental Possibilities of the City: Claes Oldenburg’s Urbanism in Postwar America 

Claes Oldenburg’s commitment to familiar objects has shaped accounts of his career, but his associations with Pop art and postwar consumerism have overshadowed another crucial aspect of his work. In this revealing reassessment, Katherine Smith traces Oldenburg’s profound responses to shifting urban conditions, framing his enduring relationship with the city as a critical perspective and conceiving his art as urban theory.

Smith argues that Oldenburg adapted lessons of context, gleaned from New York’s changing cityscape in the late 1950s, to large-scale objects and architectural plans. By examining disparate projects from New York to Los Angeles, she situates Oldenburg’s innovations in local geographies and national debates. In doing so, Smith illuminates patterns of urbanization through the important contributions of one of the leading artists in the United States.


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“The Public Positions of Claes Oldenburg’s Objects in the 1960s,” Public Art Dialogue 1, no. 1 (Spring 2011): 25-52.

“A Symbolic Situation: Claes Oldenburg and Robert Venturi at the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College,” Archives of American Art Journal 48, nos. 1-2 (Spring 2009): 46-55.

book chapters

'Strange' Appearances: On Pop Art, Hamburgers, and Urbanists, in Denise Scott Brown In Other Eyes: Portraits of an Architect, edited by Frida Grahn (Zurich: BirkHäuser, 2022), 188-201.


“Pop Precedents and Contemporary Contexts,” in Eyes That Saw, edited by Stanislaus von Moos and Martino Stierli (Zurich: Scheidegger & Spiess, 2020).

“Mobilizing Visions: Representing the American Landscape,” in Relearning from Las Vegas, edited by Michael Golec and Aron Vinegar (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009), 97-128.


Alex Katz: This Is Now, High Museum of Art, Atlanta, 2015, July 7, 2016 

Exhibitions of Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s sculptures and drawings at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York and The Menil Collection, Houston (2009), SECAC Review 51, no. 5 (2010): 640-43.

dictionary entry

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