I was very sad to read the news of the recent death of Coosje van Bruggen. Henry sent me the NY Times Obituary this afternoon, which I reprinted below.
I spent a great deal of time studying Coosje van Bruggen and her partner, Claes Oldenburg as part of my project, Art and Play. They were a great example of collaborators. In fact, I love the story included in her obituary about her response to the trowel sculpture Oldenburg created for her. What a way to get someone’s attention.
Coosje van Bruggen, Sculptor, Dies at 66
By CAROL KINO
Coosje van Bruggen, a critic, art historian and artist known for the colorful public sculptures she created around the world with her husband, the Pop artist Claes Oldenburg, died on Saturday in Los Angeles. She was 66 and had homes in New York and Beaumont-sur-Dême in the Loire Valley, France.
The cause was metastatic breast cancer, said Andrea Glimcher, director of communications at PaceWildenstein, which has represented Ms. van Bruggen since 1990.
Over three decades, Ms. van Bruggen and Mr. Oldenburg created more than 40 public sculptures for parks, urban centers and museums. Typically, each piece depicts a monumentally sized object that often comments archly on its surroundings, like the giant up-ended “Flashlight” (1981), 38 feet tall and installed at the University of Las Vegas, or “Bicyclette Ensevelie” (“Buried Bicycle,” 1990), a mammoth bicycle that appears to be half-buried at Parc de la Villette in Paris.
Although their projects often engendered controversy, Ms. van Bruggen always adopted a matter-of-fact approach to persuading civic governments and mayors to embrace them.
“I’m the daughter of a physician,” she said in a 2006 interview, “and I always feel that every piece is a diagnosis.” Ms. van Bruggen was born on June 6, 1942, in Groningen, the Netherlands. While she was growing up, her father, a doctor, held a weekly salon for writers and painters at the family home, and she and her siblings were encouraged to participate. She went on to study art history at the Rijks University of Groningen, obtaining a graduate degree in 1967.
That year, she became an assistant curator at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, working with environmental artists like Doug Wheeler, Larry Bell, and the members of the Dutch avant-garde.
“I belong to the first Conceptual generation,” she told Artnews in 1990. “I was involved when Jan Dibbets dug up the foundations of the Stedelijk and Ger van Elk made a sidewalk out of bathroom tiles. I wanted to push the parameters of art.”
Along the way, she married her first husband and had two children.
In 1970, Mr. Oldenburg, the Swedish-born giant of American Pop, arrived at the museum to install a traveling retrospective, and Ms. van Bruggen, 13 years his junior, was assigned to help. Although Mr. Oldenburg was smitten, their initial meeting went badly.
“I had a lot of anti-American feelings,” Ms. van Bruggen told Artnews. “I thought, ‘Here is a typical imperialist American artist.’“
Their courtship didn’t take off until 1975, by which time Ms. van Bruggen was divorced and teaching art history at the Academy of Fine Arts in Enschede.
Their first collaboration came in 1976, when Mr. Oldenburg was commissioned to rework “Trowel I,” a 1971 sculpture of an oversize garden tool, for the grounds of the Kröller-Müller museum in Otterlo, the Netherlands. At one point, Ms. van Bruggen recounted later, “Claes said, ‘I made the trowel for you.’ I said, ‘It is not for me, and I don’t like it!’ ”
At her urging, he changed its color from silver to the bright blue of Dutch workmen’s overalls, and placed it where the garden became wild parkland, to underscore its function.
They married in 1977.
The next year, Ms. van Bruggen moved to New York, and they began working together in earnest.
Although critics often looked askance at Ms. van Bruggen’s participation in what was often perceived as Mr. Oldenburg’s work and sometimes even refused to credit her, the couple maintained that theirs was a true collaboration. They conceived their ideas jointly, but he did the drawing while she chose the colors and handled the work’s fabrication and siting. Ms. van Bruggen often described their working process as “a unity of opposites.”
At her instigation, too, they branched out into indoor installations and performance. In 1985 they collaborated on “Il Corso del Coltello” (“The Course of the Knife”) a performance piece in Venice, Italy, with the architect Frank Gehry, whom Ms. van Bruggen had met in 1982, when she was on the selection committee for Documenta, the important contemporary art show in Kassel, Germany.
Ms. van Bruggen maintained an independent career as a critic, writing monographs on her husband’s early work as well as that of Bruce Nauman, John Baldessari, Hanne Darboven and Mr. Gehry’s design for the Guggenheim Bilbao.
Together with Mr. Oldenburg, Ms. van Bruggen has been the subject of nearly 40 exhibitions, the most extensive of which was “Sculpture by the Way,” a 2006 retrospective at the Castello di Rivoli Museum of Contemporary Art in Turin, Italy, which later traveled to the Fundació Joan Miró in Barcelona.Ms. van Bruggen became an American citizen in 1993. In addition to Mr. Oldenburg, her survivors include two children, Paulus Kapteyn of Jersey City and Maartje Oldenburg of London; two grandchildren; and three siblings: Dirk van Bruggen and Hanneke van Bruggen Rous, both of Amsterdam, and Jaap van Bruggen of Katete, Zambia.
The couple’s final project together is “Tumbling Tacks,” to be installed in May at the Kistefos Museum, in a former paper mill on the banks of a river near Oslo. The sculpture consists of four 18-foot-wide thumbtacks that appear to be hurtling down a hillside toward the museum.