Claes OLDENBURG | Miniature soft drum set

Sweden 1929
United States of America from 1930

Miniature soft drum set 1969
canvas, stencil, spraypainting
edition of 200 plus 18 artist's proofs (catalogue raisonne, in consultation with Marian Goodman, suggests 26 artist's proofs)
signed on largest drum (bass), black marker pen "CO"
variable 31.0 (h) x 51.0 (w) x 35.8 (d) cm
Purchased 1979
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
NGA 1980.746.A-N
© Claes Oldenburg and Coosje Van Bruggen


In Miniature soft drum set the essential property of a drum set―its ability to beat out a noise―has been removed. We are left instead with an unstructured mass of canvas. With its rigidity gone, the drum set seems organic and vulnerable. The yielding quality of the sculpture’s material ensures it is never entirely static: subject to the forces of time and change, it eschews strict form and takes on a less familiar identity.

In his work, Claes Oldenburg, a seminal figure in the Pop Art movement and a leading proponent of soft sculpture, wanted ‘to create an independent object which has its existence in a world outside both the real world as we know it and the world of art. It’s an independent thing which has its own power, just to sit there and remain something of a mystery.’[1]

In 1967 Oldenburg decided to make a large, soft drum set inspired by the cylindrical architecture of the Guggenheim Museum[2]. Two years later, the small canvas model that he created as a prototype for Giant soft drum set became the basis for the editioned Miniature soft drum set. Presented in a wooden box inside a soft, opaque vinyl bag, and accompanied by a set of six suggested positions for display, the work is a typical example of Oldenburg’s experiments with collapsed form.

Emilie Owens
Administrative Assistant
International Art
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra


[1]The artist, in 1971, quoted in Claes Oldenburg, Claes Oldenburg: an anthology, Guggenheim & National Gallery of Art, New York and Washington, 1995, p 12

[2] Giant soft drum set was created for the1967 International Exhibition of Sculpture, held at the Guggenheim Museum in New York