Upside Down City is a prop, a painting, a relic, and a sculpture. It is among the first of Claes Oldenburg’s famous “soft sculptures” for which he took everyday objects such as hamburgers or electric plugs and transformed their scale, texture, and mood. In 1962, Oldenburg organized a series of events in New York City’s East Village in a rented store he called the Ray Gun Manufacturing Co. The performances, or Happenings, were not narrative but associative, and sometimes deliberately provoked the discomfort of the tightly packed audience standing amid the action. Playfully alluding to the upcoming 1964 New York World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows, Oldenburg’s final event, World’s Fair II, was deliberately lowbrow, ending with the performers hanging Upside Down City from the ceiling.
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