CLAES OLDENBERG was born in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1929. After living in New York City, Rye, New York, and Oslo, Norway, he moved to Chicago in 1936. Oldenburg attended Yale University from 1946 to 1950 and became an American citizen in 1953. Following work as an apprentice reporter at the Chicago City News Bureau and studies at The Art Institute of Chicago, he settled permanently in New York City in September 1956.

Using as his subject matter the common and commercial objects in his urban surroundings, especially the city’s Lower East Side, Oldenburg established himself at the beginning of the 1960s with a series of installations and performances, among them The Street (1960), The Store (1961), and Ray Gun Theater (1962), which contributed significantly to the emergence of American Pop art. During a stay in Los Angeles in 1963, he focused on subjects inspired by what he called The Home, including the installation Bedroom Ensemble (1963). He went on to create performances in Los Angeles (Autobodys, 1963), Chicago (Gayety, 1963), Washington, D.C. (Stars, 1963), New York (Washes and Moveyhouse, 1965), and Stockholm (Massage, 1966). In 1964, after showing sculptures based on European edibles in Paris, he returned to New York and, continuing to use ordinary, everyday objects as his means of expression, developed "soft" sculptures and fantastic proposals for buildings and civic monuments.

At the end of the decade, Oldenburg took up fabrication on a large scale with Lipstick (Ascending) on Caterpillar Tracks (1969), which became a controversial focus for student protest when it was installed on the campus of Yale University, followed by other works such as Geometric Mouse (1969), Giant Ice Bag (1970), Giant Three-Way Plug (1970), Standing Mitt with Ball (1973), and Alphabet/Good Humor (1975). His first sculpture to be realized in urban scale, the 45-foot-high Clothespin, was installed in downtown Philadelphia in 1976. Soon thereafter, he began working with Coosje van Bruggen; they were married in 1977.