208 Gallery

Claes Oldenburg and his wife Coosje van Bruggen collaborated on forty large-scale projects between 1976 and 2009. Soft Shuttlecock was created by the artists specifically for the Frank Lloyd Wright–designed rotunda of the Guggenheim Museum in celebration of Oldenburg’s 1995 retrospective. While planning the exhibition, Oldenburg and van Bruggen were also developing a project for the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri, in which four 18-foot-high shuttlecocks in plastic and aluminum were to be situated in the grass on either side of the museum, as if the building were a badminton net and the “birdies” had fallen during play. For the Guggenheim installation, the artists engaged the same object in a more whimsical rendering, this time in pliant materials.

An early preparatory sketch by Oldenburg and van Bruggen shows the shuttlecock transformed into a costume for a tightrope walker to wear during a performance in which they crossed the museum’s rotunda. The final installation was no less a daring interaction with the space. Oldenburg and van Bruggen draped the flaccid feathers of the shuttlecock over several ramps and suspended others from the skylight above with cables. The massive size of Soft Shuttlecock humorously deflates the imposing structure of the building by diminishing its relative scale, while underscoring the museum’s institutional role as a site not only for culture and education but also for recreation and entertainment.