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Growing Up With Claes And Andy

June 2024
2min read

Normally the art director at a magazine is involved in appearance more than words. But in this issue, the editors thought it would be fitting for me to add a little something, My father is an art dealer, and he began collecting pop art before I was born, so I basically grew up with it. It was always a part of our house. As long as I can remember, my father would ask me which painting I wanted in my room whenever he rearranged his collection. My two sisters and I typically each had one big painting hanging in our bedrooms.

I realize now that growing up surrounded by pop art influenced me greatly, although at the time I more often just thought my father’s collection was “different”something that other families didn’t have. Certainly none of my friends had these kinds of things around the house, yet I remember distinctly that they were fascinated with both the sculptures and the paintings. The works were like big toys, especially the Oldenburgs, My father wouldn’t let us play with the pieces when we had friends over, but every so often my sisters and I would stage a “raisin fight” with Oldenburg’s Raisin Bread or pretend to eat one of his soft Popsicles.

Getting the chance to meet the artists made me realize that these objects weren’t just toys, I remember sitting at the kitchen table with Claes Oldenburg and lending him my crayons. While I was drawing an Indian, he sketched the St. Louis Arch, with a giant piece of raisin bread as a monument underneath. One time my sister traded drawings with Richard Serra: He got a doggy; she got a sketch of one of his “prop piece” sculptures made of lead (she thought he got the better deal).

But the best things for me were the paintings. They provided perfect images to illustrate the stories that I made up (O.K., I was already a budding art director). While most kids used Lincoln Logs and Barbies in their stories, I would make up stories about the images I found in the pop pieces in my home. I’d point to a woman (who happened to be Marilyn Monroe or Elizabeth Taylor by Warhol) and have her go shopping for Campbell’s soup or some Brillo, so that she could wash the plates designed by Lichtenstein. Then she’d drive home in her soft-vinyl Oldenburg car and visit her boyfriend, a baseball player, whom she would kiss passionately, just like in the Lichtenstein painting.

It wasn’t till I was much older that I realized how special these objects were. During Art History 101, when we studied the 1960s, not only did I already recognize everything, from having visited museums and looked at books with my father, but I even realized that one particular slide, of a Donald Judd sculpture, had been photographed in our house.

While I was growing up, I certainly didn’t consider the historical significance of pop art, but then again, neither did society. The fact that American Heritage is devoting an article to this important chapter in our country’s cultural history is telling. I guess I’m not the only one to have grown up since those years.

—Robin Welman

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