The art of everyday objects

A theme connecting two otherwise very disparate cartoons in my comics feed for today: in a Wayno/Piraro Bizarro, an absurdist strip about Claes Oldenburg in the (mythical) American Old West; and in a Zippy, musings by Bill Griffith on a mystery Z structure in his part of rural Connecticut.

The Bizarro cowboy Oldenburg. The toon:

(#1) (If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 2 in this strip — see this Page.)

A collision of mythical cowboys with very modern pop art: how to belly up to the bar in Oldenburg’s colossal world?

I assume that all the readers of the strip would be familiar with the mythical Old West (it permeates American popular culture in so many ways) and would recognize its linguistic markers. First, the drinkin’ for drinking that is widespread all through English informal speech, of many different varieties — but is often used in print as a conventional indicator of rural, uneducated, crude characters. And then feller (instead of fellow), also used conventionally in representations of Amercan English to indicate (white) rural and working-class characters.

On the other hand, Claes Oldenburg might not be a household name for all readers. (I see from comments on Wayno’s blog that my assessment was accurate — lots of people admitting they had to go to Google.)

Advance warning: Oldenburg’s work pleases me enormously, so I’ve had to restrain myself from releasing a flood of images. But I am an enthusiast.)

Just a taste, from my 2/2817 posting “The little man with the laundry”, with a section on Oldenburg’s 14-metre-high steel “Clothespin” in Philadelphia:


(You see where those barstools come from.)

Wikipedia, briefly,  on the artist:

Claes Oldenburg (born January 28, 1929 [in Stockholm, Sweden]) is an American sculptor, best known for his public art installations typically featuring large replicas of everyday objects. Another theme in his work is soft sculpture versions of everyday objects. Many of his works were made in collaboration with his wife, Coosje van Bruggen, who died in 2009; they had been married for 32 years. Oldenburg [now 91] lives and works in New York.

Two more examples of Oldenburg’s playful genius with public art. First, one that I actually went on a kind of pilgrimage to see in its Minneapolis setting, some 14 years ago:

(#3) Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen: Spoonbridge and Cherry: sculpture by Oldenburg and van Bruggen, 1985–88; in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden of the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota

And one I haven’t experienced first-hand, but is guaranteed to bring a smile to my face:

(#4) Dropped Cone 2001, by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, Neumarkt area, Cologne, Germany

Bill Griffith’s mystery Z structure. The strip:

(#5) Obviously of interest to Zippy and to me, because we’re Z guys

A bit of slyness on Grffith’s part. It looks like a barn; it’s out there in the countryside; and that front door is a standard variety of a barn door (a Z-series door, to be specific). So it’s surely a (small) barn, whatever happens to go on inside it.

The crucial feature here is the Z-series barn door, which is a handsome ordinary object that also serves its purpose well. A barn door that’s just a sheet of wood is not at all sturdy; so most barn doors have strips of wood affixed to them that will brace the structure: Z-series, X-series, and K-series are the most common patterns, and they are all pleasing to the eye as well as practical. Everyday objects as art objects.

The world of barn doors. From the Joss & Main site on barn doors:

(#6) “Paneled wood painted Z-series diy barn door” (available in gray or white)

People spend the time and money to build things like this not just because they need a door, but because they want the rustic nostalgia (barns were all over the place in the world of my Pennsylvania childhood — my Swiss grandparents’ house had one) and the raw beauty too.

In the same spirit, from the Home Depot site:

(#7) “X-series gray knotty pine wood interior sliding barn door”

For the K series, I turn to a historic structure, which I came across while trying (unsuccessfully) to find the original of Bill Griffith’s little barn: the barn at Lachat Town Farm (in Weston CT):


The barn is in the English barn style that was most popular in the northeast region and the most widespread barn type in America. This barn type is called the grandfather of the American barn. Barns in this style were constructed from the 1770s through the 1900s and today they are becoming increasingly rare.

Typical of English barns, the Lachat barn’s main section measures twenty-five feet by fifty feet and has a large double wagon door on its lateral side, unpainted vertical boards covering the walls and a metal roof. It is without a basement and stands on level ground. The interior of the barn features a center driveway that was used as a threshing floor. The double doors generally opened onto the center driveway that divided the building into two separate areas, one for hay and grain storage and the other for livestock.

The art of everyday objects. Three things:

— everyday objects as the subjects of art works, in many traditions (see Oldenburg, above)

— everyday objects used as materials for art works, again in several traditions (art works made out of candies, for instance)

— (but, my topic here) ordinary useful objects designed to provide aesthetic satisfaction

On this blog previously:

on 7/7/12 in “Straight arrow”: parking lot arrows as art objects; also manhole covers

on 3/25/18 in “Art objects and utilitarian objects”: vent pipes; storm grates; downspouts; plus an inventory of AZBlog postings on urinals as art objects

on 12/2/18 in “Annals of everyday objects: the garlic press”

on 12/26/18 in “Annals of everyday objects: Anchor ovenware”

And now, barn doors.

5 Responses to “The art of everyday objects”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    Today’s Zippy continues to muse about the mysterious structure. I’m assuming the “Z” will turn out to have some connection to the title character, but one never knows with Griffith.

  2. pruners | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] the design of everyday objects earlier on this blog. My 8/3/20 posting “The art of everyday objects” surveys barn doors and provides links to postings of […]

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