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Jul 31 / Jonathan

The Wiper is as cruel as death

CLAES OLDENBURG:
I go through the same preparations but now I tend to focus on the type of object that seems possible to construct. The Windshield Wiper for Grant Park is a more architectural shape, for example, than the Teddy Bear. This is also true of the Clothespin.

PAUL CARROLL:
As an example of the genesis of one monument, would you describe how the Windshield Wiper evolved?

OLDENBURG:
The Wiper was partly suggested by the tall tapering shape of the Hancock building. If you stand in Grant Park near the Buckingham Fountain where the Wiper is sited and look at the Hancock building, itʼs as if youʼre seeing one long rectangle in perspective, which is the effect the Wiper itself would have. Hereʼs an example of the coming together of choice of objects with a technology needed to realize it. Another source is: the Wiper defines the structure of Chicago because itʼs located on the Congress Expressway axis, which also happens to be the axis of Daniel Burnhamʼs symmetrical plan for the city. Look at a map of Chicago and youʼll see that the Wiper stands at the center: if you draw a compass line, it defines a semi-circular arc—the lake cuts off the circle.

CARROLL: But why a windshield wiper?

OLDENBURG:
Chicago is a city of the meeting of water and land—a whole circle of the compass would be half water and half land. A windshield wiper occupies a place where water and “dry land” meet. In Chicago, one is always looking at the wet lake from a dry spot. And there is Burnhamʼs concept of a facade, a window. Then thereʼs the sepulchral feeling I get about Chicago, perhaps because itʼs so perpendicular—like tombstones. Chicago has a strange metaphysical elegance of death about it. I wanted a symbol of that: so the Grim Reaper became the Giant Wiper—a verbal play. The Wiper is as cruel as death because it comes down into the water where kids are playing. Much like the Bowling Balls careening along Park Avenue, the Wiper can kill kids if they donʼt learn how to get out of the way. Chicago seems to raise its children that way: everybodyʼs out to get rid of the other person in this terribly competitive city.

CARROLL:
What would you say to the argument of some city booster whoʼd claim that a monument of a windshield wiper hardly captures Chicago as powerful, vital, masculine builder—”city of the broad shoulders,” as Sandburg wrote? Or if the booster said: “Are you suggesting that we wipe or clean up the city, huh?”

OLDENBURG:
The objections would be a simple-minded explanation of what the Wiper is all about: my intentions are more poetic. For example, the Wiper also makes the sky tangible in that it treats the sky as if it were glass. Making the intangible tangible has always been one of my fascinations. But “wipe out” is slang for kill, isnʼt it? 

Via Public Address

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