Coosje van Bruggen, a senior lecturer at the School of Art from 1996 to 1997, renowned for the colorful large-scale sculptures she created with her husband, artist Claes Oldenburg ’50, died on Saturday at her home in Los Angeles. The critic, art historian and artist was 66 and battling metastatic breast cancer.
Although her time at Yale was short, her husband’s statue, “Lipstick (Ascending) on Caterpillar Tracks,” still stands in the Morse College courtyard as a testament to the monumental Pop art sculptures the pair made of seemingly ordinary objects. Frank Keil, master of Morse College, called the Lipstick “a central part of Morse.”
Over 30 years, van Bruggen and Oldenburg created 40 sculptures in parks and museums around the world. The at times controversial works are cheeky contributions to their environments and range from “Toppling Ladder with Spilling Paint” at Loyola Law School to a 35-foot broom and dustpan called “The Big Sweep” at the Denver Art Museum.
Van Bruggen grew up in Groningen, the Netherlands, and studied art at the Rijks University of Groningen. After graduation she became an assistant curator at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam and found herself working with Dutch avant-garde artists.
Oldenburg and van Bruggen, a divorcee at the time, met in 1970 when the American Pop artist installed a retrospective at the museum. Five years later van Bruggen was teaching an art history course at the Academy of Fine Arts in Enschede when her relationship with Oldenburg took a romantic turn.
The pair first collaborated in 1976 to rework “Trowel I,” a sculpture of a large garden tool created five years earlier. Though Oldenburg was commissioned to rework the sculpture, van Bruggen disliked the color, so he changed it from silver to the blue of Dutch workmen’s overalls.
Van Bruggen and Oldenburg were married a year later and moved to New York, where they worked both together and separately. As an artist and scholar, van Bruggen continued to contribute articles to Artforum magazine from 1983 to 1988 and became a senior critic in the Sculpture Department of the School of Art for one year.
The couple lived primarily in New York for several years but also maintained homes in Los Angeles and the Loire Valley of France.
Their final work together, “Tumbling Tacks” is still in production in Turin, Italy, and is designed for the site of a former Norwegian paper mill that is now a sculpture park north of Oslo. The work, which is four red, blue and silver thumbtacks on a hillside, will be installed in May.