BY TOM JOHNSON
When visiting the city of Cologne a few years ago I came across the surreal sculpture, ‘A Dropped Cone’. Perched atop the Neumarkt-Galerie, a busy shopping complex in the city centre, is a giant ice cream cone which appears to have been dropped from the sky and landed upside down. About to drip over the windows of the building, the vanilla white ice melts downwards while the cone remains balanced at a precarious angle. The sculpture is one of many the many playful large-scale outdoor sculptures that the artist Claes Oldenburg created in collaboration with Coosje van Bruggen. ‘Flying Pins’, ‘Tumbling Tacks’, ‘Split Button’, and a ‘Saw, Sawing’ are other examples.
‘A Dropped Cone’ was commissioned by the Neumarkt-Galerie. It draws the attention of passers-by amidst the hustle and bustle, offering a humorous symbol of consumption. While being a surprise to the public, both entertaining and surreal, the sculpture’s pyramid shape has a strong architectural quality which melds it to its surroundings. In their artistic statement for the piece, Oldenburg and van Bruggen write of being inspired by the skyline of Cologne, which has many spire shaped church buildings, most prominently the Gothic Cathedral. The city’s identity is very much bound up in that triangular icon, both visually and culturally, with it being one of the most recognisable sites.
It is such a familiar motif that even ice cream sellers in the city use a graphic of an upside down cone to mimic the building. The geometric conical shape of ‘A Dropped Cone’ is therefore not so out of place amongst Cologne’s architecture and visual culture. Even the smaller details of the sculpture, the diamond shapes on the waffle, can be seen to echo the windows of nearby buildings. In mimicking its environment, the art work offers the public a 21st century icon amongst the religious ones, in which fun holiday treats like ice cream are worshipped.
And not only does this type of satire work visually, it extends to word play too. Amidst the language rich Neumarkt-Galerie district, the words ‘city shopping’ are set into a triangular shape. The word ‘Cone’ fits into a larger word, ‘Cologne’, an imitation of how the sculpture itself is a smaller part of the city; A Cone in Cologne.
This idea of taking the familiar and everyday from the commercial environment, both images and words, and transforming them in scale and context has its roots in the Pop art of the 1960’s. Claes Oldenburg was a leading figure of the movement in America, together with Roy Lichtenstein, Jim Dine, and perhaps most famously, Andy Warhol. Oldenburg began working with van Bruggen in the early 1970’s. As husband and wife and artistic collaborators their ideas formed the large-scale public works of which ‘A Dropped Cone’ is an example.
For those who may be interested in seeing an Oldenburg and Van Bruggen piece in the UK, there is an outdoor sculpture in Middlesbrough, in the Central Gardens, called ‘Bottle of Notes’.