LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — The sculptor who created “The Flashlight” on the UNLV campus died Monday at his home in Manhattan at 93.
Claes Oldenburg was an internationally renowned artist, and the 1981 installation of “The Flashlight” has become a symbol of the arts, according to UNLV officials. The event was covered on the “Evening News with Walter Cronkite.”
“It’s sad to know that Claes has now passed on, and this will be a piece that the university treasures forever,” Lori Cobo, Executive Director of the UNLV Performing Arts Center, said on Tuesday.
The sculpture was a centerpiece of “Red Alert,” a Sept. 1, 2020, display on campus in support of out of work entertainers. “The Flashlight” was bathed in red outside Artemus W. Ham Concert Hall.
“It has symbolized the icon for the arts. It has been a symbol here on campus ever since I’ve been here. It has been here as a beacon of the arts forever,” Cobo said.
A plaque at the base of the statue says it was dedicated on March 21, 1981. The massive sculpture stands 38 feet tall and weighs 74,000 pounds. Many of Oldenburg’s works were described as “large, playful works of everyday objects.”
“Right now, we’re in the middle of student orientation, so they stop all the time and it becomes the photo spot for campus. It is an icon for the campus, so it is absolutely beautiful to have it here,” Cobo said.
Cobo’s administrative assistant, Denise Flores, marvels at what the statue represents.
“The statue is a wonderful example of modern art here in Las Vegas. I think it’s important that people remember that we have a Claes Oldenburg,” Flores said. “And he’s amazing. I mean, he’s placed ice cream cones on buildings and lipstick in places.”
Oldenburg was the son of a Swedish diplomat. “The Flashlight” was a collaboration with his second wife, Coosje van Bruggen, a Dutch-born art historian, artist and critic. The pair married in 1977, and she died in 2009. Oldenburg died Monday morning in Manhattan, according to his daughter, Maartje Oldenburg. He had been in poor health since falling and breaking his hip a month ago.
Among his most famous works:
- “Clothespin,” a 45-foot steel clothespin installed near Philadelphia’s City Hall in 1976.
- “Batcolumn,” a 100-foot lattice-work steel baseball bat installed in 1977 in front of a federal office building in Chicago.
- “Typewriter Eraser,” a 1976 Oldenburg sculpture that sold for a record $2.2 million at an auction of post-war and contemporary art in New York.
- “Lipstick (Ascending) on Caterpillar Tracks,” which juxtaposed a large lipstick on tracks resembling those that propel Army tanks.
- “Crusoe Umbrella,” for the Civic Center in Des Moines, Iowa, completed in 1979
- “Tumbling Tacks,” Oslo, 2009.
Early in his career, he was a key developer of “soft sculpture” made out of vinyl — another way of transforming ordinary objects — and also helped invent the quintessential 1960s art event, the “Happening.”
“We’re very lucky to have this piece, and I hope that more people will come and remember that this is a Claes Oldenburg,” Flores said. “And it’s a flashlight, and we just love having it here. And we definitely hope that more people come and see what he was about and take part in the arts here.”
The flashlight is “uplit” at night by light at its base. “It doesn’t go up into the air because the artist felt that it would be too contrived, too expected, for the flashlight to be pointing all the way up, so we point it down,” Flores said. “If you were to get up onto the sculpture, you would see that they signed it.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.