Claes Oldenburg was born on January 28, 1929, in Stockholm. His father was a diplomat, and the family lived in the United States and Norway before settling in Chicago in 1936. Oldenburg studied literature and art history at Yale University in New Haven, and subsequently took classes at the School of Art Institute of Chicago from 1950 to 1954. Oldenburg became an American citizen in December 1953. In 1956 he moved to New York and met several artists making early performance art. He soon became a prominent figure in happenings and performance art during the late 1950s and early 1960s. In 1959 the Judson Gallery in New York exhibited a series of Oldenburg’s enigmatic images, ranging from monstrous human figures to everyday objects, made from a mix of drawings, collages, and papier-mâché.

In 1961 he opened The Store in his studio, where he displayed familiar objects made of plaster. He was heralded as main figure of Pop Art when the movement emerged in 1962. Oldenburg created his first outdoor public monument in 1967. Beginning in the mid-1960s, he also proposed colossal art projects for several cities, and in 1969 his first of these iconic works, Lipstick (Ascending) on Caterpillar Tracks, was installed at Yale University. Most of his later large-scale projects were made with the collaboration of Coosje van Bruggen, whom he married in 1977. In the mid-1970s and again in the 1990s Oldenburg and van Bruggen collaborated with architect Frank Gehry, breaking the boundaries between architecture and sculpture.

From the 1990s onwards, Oldenburg continued to stage performances and his works were the subject of numerous exhibitions. A solo exhibition of his work was presented at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1969. In 1985 his Course of the Knife was performed in Venice. A retrospective exhibition was organized by the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York in 1995. In 2002 the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York held a retrospective of drawings by Oldenburg and van Bruggen; the same year, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York exhibited a selection of their sculptures on the roof of the museum. Oldenburg died in New York on July 18, 2022.