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Oldenburg’s Lower East Side

In December 1961, Claes Oldenburg opened an enticing exhibition space called The Store in a Lower East Side storefront at 107 East Second Street. The district was a few years away from being christened The East Village, but The Store was certainly one of the landmarks of this enduring bohemian realm.

I stumbled across The Store when I was eleven years old, and was transfixed by its various wonders. It was the Pop Art pioneer’s studio, which he called the Ray Gun Manufacturing Company. As the MoMA website notes, “A fully elaborated manifestation of the project that he had begun months earlier, The Store conflated two disparate types of commerce: the sale of cheap merchandise and the sale of serious art.”

What appealed to my kid’s fancy was all the great everyday junk displayed as art (just as I did at home). “Oldenburg packed more than one hundred objects into the modestly sized room, setting previously exhibited reliefs alongside new, primarily freestanding sculptures. Everything was available for purchase, with prices starting at $21.79 up to $499.99.” After The Store closed, on January 31, 1962, the space became an early wellspring of art performance that Oldenburg called Ray Gun Theater.

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