Born in Stockholm, Claes Oldenburg moved to Chicago with his family in 1936, where he studied at the Art Institute of Chicago from 1950 to 1954. He relocated to New York in 1956, where he became a key figure in performance art and Happenings. Between 1960 and 1962, Green Gallery, New York, hosted numerous shows of Oldenburg’s work, including two solo exhibitions, four group exhibitions, and multiple Happenings/performances.
In a September 1962 review of a Wayne Thiebaud show, Donald Judd wrote that Oldenburg: “has done something artistically new, as Max Kozloff in Art International says he and the others have not, makes his cakes and pies and other foods and articles actual objects, which is different epistemologically from illustration.”1 Oldenburg and Judd met around 1965, when Oldenburg was living in the same apartment building as their mutual friend the artist Yayoi Kusama.
Red Sausages was one of the objects “for sale” in Oldenburg’s The Store, which opened in fall 1961 on Second Street in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. As Oldenburg said in the early 1960s, “I’d like to get away from the notion of a work of art as something outside of experience, something that is located in museums, something that is terribly precious.”2
Out of The Store, Oldenburg sold commonplace objects such as ice cream, cigarettes, hats, and shoes rendered out of chicken wire covered by muslin soaked in plaster, which was then painted. Oldenburg applied enamel paint straight from the can in individual layers. Items ran from twenty-five dollars to over eight hundred. As Oldenburg described: “In the front half, it is my intention to create the environment of a store, by painting and placing (hanging, projecting, lying) objects after the spirit and in the form of popular objects of merchandise, such as may be seen in stores and store windows of the city. . . .This store will be constantly supplied with new objects which I will create out of plaster and other materials in the rear half of the place.”3