Sunday, December 11, 2005

Under erasure

A nice surprise in the atrium of the Nasher Museum is a typewriter eraser by Claes Oldenburg.

nasher museum

One of several versions (including lithograph), it's smaller than the one in the sculpture garden of the National Gallery or at the IBM building in New York.

If you're reading this blog, you're probably old enough to remember typewriter erasers. (Or are you? Remember typewriters?) They weren't wholly successful--typewriter ink being what it was, any success you had in erasing your mistakes was probably offset by a certain loss in the thickness of the paper. With electric typewriters and "correcting" ribbons and the great breakthrough of Liquid Paper, all of that was gladly left behind. But if you grew up around old manual typewriters, as I did, typewriter erasers were always around. I think this was part of the artist's statement--to take a common utilitarian object and defamiliarize it.

Our son Tucker, who is 12, had no idea what it was, of course. What does a giant steel and fiberglass typewriter eraser say to someone who has never seen an everyday one? He can't experience the space of play between the huge permanent fixture and the small insignificant thing itself. Without the familiar, defamiliarizing cannot happen. (Perhaps, in that case, something entirely different happens.)

But if the sculpture has to have a message--and maybe it doesn't, especially one that's this much fun--there's another one that slides into view as the obsolete referent recedes. Something about the ephemerality of technology--and, by extension, well, everything.

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