A Look Back Into the Archives: The Inverted Q

By Mandy Tomasik, KSU library and information science practicum student

This post is brought to you by the letter Q.  Claes Oldenburg’s Inverted Q, to be exact.  While perhaps one of the most recognizable pieces in the museum, I don’t think that many people know the story of how the Inverted Q came to be and its inextricable ties to Akron.

Oldenburg was exploring the idea of colossal letters in various monumental situations.  While working out the possibilities of a giant Q situated in a landscape, the artist came to the conclusion that “an inverted position seemed necessary because a Q with its tail buried wouldn’t be a Q at all.” (qtd. in Oldenburg: The Inverted Q exhibit catalog, 1977, p 7, Akron Art Museum Archives)  In January of 1973, Oldenburg visited Akron in response to an invitation from Louis and Mary Myers to work on a sculpture fabricated in rubber that would be placed adjacent to the main library.  Looking at his first sculpted clay study for the piece, I think it’s easy to see why he deemed the Q an appropriate subject for Akron, as it is reminiscent of a tire in shape and it makes sense for a monumental letter to be living in the vicinity of a library.

March 1973, starting clay Q.  Oldenburg: The Inverted Q exhibit catalog, 1977, Akron Art Museum Archives

March 1973, Starting clay Q.  Oldenburg: The Inverted Q exhibit catalog, 1977, Akron Art Museum Archives

The artist explored many iterations of the Q made from different materials.  He sketched Q’s made from chopped wood and Q’s with sharp horns.  He crafted plaster versions cast from sewn canvas molds, 18 inch Q’s cast in the synthetic rubber material Hytrel, and a six foot prototype in rigid foam.  After much experimenting, a full size, six foot rubber Q proved infeasable and the first version of the final product was cast in concrete in Kingston, New York in September of 1976.  By the next summer, the final surface treatment had been completed.  It looked like this:

Inverted Q.  Oldenburg: The Inverted Q exhibit catalog, 1977, Akron Art Museum Archives

Inverted Q.  Oldenburg: The Inverted Q exhibit catalog, 1977, Akron Art Museum Archives

No really, it did!  The Inverted Q wasn’t always the Pepto Pink wonder that it is today.  It was originally an umber color until it underwent a three-month restoration in 1986, at which point it was refinished with a pink hue, which the artist believes gives it a more “rubbery feel”.  (Q-Tip.  Akron Beacon Journal article, 1986, Akron Art Museum Archives)

For even more scintillating information about the Inverted Q and to see some of the artist’s sketches and studies relating to this piece, search for “Claes Oldenburg” in the museum’s online collection here!

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