Coosje van Bruggen

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Coosje van Bruggen
Coosje van Bruggen.jpg
Born (1942-06-06)June 6, 1942
Groningen, Netherlands
Died January 10, 2009(2009-01-10)
Los Angeles, California, United States
Nationality Dutch-American
Known for Sculpture

Coosje van Bruggen (June 6, 1942 – January 10, 2009) was a sculptor, art historian, and critic.[1] She collaborated extensively with her husband, Claes Oldenburg.


Born to a physician in Groningen, van Bruggen studied history of art at the University of Groningen. From 1967 to 1971, she worked at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. There she worked with environmental artists like Doug Wheeler, Larry Bell, and the members of the Dutch avant-garde.[1] Until 1976, van Bruggen taught at the Academy for Art and Industries in Enschede. In 1978, van Bruggen moved to New York, in 1993 she became a United States citizen.


She worked with her husband, sculptor Claes Oldenburg, since 1976. Her first work with Oldenburg came when she helped him install his 41-foot Trowel I on the grounds of the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo.[2] They were married in 1977. Together Oldenburg and van Bruggen produced three decades of monumental sculpture that van Bruggen would call Large-Scale Projects,[3] with their first piece created as a team being Flashlight (1981), a huge outdoor sculpture at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.[2] In Los Angeles, Collar and Bow - a 65-foot metal and fiberglass sculpture in the shape of a man's dress shirt collar and bow tie, designed for a spot outside Walt Disney Concert Hall - was stalled and eventually canceled because of technical problems and escalating costs.[4] In 1988, her work along with Oldenburg Spoonbridge and Cherry was commissioned by the Walker Art Center, and became a permanent fixture of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden as well as an iconic image of the city of Minneapolis. Their final joint work, fabricated in Turin, Italy, was Tumbling Tacks (2009), designed for the Kistefos Sculpture Park in the countryside north of Oslo.[2]

At her instigation, too, the couple branched out into indoor installations and performance. In 1985 they collaborated on Il Corso del Coltello (“The Course of the Knife”) a performance piece in Venice, Italy, with the architect Frank Gehry, whom van Bruggen had met in 1982, when she was on the selection committee for documenta 7 in Kassel.[1]

Since the early 1980s van Bruggen worked as an independent critic and curator. She contributed articles to Artforum magazine from 1983 to 1988, and served as senior critic in the sculpture department at Yale University School of Art in 1996-97.[2]

Van Bruggen was the author of scholarly books and essays on the work of major contemporary artists including Gerhard Richter (1985), John Baldessari (1990), Bruce Nauman (1991), and Hanne Darboven (1991). She also wrote a monograph on architect Frank O. Gehry's Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain.[2]

Van Bruggen and Oldenburg were based in New York for many years, but they also lived and worked for extensive periods in Los Angeles and, since 1992, at Château de la Borde in Beaumont-sur-Dême, in the Loire Valley of France.

One U.S. installation the pair collaborated on is the fiberglass and steel Cupid's Span, which was commissioned by GAP founders Donald and Doris F. Fisher, and installed in the newly built Rincon Park along the Embarcadero in San Francisco in 2002.[5]


Together with Oldenburg, Van Bruggen received numerous awards including the Distinction in Sculpture, Sculpture Center, New York (1994); Nathaniel S. Saltonstall Award, Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston (1996); Partners in Education Award, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (2002); the Medal Award, School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (2004) and honorary degrees from the California College of the Arts, San Francisco, California (1996); University of Teesside, Middlesbrough, England (1999); Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, Halifax, Nova Scotia (2005); and the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, Michigan (2005).

The Estate of Coosje van Bruggen is represented by The Pace Gallery, New York.


After a long battle with breast cancer, she died at her residence in Los Angeles in 2009, aged 66, at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.[3]


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