Sunday, May 29, 2011

Typewriter Eraser, Scale X

Typewriter Eraser

A few photos of Typewriter Eraser, Scale X, by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen (official website). This piece is located outside of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel at CityCenter, Las Vegas.

Oldenburg & van Bruggen are famous for their sculptures of everyday objects scaled up to enormous size, including a giant cherry & spoon in Minneapolis, a giant clothespin in Philadelphia, a giant safety pin in San Francisco, another giant safety pin in New Orleans, and several giant typewriter erasers. There are at least two others on public display besides this one: One at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, and another in Seattle's Olympic Sculpture Garden.

Typewriter Eraser

Elsewhere on the net, I came across a PBS video about the piece, and restoration photos of the Vegas copy.

One -- it's not clear whether it was the Vegas copy or yet another one -- sold at a 2009 Christie's auction for a cool $2,210,500. For comparison, you can buy a much smaller -- but functional -- vintage typewriter eraser online for just $5, and Amazon has new ones for about $2.

And while you're busy buying retro technology, it turns out that you can still buy a shiny new typewriter to go along with your eraser. A recent Daily Mail story claimed that the world's last typewriter factory had closed, but it turns out that it wasn't really the last typewriter factory. In fact New Jersey-based Swintec has a range of models available in the $150-$900 range, including clear ones for use in prisons (so inmates can't hide contraband inside). Amazingly, they also offer a classic 80s-style word processor, complete with 15" monochrome monitor and floppy drive, for a mere $1,678. The info page for it points out that it can't be used to access the internet or play games. Assuming these machines aren't just unsold inventory from 1989, there must still be a niche market out there for dedicated word processors. I can only speculate what that niche might be. My guess would be curmudgeonly mystery writers who've used this exact word processor since 1982 and absolutely refuse to move with the times, to the eternal dismay of their long-suffering agents and publishers.

Typewriter Eraser

In any case, I generally like Oldenburg's work, but I see a couple of problems with this piece, neither of which are/were under the artists' control:

  1. The whole concept behind Oldenburg sculptures is that they're ginormous oversized versions of everyday objects. If the giant typewriter eraser is itself dwarfed by ginormous oversized skyscrapers all around it, it just doesn't have the same impact.

  2. The other problem is that a typewriter eraser is no longer an everyday object. How many people in 2011 know what the hell a typewriter eraser even is, or what size it's supposed to be? As far as I can recall I've never used one, although I may have seen a real one once or twice. Actually I don't think I've used a typewriter at all since my freshman year in high school, which was about 25 years ago. Oh, and while I'm telling you how incredibly old I am, did I mention that our school had manual typewriters? And they replaced them with shiny new Macintosh Plus computers the year after I had typing class? It's true.

So it's not a huge surprise that it's already been spoofed (along with the other works scattered around CityCenter), in a recent show at the county government center titled CountyCenter (more photos here).

"Backspace Key, Scale X". Heh.

Typewriter Eraser

No comments :