His Most Famous Sculpture (Lipstick (Ascending) On Caterpillar Tracks) – Claes Oldenburg

Swedish sculptor Claes Oldenburg created the splendid ‘Installation Art,’ “Lipstick (Ascending) on Caterpillar Tracks,” during 1969-1974. The masterpiece is installed at Samuel F. B. Morse College, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut.

The body of the mysterious “Lipstick (Ascending) on Caterpillar Tracks” comprises of a 24 feet lipstick standing on a tank track, which the artist called ‘caterpillar.’ Made out of cost-efficient raw materials, Claes employed plywood track for the base and red vinyl balloon top, to be puffed up for better visibility and gaining focus. He used Cor-Ten steel, steel, aluminum, cast resin that was painted with polyurethane enamel. Measuring good 23’6″ x 24’11” x 10’11” (7.2m x 7.6m x 3.3m), Stuart Wrede and students at the Yale School of Architecture commissioned the artwork in January 1969.

“Lipstick (Ascending) on Caterpillar Tracks” was originally installed on May 15, 1969, at Beinecke Plaza (Hewitt Quadrangle), Yale University, to be inaugurated on October 17, 1974. The innovative concept of constructing a gold-colored tube of orange lipstick, mounted on a large steel base, equipped with rust-colored caterpillar treads, gathered a lot of crowd and took Yale by surprise. It was Oldenburg’s first monumental public sculpture.

The gigantic artwork symbolizes antiwar sentiments of the students of the art school. As a goodwill gesture, everyone from Yale, right from its students, to teaching faculty, to alumni, contributed towards the cost of construction. In harmony, Oldenburg too did not charge any fee for “Lipstick (Ascending) on Caterpillar Tracks.” He called the group working secretly for the installation, as the Colossal Keepsake Corporation of Connecticut. Claes decided upon Beinecke Plaza as the site of installation.

Eventually, the Corporation legally presented the artwork to Yale. Vincent Scully, a Professor of Morse College, lightly commented, “the Beinecke’s natural complement on the dressing table.” Towards the end of Vietnam War, the rebellious impact was turned vocal even in the Art College. The tank-shaped base of Cales’ “Lipstick (Ascending) on Caterpillar Tracks” was used as a rally platform, and the installation was subsequently laden with posters and scribbles. By March 1970, the wooden tracks of the installation had rotted due to environmental exposure and abuse. Oldenburg moved the sculpture to its construction factory in North Haven. The next year, historians and art professors decided to bring it back for its final installation in college campus.

Even today, Morse college students retrieve inspiration from the enigmatic monument. The students of Yale say, “Morse without Lipstick is like Yale without Harkness (minus the bells).”