A Jumbo Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen Gardening Tool Will Be Their First Public Artwork in New York in 20 Years

Mar 15, 2022

This spring, a massive trowel will touch down in the middle of the Channel Gardens inside Rockefeller Center.

The cerulean blue plantoir is the work of Claes Oldenburg and his late wife, Coosje van Bruggen, and will be the couple’s first public installation in New York City in more than 20 years.

In 2002, a red version of the work was on view as part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibition “Oldenburg and Van Bruggen on the Roof.”

Displayed alongside Architect’s Handkerchief (1999), Corridor Pin, Blue (1999), and Shuttlecock/Blueberry Pies I and II (1999), Plantoir was installed atop the museum’s building against the backdrop of Central Park, which helped to balloon the object into inflated, cartoonish monuments.

Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggenon on May 29, 1987 next to the sculpture Apple Core in the Krefeld art gallery. (Photo by Wilhelm Leuschner/picture alliance via Getty Images)

When the pair met in 1970, Oldenburg was in the midst of working on Trowel—a similar piece that ultimately led to the creation of Plantoir—and the two began collaborating on it in 1975. Van Bruggen herself selected the original blue finish of the work in a nod to the colorful overalls that Dutch workers wore.

The comically oversized gardening tool—a 2,300-pound shovel made from aluminum, fiber-reinforced plastic, and steel—stands at more than 23 feet tall, and can withstand winds of more than 120 miles per hour.

Oldenburg and Van Bruggen wanted the work to be installed in an outdoor garden setting, making the Rockefeller Center’s Channel Gardens—the original location in 1801 of the Elgin Garden, the United States’s first botanical garden—prime (if miniature) real estate for the whimsical sculpture.

“Their new sculpture is an ode to the city at the time of its long-awaited reawakening,” Paula Cooper Gallery senior partner Steve Henry said in a statement.

Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s Plantoir, Blue (2001/21) will be on view at the Fifth Avenue entrance to the Channel Gardens at Rockefeller Center from March 18 through May 6, 2022.