A colossal three-way plug floats in an open sea as a sailboat glides by in the distance. What gives this object such presence, in addition to its size, is that Claes Oldenburg allows us to see it in its entirety. He centers the plug on the sheet of paper and adopts a point of view that lets us see it above and below water. The midpoint of the plug is marked by the waterline. Oldenburg also scrubs the plug with a red-brick brown that gives it the look of an ancient structure. Oldenburg draws his plug with a sharp-etched line. His masterful washes of color are created with aquatint, an intaglio process. The rusty coloration of the plug stands in sharp contrast to the turquoise, green, and yellow of the water, land, and sky.
Sunk halfway into the water, the plug poses for its portrait. It may be a plug, but is it also something else? An odd, oversized buoy? A Roman bath or waterhouse? Is it, perhaps, some gargantuan mask or head of a mouse with fangs pointed to the sea bottom? Most importantly, is it benign or dangerous? When you think about it, this is a three-way electrical plug. Electricity and water are a lethal combination. But the incongruity of its size and location is also humorous. As it seems to be so many things at once, Oldenburg's object can only be enchanted.
Claes Oldenburg, Floating Three-Way Plug, 1976, soft-ground etching and spitbite aquatint, 49 5/8 x 38 3/8 inches. Collection of Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Gift of the Artist. 1998.09 © Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen.
Claes Oldenburg. © Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen.