All Smiles at The Mouse Museum on 53rd St

View of Oldenburg’s Mouse Museum/Ray Gun Wing at MoMA. Photo: Jason Mandella. © 2013 The Museum of Modern Art

View of Oldenburg’s Mouse Museum/Ray Gun Wing at MoMA. Photo: Jason Mandella. © 2013 The Museum of Modern Art

Is it the best museum in the world? One of the happiest places to be in New York right now is Claes Oldenburg’s Mouse Museum and Ray Gun Wing, currently installed in MoMA’s atrium as the scene-stealing companion to the Fifth Floor exhibit, Claes Oldenburg: The Street and The Store, which ends August 5.

You’ll want to take your time contemplating the Pop master’s 1970s curated collection of average, everyday stuff that he showcased inside a geometric mouse-head structure, originally a design he proposed for Chicago’s (then unbuilt) Museum of Contemporary Art.

In the mid-1960s, Oldenburg began collecting souvenirs, rubber toys, and crazy stuff he found on his wanderings and storing them on shelves of his 14th Street studio. An early idea was a display of artificial vegetables and other food with Fluxus genius George Maciunas. It never happened, but luckily some of the 1960s-style replicas repurposed here in the Mouse collection.

Inside view. On loan from the Austrian Ludwig Foundation, since 1991. © 1965–77 Claes Oldenburg. Photo by MoMA Imaging Services Dept. © 2013 The Museum of Modern Art

Inside view. On loan from the Austrian Ludwig Foundation, since 1991. © 1965–77 Claes Oldenburg. Photo by MoMA Imaging Services Dept. © 2013 The Museum of Modern Art

Oldenburg decided to submit his museum to Documenta 5, whose theme was “inquiry into reality—today’s imagery.” He washed off his dusty collection (you can hear the tape of that inside) and he and some friends organized 367 objects into display categories. For Documenta, the little building itself was fabricated in Germany.

What’s really inside? In a riff on the classification systems that were then in vogue by conceptual artists, Oldenburg “classified” all his fun stuff – landscape, human beings, food, body parts, clothing (including makeup), tools, animals, buildings (including monuments and souvenirs), money containers, smoking articles, and studio remnants.

Here’s MoMA’s take on the importance of this little museum and its Ray Gun Wing:

Now, enjoy a virtual walk-through to examine this tiny museum’s treasures, shot by Christian Zurn when it was on display at MUMOK in Vienna last year. Do yourself a favor and go see this spectacularly funny, whimsical collection for yourself.

Want to spend some time with Claes himself? Here’s a YouTube of the master recollecting his life in the Sixties, travels to LA with Warhol, and how his soft sculptures came to be, click here.

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