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Bruggen, Coosje, van

    Image Credit: DSM Public Art Foundation

    Full Name: Bruggen, Coosje, van

    Gender: female

    Date Born: 1942

    Date Died: 2009

    Place Born: Groningen, Netherlands

    Place Died: Los Angeles, CA, USA

    Home Country/ies: Netherlands

    Subject Area(s): Modern (style or period)


    Modernist art historian; partner with Claes Oldenburg in artworks, 1977-2009. Bruggen’s father was a medical doctor who held weekly salons for writers and painters at their home where she and her siblings participated. She studied art history at the Rijks University of Groningen, earning a graduate degree in 1967. Bruggen joined the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam the same year as a curator. She worked with conceptual artists Doug Wheeler, Larry Bell, Jan Dibbets and Ger van Elk, marrying around this time. While installing a traveling exhibition in New York, she met the Swedish-American pop artist Claes Oldenburg in 1970. Returning to the Netherlands, she was appointed professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Enschede. After a divorce, she and Oldenburg, also now divorced, collaborated in 1976 on a 41-foot “Trowel I” on the grounds of the Kroller-Muller Museum, Otterlo, Netherlands, which she insisted be colored differently. Her relationship with Oldenburg grew into what the artist termed “a unity of opposites;” they were married in 1977. The first piece they created collaboratively was the 1981 “Flashlight,” an outdoor sculpture at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Thereafter they considered their work collaborative, though museum curators did not always jointly credit her. As an art historian she assisted in selecting artists for Documenta 7, the 1982 international contemporary art exhibition. Bruggen contributed articles to Artforum magazine between 1983 and 1988 as an art critic. She and Oldenburg lived in New York with alternate homes in Los Angeles and Beaumont-sur-Deme, in the Loire Valley of France. A book on Frank Gehry and Oldenburg appeared in 1987. In 1993 she became a U.S. citizen. Bruggen was senior critic in the sculpture department at Yale University School of Art for the 1996-1997 academic year. A monograph on Bruce Naumann was published in 2002. While in the fabrication stages of the work of art “Tumbling Tacks,” giant thumb tacks sculpture designed for a Norwegian Kistefos Sculpture Park in rural Oslo, she died at her Los Angeles home of metastatic breast cancer. Bruggen’s understanding of how Oldenburg’s art fit into a history of modern art helped shape his large-scale pieces. Her systematic and conceptual thinking gained Oldenburg important public commissions. As an art historian of modern artists, she was known for a hard, fact-driven approach to looking at an artist’s oeuvre.

    Selected Bibliography

    Il Corso del coltello = The Course of the Knife. [project and performance by] Claes Oldenburg, Coosje van Bruggen, Frank O. Gehry. New York: Rizzoli, 1987; Bruce Nauman. New York: Rizzoli, 1988; John Baldessari. New York: Rizzoli, 1990;. Frank O Gehry: Guggenheim Museum. New York: Guggenheim Museum, 1997; Bruce Nauman. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002; Robert Whitman: Turning. New York: PaceWildenstein, 2007.


    [obituaries:] Muchnic, Suzanne. “Coosje van Bruggen, 1942-2009; Art Historian Teamed with Sculptor Spouse.” Los Angeles Times January 13, 2009, p. B8; Kino, Carol. “Coosje van Bruggen, Pop Sculptor, Is Dead at 66.” New York Times January 14, 2009, p. B10.


    • Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen Archives [In Process], Getty Research Institute.

    Contributors: Emily Crockett and Lee Sorensen


    Emily Crockett and Lee Sorensen. "Bruggen, Coosje, van." Dictionary of Art Historians (website).

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