What’s Happening? Art Buchwald Lunches With Claes Oldenburg

The week before The Pop Art Festival in Washington DC, Art Buchwald had lunch with Claes Oldenburg, WGMA Assistant Director Alice Denney, and publicist John Mecklin. The topic was Oldenburg’s upcoming Happening, Stars. Buchwald wrote (in the first person plural) about the lunch in the April 16, 1963 edition of the Washington Post:

Pop art, in case you’re wondering, is the latest thing, in which artists use anything form comic strips to American flags to give a new concept to reality and illusion. (It’s more than that too, but we’re not sure how much more.)

“Mr. Oldenburg,” we said, “What is a Happening?”
“There is no definition. I don’t know myself what a Happening is. It’s putting all the elements and senses together and composing a picture. Sight, sound, smell, imagination. Everything plays a part.”
“I see,” we said. “How do you organize a Happening?”
“I buy things at the Goodwill Industries, the Salvation Army, and second-hand shops. Then I find a place to have a Happening in. It must have three-dimensional space and it’s best if the thing you find is characteristic of the composition you’re trying to create.
“Naturally,” we said. “Where is your Happening going to take place?”
“I’ve had a lot of difficulty finding the right spot. You see, at a Happening the place where you do it is as important as what you do. I found a rug cleaning shop which looked just perfect, since there was lots of junk in it. But the Fire Department wouldn’t let me use it. Fire Departments and Police Departments and vice squads give us the most trouble about our Happenings.”
“That’s because they’re square,” we said.
“So I’ve decided to give my Happening to the Washington Gallery itself. Now I know you’re going to say this violates the idea of holding a Happening in a typical place. But in this case the gallery is okay because the walls are white and it’s typical of the Washingtonian’s yearning for everything in the city to be white. Therefore it’s really a good place for a happening.”

As we left the restaurant we stopped by Mrs. Denney’s station wagon, which she had lent him to scout for things for the Happening. In the back were a baby carriage, six small footstools, a bird cage, a first-baseman’s mitt, a mirror, an iron bedstead, and two pairs of saddle shoes.
“What are you going to do with all that?” we asked.
“I don’t know,” Mr. Oldenburg said. “I might use them in the Happening and I might not. It all depends on how I feel.”