Claes Oldenburg's "Batcolumn" - the $100,000, 100-feet-tall, 2-ton steel baseball bat which the United States government erected Tuesday in Chicago - seems a miniature, a pip-squeak, at least when it's compared with his original design.
The skyscraper-high Chicago bat he initially proposed in 1967 was supposed to be kept spinning at the speed of light, "so fast it would burn on's ingers up to the shoulders to touch it," Oldenburg explained. (He has a wild imagination).
Though Oldenburg thinks big (and fast) while he is designing his monuments on paper, he is not unwilling to compromise with reality when it comes to building them 3-D in real life.
He once proposed a geometric mouse big as a mouseum) a smaller steel rodent has since been installed beside the Hirshhorn Museum here.
The "Lipstick Monument" he designed for London's Piccadilly Circus is bigger than the steel one he put up at Yale in 1969. The clothespin he proposed as a "Late Submission to the Chicago Tribune Architectural Competition of 1922" is considerably larger than the 40-feet-tall clothespin he has since erected beside Philadelphia's City Hall.
Oldenburg likes Chicago. His father was Sweden's consul general there when the artist was a child. He is not so fond of statues (those "bulls and Greeks and lots of nekkid broads," as he once described them). Oldenburg prefers to expand familiar things - baseball mitts, typewriter erasers, toilet floats, teddy bears, Good Humor bars - to colossal size.
His 100-feet-tall bat, commissioned by the art-in-architecture program of the General Services Administration, stands in front of the Social Security Great Lakes Payment Center on West Madison Street, at the border of skid row. It will be dedicated today by Joan Mondale and Ernie Banks, who used to swing a smaller version for the Chicago Cubs.
Oldenburg, 48, who says his latitce-work gray bat reflects "Chicago's construction forms, the bridges, the El, the steel of the buildings, and in that sense it relates to Chicago," also has designed a 555-feet-tall monument for Washington.
His "Proposed Colossal Monument to Replace the Washington Obelisk" would be a pair of scissors. The blades would open slowly (perhaps threatening the White House.) When closed, they would resemble the monument that stands there now, at least in silhouette. Funding for this project has not yet been arranged.