Bottle of Notes

Central Gardens, Middlesbrough, England

Background History

Bottle of Notes is a 30x16x10 ft sculpture created by Claes Oldenburg and his wife Coosje van Bruggen. This sculpture was commissioned by Middlesbrough Borough Council in June of 1988. It was installed in September of 1993 after nearly seven years of thinking, developing, and producing the sculpture. In 1986, a program was put in place to try and rebuild the community during an economic depression. Middlesbrough was once the capitol for steel fabrication, but, at this time, the kilns had been shut down. Claes was asked to participate in the program to help rebuild the city through commissions of art. Bottle of Notes was to be built in Hebburn to provide employment for workers in the abandoned parts of Hebburn.

Artists Statement

The thought process for this sculpture started with the fact that Captain Cook was born in the area the sculpture would find its home. Claes and his wife tried to think of a nautical design that would represent Captain Cook, but did not like any of the ideas including a snuff box, comb, and sailing ship. The bottle idea came from the fact that sailors often sent out messages in a bottle that washed up on land. Coosje decided the words on the bottle would be an excerpt from a letter Captain Cook wrote: "We had every advantage we could desire in Observing the whole of the passage of the Planet Venus over the Sun's disk."Claes wrote the words and they made up the exterior of the bottle. On the inside, in blue steel, is an excerpt of one of Coosje's poems. The words "I like to remember seagulls in full flight gliding over the ring of canals" spirals up the inside of the sculpture.

My Thoughts

I really like this sculpture. I find it very interesting that the whole shape of the bottle is made out of just words. Although the words are hard to read, once you look at the sculpture you can see true detail in it. The blue words coming through really show up off of the white words. Once I read the story behind it, I understand more of what this sculpture is about. The power the words have, I think, really helped Middlesbrough rebuild itself in the hard times of a depression. This scultpure has beautiful movement and I find eyes spiraling around it. I like the fact that there is no outline of the bottle. The shape is made by the words.