Free Stamp

Marcia Rubin

Chagrin Falls, United States

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Artist's Description

Free Stamp
Location: Downtown Cleveland, Oh USA
Free Stamp is an outdoor sculpture located in Cleveland, Ohio’s Willard Park. Created by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, it has been called the “world’s largest rubber stamp”. The dimensions of the sculpture are 28 ft 10 in (8.79 m) by 26 ft (7.9 m) by 49 ft (15 m). The sculpture depicts a rubber stamp with the word “FREE” in its stamping area.

The work was commissioned by Standard Oil of Ohio (Sohio) in 1985 for display at its soon-to-be-constructed headquarters building on Public Square, which became the BP Tower. The piece was originally designed to stand upright, with the lettering of the stamp hidden from view on its “stamp pad”. According to one of the executives working with Oldenburg, the message on the stamp was intended as a reference to the Civil War-era Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, located across the street.

Sohio had previously been acquired by BP, and BP executive Robert Horton took over the management of Sohio before the sculpture was installed. He believed that the stamp was “inappropriate” for the location, and that Oldenburg actually intended to mock BP about Sohio’s loss of corporate freedom and the lack of freedom in office work. The company gave the artists permission to move the sculpture to another part of the city, but they refused. As a result, the stamp was placed in storage in a facility in Whiting, Indiana. Over the next several years, BP, the artists, and the city consulted to find a new site for the sculpture. Several sites were proposed, including the Cleveland Museum of Art. The artists, who wanted the sculpture to remain near Public Square, finally chose Willard Park.

In 1991, BP donated the sculpture to the city of Cleveland. The stamp was modified to sit on its side, and it was dedicated in its new location in November 1991. Oldenburg reportedly said that it looked as if a giant hand had picked up the sculpture from its intended location at the BP Tower and angrily hurled it several blocks, where it ended up on its side.

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