Giant Toothpaste Tubes, Art & Dental Hygiene


OldenburgwToothpaste One of Claes Oldenburg’s “Giant Toothpaste Tube” sculptures. This one from 1964 is at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Much has been made of the sexual symbolism and anthropomorphic qualities of these artworks. Oldenburg, himself, commented on how “some people” took it as a metaphor for his own spent creativity—(as in: all used up)… “The first tube, made in Venice, California, in 1963 seemed to some people an unconscious self-portrait…”


In the context of contemporary art, the more obvious connection to draw from a giant toothpaste tube is to paint tubes. There are a surprising number of artworks drawing this parallel between dental hygiene and artistic expression. Between toothpaste tube and paint tube… Between toothbrush and paint brush… Between toothpaste and paint. Yesterday we touched on the patent history of toothpaste and paint tubes. Today: some art history.

In 1959, Jasper Johns—(also known for his bronzes of paint brushes)— made a small bronze sculpture of a toothbrush with 4 molars in place of bristles, entitled “the Critic Smiles.”


In 1968, Richard Hamilton, did an answering work entitled “The Critic Laughs” updating the concept with dentures and an electric toothbrush.

More recently Kelly Walker has made artworks using toothpaste as paint, even mentioning the brands in titles like “schema; Aquafresh plus Crest with Whitening Expressions (Regina Hall)”. (He cites Jasper Johns as an influence in this short video interview: here)

(A couple more “giant tubes of toothpaste, after the fold…)


Above: a few frames from Chadwick Whitehead’s “The Horror of the Giant Toothpaste Tube’s Revenge; below: a 12 foot tall trade-show toothpaste tube from Irresistible Images


Randy Ludacer
Beach Packaging Design

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