AoTW: Dennis Oppenheim

Device to Root Out Evil

 

As much as I read about art, I’m embarrassed to admit that I was not familiar with Oppenheim’s work until very recently.  This is especially ridiculous of me considering that he has been a working artist and well-known within the contemporary art scene since the mid 60s.  Ooops.  

The above image of the upside down church was my introduction to his work and I was immediately intrigued.  I was further pleased to discover that his body of work is extensive, multifaceted, and reflects an ability on the artist’s part to not fall into the trap of conforming to one’s predominant style as so often happens when an artist finds success in a particular genre.  

Much of Oppenheim’s early work is performance-based and focuses primarily upon the direct experience of the artist from which we the viewer can only experience the residue of the event–i.e. a photograph or a video.   

The interface between the temporal nature of the performance and the permanence of the recording method demonstrates, among other things, the rapport that exists between the experience and the tangible record.  Although the “artwork” is the direct experience, Oppenheim’s videos and photos inevitably and inadvertently become the body of work thereby challenging traditional means of artistic expression by emphasizing conceptualization/experience over tangible expression.  Old hat now but wild and crazy back then.  

Material Interchange, 1970

 

Reading Position for Second Degree Burn, 1970

 

 In addition to his performance work, Oppenheim completed a series of earthworks each with their own agenda.  The Cancelled Crop piece is one I find particularly interesting because it speaks to social systems in a very unique and impactful manner due to its sheer scale.  

Cancelled Crop, 1969

 

 From the Oppenheim website:  

In September the field was harvested in the form of an X. the grain was isolated in it’s raw state, further processing was withheld. The material is planted and cultivated for the sole purpose of withholding it from a product- oriented system. Isolating this grain from further processing (production of food stuffs) becomes like stopping raw pigment from becoming an illusionistic force on canvas.  

Much of Oppenheim’s recent works are sculptural and reflect his, what I would call, somewhat eclectic and sporadic style.  I don’t intend these adjectives to be construed as derogatory.  It is simply that the works do not tend to conform to a unified style other than that they are all equally different in manner and method.   

ELECTRIC KISS, 2009

 

PERFORMANCE PIECE, 2000

 

RAINING HALOS, 2008

 

There is a current of continuity to be found throughout Oppenheim’s work in that he has allowed himself the freedom to explore beyond the boundaries that many artists create for themselves.   To venture beyond these self-imposed constraints takes a tremendous amount of courage in an often fickle art scene in which any artist that eludes neat categorization will often languish in obscurity (Sigmar Polke, for instance).  For an artist to create not only art pieces but create and recreate his or her artistic identity via new stylistic and conceptual explorations is something I commend not only for the fact that most artists cannot do so but for the fact that even for those few who might, they lack the strength of will to follow their convictions.  

All of Oppenheim’s work may be found at:  

http://www.dennis-oppenheim.com/  

A good, but long, interview can be found at this address:  

http://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/oralhistories/transcripts/oppenh95.htm  

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