Dennis Oppenheim (1938-2011)
Fusion: Tooth and Nail (1970)
Over forty years ago, in 1969, documentation for the land art project Annual Rings was shown at John Gibson Gallery, New York. In addition to gallery shows at Galerie Yvon Lambert, Paris, and Galerie Francoise Lambert, Milan, works were included in "When Attitude Becomes Form" in Berne and "Earth Art" at Cornell University, Ithaca-two of nineteen group shows the artist participated in that year. Since the 1960s Oppenheim's works have been included regularly in international group exhibitions, at such venues as the Museum of Modern Art, Centre George Pompidou, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Venice Biennale (1976, 1980 and 2001) and Documenta in Kassel (1972, 1977). Solo exhibitions have included the Tate Gallery, London (1972); the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (1979); and the Whitney Museum of American Art (1983, 2003). Major retrospectives were presented at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam (1974); Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam (1976); Musée d'Art Contemporain in Montreal (1978); and P.S.1 in New York (1991).
During these four decades Dennis Oppenheim's practice has employed all available methods: writing, action, performance, video, film, photography, and installation (with and without sound or monologue). He has used mechanical and industrial elements, fireworks, common objects and traditional materials, materials of the earth, his own or another's body. He has created works for interior, exterior and public spaces.
Rather than acting on an object, however, the artist stated his objective in a recent conversation with Bill Beckley: "You are operating on the operation, not the thing. When you are operating on the operation you have found a way to separate yourself from the things and you operate in a more intangible way."
Seminal works include Annual Rings, 1968, almost the definition of site-specific work in which the schemata of annual trees cut in snow is severed by the river forming the boundary between the US and Canada; Reading Position for Second Degree Burn, 1970, in which the artist's body becomes a surface registering the color red over two hours of exposure; Attempt to Raise Hell, 1974, in which a seated figure, a surrogate of the artist, repeatedly lunges forward striking a cast-iron bell; Scan, 1979, a room installation proposed as a model for an underground site in which two skeet machines positioned at opposite corners of a room propel clay disks through a central viewing ring; Digestion. Gypsum Gypsies, 1989, in which deer with flame-emitting antlers seem to pass through a wall and deposit digested wall materials nearby; Device to Root Out Evil, 1997, in which the form of a country church is cantilevered on it's steeple; and Bus Home, 2003, a public transit shelter in which a bus metamorphosizes into a generic home, paralleling the desire of all commuters for a smooth and swift journey.
Other public projects completed in 2010 are Journey Home for Grand Rapids; Garden of Evidence for Scottsdale, Arizona; Arriving Home for Chicago; Still Dancing for Toronto; Pathways to Everywhere for Calgary; Radiant Fountain for Houston; and Paintbrush Gateway for Las Vegas.
Curators who have appreciated the merits of the work are Willoughby Sharp, Alan Parent, Jean-Christophe Ammann, Alanna Heiss, Germano Celant, Richard Townsend, Robert Storr. and Lorand Hegyi. Writers who have contributed to the comprehension of the work include Stuart Morgan, Tobey Crockett, Tom McEvilley, Germano Celant, Eleanor Heartney and Lisa Le Feurve, Alberto Fiz
Dennis Oppenheim lived and worked in New York City from 1968 and also in Springs, East Hampton, since 1985. Amy Plumb began as his assistant in 1977 and became his wife in 1998. He is good friends with his third wife, the sculptor Alice Aycock, and the artists Roger Welch, Bill Beckley and Vito Acconci. His first two children Erik and Kristin-and granddaughter Erin-live in Brooklyn, New York. His third child, Chandra, lives in Maine with her daughter Issa
Dennis Oppenheim received a B.F.A. from the School of Arts and Crafts, Oakland, California, in 1965, and an M.F.A. from Stanford University, Palo Alto, California, in 1966. He received a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship in 1969, National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships in 1974 and 1982, an Excellence in Transportation award from the State of California in 2003, and a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Vancouver Sculpture Biennale