An exhibition of works by one of the key figures of American Conceptual Art opens to the public at the Irish Museum of Modern Art on Wednesday 28 February. Dennis Oppenheim: Land and Body comprises 16 Land and Body works from the 1960s and ’70s including video and three-dimensional installations, mechanised sculptures and large photo and text pieces, which document key works. A video programme of 65 other works provides an essential context for the exhibition within Oppenheim’s overall oeuvre. The exhibition is the most extensive showing of the artist’s work in Ireland to date.
Dennis Oppenheim: Land and Body features many of the revolutionary ideas which Oppenheim, and a small group of other young artists, introduced to the art world of the 1960s and ’70s. A time of great social and political change in the USA and beyond. Chief among these for Oppenheim was his rejection of the conventional gallery space by locating artworks in the real world of the landscape – be it urban or rural. Other defining principles included reconnecting something by radically altering its scale, using quasi-scientific methods for the creation of art and making the work’s configuration or duration subject to climatic or other natural forces. ‘Landslide’, 1968, involved arranging angled boards around a slope of the Long Island Expressway or, as Oppenheim charaterised it, “activating” a pre-existing landscape. For ‘Gallery Transplant’, 1969, Oppenheim marked out the exact dimensions of a gallery in the snow, which then disappeared with the arrival of spring.
In 1970 Oppenheim described his attitude to traditional art spaces: “To me a piece of sculpture inside a room is a disruption of interior space. It’s a protrusion, an unnecessary addition to what could be a sufficient space in itself…At the point I began to think very seriously about place, the physical terrain. And this led me to question the confines of the gallery space and to start working mostly in an outdoor context but still referring back to the gallery site and taking some stimulus from that outside again.”
The exhibition illustrates the extraordinary cohesive development and diversity of Oppenheim’s work, more especially the transition from Land to Body art in the early 1970s. This period saw the artist’s focus of interest move from the macrocosm to microcosm, from the earth to the body and its endangerment and to the body as a means of accessing the mind. In ‘Reading Position for Second Degree Burn’, 1970, Oppenheim lay in the sun for five hours bare-chested except for an open book on his chest. He described the piece as having its roots “in a notion of colour change. I allowed myself to be painted, my skin became pigment.”
The show also includes Oppenheim’s “surrogate performers” – the mechanical puppets which represented the artist’s attempted withdrawl from the use of his own body as an endangered art material. ‘In Theme for a Major Hit’, 1974, a two-foot-high puppet is seen prepeatedly performing strange, contorted movements. The Oppenheim face on the puppet suggest that the artist, despite the myth of autonomy, is constantly manipulated by external forces.
Born in Electric City, Washington, in 1938, Dennis Oppenheim lived in Honolulu and California before moving to New York in 1966, where he continues to live and work. He executed his first earthwork in 1967 and had his first one-person show in New York in 1968 followed by showings in Paris, Bern and Finsterwolde, the Netherlands, in 1969, and at the Tate Gallery, London, in 1972. Since then he has created Earth works and Body works and also monumental fireworks, throughout Europe and North America. In recent years he has had one-person shows in Washington, Mexico City, Venice, Geneva and Barcelona and participated in group shows at the Whitney Museum, New York, the Pompidou Centre, Paris, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.
Admission is free.
Opening hours: Tue – Sat 10.00am – 5.30pm
Sun & Bank Holidays 12 noon – 5.30pm
Closed: Mondays, Friday 13 April
For further information and colour and black and white images please contact Philomena Byrne or Monica Cullinane at Tel : +353 1 612 9900,
Fax : +353 1 612 9999
12 February 2001
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