Dennis Oppenheim: Systems of Information Rather Than Abstract Gestures

“I have never been able to be what they call a signature artist,” he said in one of his final interviews, “Most of my work comes from ideas. I can usually do only a few versions of each idea. Land Art and Body Art were particularly strong concepts, which allowed for a lot of permutations. But nevertheless, I found myself wanting to move onward into something else.” – Dennis Oppenheim (1938-2011)

A major second solo exhibition of the work of the Conceptual artist Dennis Oppenheim (1938-2011) is being held at Motinternational London. Having first worked with the artist in 2006, the gallery has represented Oppenheim since 2012. Marking the intersection between land and body art this exhibition brings together three rarely seen works from the 1970’s: Go-Between, 1972; Ground Gel, 1972 and Wishing the Mountains Madness, 1977.

The performance Ground Gel, 1972 was recorded in 35 mm slides and still photography. Installed as a slide dissolve projection with sound and later transferred to video, the work was additionally produced as a photographic documentation. This exhibition presents both the video installation and photodocumentation form of the project. Ground Gel records the disappearance of the artist and his daughter Chandra, as he spins her at arm’s length. The birds-eye images of Ground Gel diagrammatically map motion. Crucially, the work enacts an exchange of catalytic energy in which Oppenheim exceeds the actual material boundaries of his own singular form. As they disappear into each other, Chandra becomes an extension of the artist as she is projected past him in time and space.

Similarly produced as both a slide dissolve installation and video, Go-Between (1972) is being presented on two monitors. Here, exchanges of action are made further explicit. In what first appears to be a playful family scuffle, Dennis and Phyllis Oppenheim place themselves between two of their children, receiving blows which the siblings aim at each other. Oppenheim describes how “by acting as go-betweens for their aggression, we experience them directly, as if we were inside their bodies.” As passive recipients of the assailment, the adults become an intersection for their children’s blows.

Oppenheim’s land-based works make use of markings taken from systems of information rather than abstract gestures. Nearly a decade after “classical” Land Art, the artist returned to the land for projects in locations to which he had no permanent claim. The exhibition includes Wishing the Mountains Madness (1977) in which the artists again makes use of the aerial view. Here, an array of stars is scattered on land, and the sky is projected onto earth. The ground becomes a star field in a moment of temporal symmetry, captured within the form of the photographic documentation. The artist relates how the serenity of Montana brought him to think about what its inversion could be: “… the outside is madness in need of attention…. The piece addresses itself to the sky, it is expansive…. Madness is a lot about limits, we understand its definition as one involving boundaries- passing a boundary, you become mad…. when I use this subject, it’s in formal terms.”

The most recent exhibition of his work, ‘Dennis Oppenheim: Thought Collision Factories’, was held at the Henry Moore Institute in 2014, and his many solo exhibitions include the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, Spain; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Tate Gallery, London. He exhibited extensively in group shows at venues such as The Museum of Modern Art, New York; P.S1 Contemporary Art Center; National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, Japan; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN; Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Buenos Aires, Argentina; Tate Modern, London; Kunstmuseum Bonn, Germany, and the Venice and Sao Paolo Biennales.

A key figure of American Conceptual Art, Dennis Oppenheim was born in 1938 in Electric City, Washington. From 1966 until his death in 2011, he lived and worked in New York City. During these four decades Dennis Oppenheim’s practice employed all available methods: writing, action, performance, video, film, photography, and installation.

Dennis Oppenheim 2nd April – 17th May 2014 MOTINTERNATIONAL, London 72 New Bond St. 1st Fl. London W1S 1RR