Peder Lund is pleased to present an important installation work by the artist Dennis Oppenheim (1938-2011). Oppenheim was one of the most adventurous American artists working during the post-minimalism, postmodernist period of the mid-1960s, all the way until his death in 2011. A pioneer of earthworks, body art and Conceptual art, Oppenheim later moved to making tangible installations and public sculpture. His eclectic body of work, from large-scale installation pieces, to performance and video art, to three-dimensional moving machine pieces, were metaphorically linked by their continued investigation of the dialogue between art and the self. Belonging to a generation of artists who saw portable painting and sculpture as obsolete, Oppenheim explored the idea that became so popular during the mid-1970s: the absent artist. By using sound as a means of sculptural expression or obfuscating himself in the so-called “surrogates” from his post-performance pieces, Oppenheim attempted to create a new kind of self-portrait. Oppenheim responded to what he saw as artists’ of the day “extreme paranoia” in the re-evaluation of their work and the overwhelming sense of withdrawal from what had been the incredible velocity of work produced in the 1960s. From the beginning, Oppenheim felt that “art was always a thing to be attacked.”
Dennis Oppenheim’s practice employed all available methods: writing, action, performance, video, film, photography, and installation with and without sound or monologue. He used mechanical and industrial elements, fireworks, common objects and traditional materials, materials of the earth, his own or another’s body. He created works for interior, exterior and public spaces. Few of his contemporaries worked in a broader range of mediums or methods.
In the mid-1970s, after tiring of the physical demands of body art, Oppenheim turned to custom-made, sometimes automated, marionettes. This shift brought out his dark humor and theatrical proclivities and led to increasingly elaborate sculptural narratives. Although they may appear to be a total break from his past work, the surrogate, so-called "post-performance" pieces were amplifications of Op- penheim’s earlier production, restating recurring themes. The surrogate figures were substitutes and projections; just as land for Oppenheim had been a surrogate for canvas or paint, so skin in his “Transfer” series had been a surrogate for land. The idea of the substitute material led to the idea of the substitute body. The marionettes’ metallic faces resembled the artist’s own, however their bodies could be shaped and manipulated in ways that the artist never could. Coupled with soundtracks, the post-performance pieces also sought to deepen Oppenheim’s assertion of sound as sculpture.
In Broken Record Blues (1976) Oppenheim deals in strong metaphors for the absent artist. Two surrogates are included in the work. The first doll lies face down in the blue sand, as if nothing could be capable of animating it. The piece incorporates a single revolution from an early blues record, and loops it, simulating the effect of a broken record. The notes within this record fragment are plotted with eight ultra-bright lights on to five drag marks in blue sand, representing the musical bars. The soundtrack using the broken record constantly fades in and out of a second track describing conditions of stagnation, repetition and the eventual deterioration of the creative process. The five musical bars are referred to by the artist as “scratches on my face that never go away.” Another line from the recording notes, “No matter what I play it sounds the same, no matter what note I play, it’s been played before - like fingerprints that never change.” The scratch marks are referred to as coming from “five fingers that did nothing more than follow the lines that were already there.” A second surrogate puppet sits in a chair facing the corner – like a naughty child banished for bad behavior.
Broken Record Blues has been included in a number of important solo and group exhibitions including the Dennis Oppenheim retrospec- tive at Museum Boymans-van-Beuningen, Rotterdam (1976); Carmina Urbana at Musei de Spoleto, Spoleto (1992); Presenze at Centro Espositivo della Rocca Paolina, Perugia (1993); and Forty at MoMA PS1, New York (2016). Oppenheim 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 in 2007. His work is included in dozens of international public art collections, including the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago; Centre d’Art Plastique Contemporain, Bordeaux, France; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit; Emanuel Hoffmann-Stiftung, Basel; The Institute for Contemporary Art, P.S.1 Museum, Long Island City; Israel Museum, Jerusalem; Kunsthaus Zurich, Zurich; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles; Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk, Denmark; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Museum of Modern Art, New York; and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, among many others.