You might have heard that artist Dennis Oppenheim, famed for his early conceptual experiments and the whimsical public sculptures that have most engaged him since the 1990s, passed away in New York City last Friday. A full obituary can be found here and his own in-depth website is here. During the 2008–09 season, Oppenheim's work was featured in Columbus as part of Franklin Park Conservatory's Bending Nature exhibition through a series of sculptures incorporating everyday household objects. In February of 2009, I invited Dennis to visit with a group of high school students in the Wexner Center's Art & Environment program who had been to see his work at the Conservatory. He was extremely generous with them, and we had an interesting debate between my students' conception of â€œenvironmental artâ€ and the artist's ideas of public art. He had come of age as an artist during the 1960s and 1970s when the concepts of â€œEarthâ€ or â€œLandâ€ art dominated many discussions in the artworld. Large-scale earthworks such as Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty (or Oppenheim's own Cancelled Crop of 1969) presented strong arguments against the commodity culture of contemporary art at the time as they were literally unavailable to the art market. Oppenheim's recent public projects directly engage the public in often humorous discussions of consumerism and power structures. My students are operating in an arena of great urgency when it comes to just these issues with their concerns extending into the arena of today's impending environmental disaster.
Here's Oppenheim sharing some of his wisdom with two of my former students (Daniel Roth of Olentangy Liberty High School and Eric Markin of Westerville Central High School) in the Wex café. Thank you Dennis!
And a note from Ann Bremner:
Dennis Oppenheim has connections with the Wexner Center that stretch back even further in time and are also worth remembering now with appreciation. Not only was his work exhibited by the Wexner Center in 1991, and by Ohio State's University Gallery of Fine Art in the years before there was a Wexner Center, but Oppenheim was present, at least by proxy, at the center's very beginning. A mechanical sculpture by the artist titled Power Fingers: Extended Fortunes shot off fireworks and helped turn the first shovels of earth as the finale for the Wexner Center's ceremonial groundbreaking on September 28, 1985. How appropriate it seemed at the time, still seems from a perspective that's now several decades removed, to initiate the construction of the Wexner Center with a work of art.