The Galerie Mitterrand is pleased to announce the start of its collaboration with the estate of American artist Dennis Oppenheim in France. For the occasion, a first exhibition devoted to the artist will be held at the gallery from 29 May to 1st August 2020 and will feature a selection of works created by the artist between 1973 and 2008.
Dennis Oppenheim’s work is characterized by a multitude of approaches ranging from Land Art to Body Art and includes practices like video, sculpture, installation and even photography. A pioneer of Earth art, alongside Robert Smithson, Walter De Maria, Michael Heizer, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Dennis Oppenheim sought to situate his works in a natural environment by integrating the particularities of the landscape. Earth art originated in the United States in the 1960s. Works associated with the movement would later be grouped under the more generic term Land Art. The artists of the Earth art movement voluntarily positioned their works away from institutional venues and channels by favouring the production of in-situ pieces. Dennis Oppenheim stood out for his conceptual approach, integrating an explicitly social and political dimension.
From the start of his career, in order to keep a record of his interventions, Dennis Oppenheim used photography and or film, that became works in their own right. This is the case with Whirlpool-Eye of the Storm, a series of seven photographs documenting a project carried out in the summer of 1973 in the El Mirage (Dry) Lake in the Mojave Desert in California, during which an airplane drew a spiral of white smoke in the sky. Whether durable or ephemeral, Earth art works are most often physically inaccessible to the public. Testimonies (photographs, videos, drawings or speeches) are therefore necessary for them to exist and be disseminated.
The social and political dimension of Dennis Oppenheim’s work can be seen in installations such as Bee-Hive (Volcano). Made between 1978 and 1989, this work consists of five blown glass hives on the ground, with a sound recording of bees. Dennis Oppenheim creates a parallel between the shape of the hives, the sound of the swarming bees, the potential explosiveness of a volcano, and oppressed social activity, and by extension any situation in which social behaviour is conditioned, controlled and suppressed. The use of bright primary colours provides the installation with a playful and innocent look, which contrasts with the warning contained in its underlying political message.
From the 1980s onwards, Dennis Oppenheim carried out numerous public and private commissions. These monumental works for outdoor spaces materialized in the form of unstructured and Expressionist architectural forms. In 2008, he created eighteen sculptures evoking the shape of a cactus (Architectural Cactus # 1-12). Six make up the monumental installation Garden of Evidence located in the desert landscape of Scottsdale, Arizona. A patchwork of various materials inspired by forensic labs, the cacti, with their various dimensions, colours and materials, metaphorically refer to police investigations and the putting together of clues. This commission, situated directly in front of the local police station, testifies to the artist’s consideration of a specific context in the design and implementation of his exterior works. In Architectural Cactus #12, a solitary work, the cactus form can be also be read as a footprint, relating it to Earth art.
The three drawings Hair Pieces from Hell belong to a series after five sculptures that Dennis Oppenheim produced and exhibited in 1993. This project was above all a way for the artist to freely experiment with concepts and materials and to design a spatial organization with expressiveness.
The procedural and protocol dimension is always important in his work. The proposals are done in various forms and formats until he has exhausted all possibilities. Like the architectural drawings, the use of the model (Exposed Kidney Pool) provides a technical aspect for the realization in full scale. As in the Hair Pieces from Hell, and Architectural Cactus #12, it includes a reference to the body, and so refers to the period of Body Art, which closely followed his Land Art works.
Dennis Oppenheim was born in Electric City in 1938; he died in New York in 2011. Recently his works were exhibited at the Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain in Saint-Etienne in 2011, MAMCO Geneva in 2015 and at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2016. He has produced over fifty works in public spaces in many countries all around the world. His works are also present in prestigious museum collections such as Tate Gallery in London, the Stedjelik Museum in Amsterdam, the MAMCO Geneva, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid, the Whitney Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Kunsthalle Hamburg and the Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain in Saint-Etienne.