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DENNIS OPPENHEIM | ‘Go-Between’
June 13th 2024
Approaching the world with a judicious curiosity, Dennis Oppenheim pursued the answers with the mind of a scientist. Large-scale and site-specific Earthworks, projects exploring his own actuality, and performance works that regularly included his family; these were just a few of Oppenheim’s quests to unveil the nature of art. The artist’s methodology of documenting the projects and artworks in photographs and operational details made Oppenheim a pioneering figure within several art movements in the sixties and seventies. From his series of genetic works, Go-Between was presented as a diptych in 2000; two black-and-white photograph studying a family showdown.
by Henrik Riis
PRINT EDITION RELEASE
Like parents, no child gets to choose their siblings. Living under the same roof with no easy route of escape, it is not surprising that aggression mounts and needs to be released occasionally. This was the stage at a Tribeca apartment in New York City in August of 1972. A father of two at the time, Dennis Oppenheim and his wife set up a performance to clear the air, going between the children in what ended up as a documented twenty-minute proxy fight between Kristin and Erik; a clash that shows the characteristics of the artist’s conceptual practice.

A twenty minute fist fight recorded on video and subsequently cropped into selected single frames was in many ways dissimilar to what captured the zeitgeist of the artworld in the early seventies. Led by the pop artists, the new-found consumerism of the post-war era had become the preferred subject matter, highlighting everyday items into works of art. The protagonists of the Pop Art movement, such as Andy Warhol, painted mundane Campbell soup cans and screenprinted public figures in continuous series, while Roy Lichtenstein simultaneously retold scenes from comic books, blown up on canvases. But not all artists bought into the fascination and increasing commercialisation of the art world. Some were very much against it and new opposing movements sprung up everywhere in the sixties; many of them conceptual artists to whom the idea - or concept of a work - took precedence over the visual aesthetics.
DENNIS OPPENHEIM
Identity Stretch (1970-1975), 2000

Edition of 35
218(w) x 86(h) cm
86.02(w) x 34.02(h) inches
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DENNIS OPPENHEIM
Identity Stretch (1970-1975), 2000

Edition of 35
218(w) x 86(h) cm
86.02(w) x 34.02(h) inches
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Art is about speaking to each other and by making an enquiry you can have direct conversation with us about artwork you find interesting.
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Dennis Oppenheim (American, 1938 - 2011)
218(w) x 86(h) cm
86.02(w) x 34.02(h) inches
Three chromogenic colour prints and three black-and-white prints on Fuji Chrome. "Location" manually stamped in red ink on the map.

Six prints each measuring 51 x 41cm / 20" x 16".

Signed by Dennis Oppenheim on front on print #5, and edition number on verso
Edition of 35
PRICE
$ 9,900.00 Available from a private collection
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Oppenheim was one of them, and during the early seventies his practice found several routes of expression. A pioneer in the Land Art movement, he created Earthworks by installing soil and natural matter in white-walled gallery spaces; and some works constructed so vast that they could only be viewed on a specific location. One such project was Identity Stretch (1970-1975) which extended more than 1,000 feet on a field in Lewiston, New York. Whether inside or outside, the works had an impermanence to them, not leaving a physical piece of art behind once the exhibition closed. Essentially, the works existed to be experienced by the viewer, and not a commodity to be sold.

The transient nature of many of his works encouraged Oppenheim to document every stage, making it a central part of his practice. Performances were recorded on video and site-specific installations were photographed in detail from multiple angles, while observations were logged. The artist’s meticulous note-taking allowed him to create derivatives of the physical artwork, presented as a record containing a number of stills accompanied by a factual description. A permanent representation of something momentarily, and a piece of art in its own right.

‘Rocked Hand’ (1970) and ‘Glassed Hand’ (1970) are two early works seeing Oppenheim using one hand, rocks and glass for a series of interactions. Observed from above in six photographs, the palm of his hand is gradually covered; the first image showing an uncovered hand and in the last, a hand fully concealed by glass or rocks. Other of his artistic endeavours were at times atypical. Unafraid to be controversial or political, in ‘Reading Position for Second Degree Burn’ (1970) the artist experimented with the powerful rays of the sun as an outspoken statement against the Vietnam War and the United States’ government’s use of napalm. Laying in the sun for 5 hours without sunscreen - only partly covered by a book about artillery tactics on his chest - the self-inflicted second degree burn is painfully evident in the before and after image.
DENNIS OPPENHEIM
Go-Between (1972), 2000

Edition of 75
30(w) x 24(h) cm
12.01(w) x 9.49(h) inches
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DENNIS OPPENHEIM
Go-Between (1972), 2000

Edition of 75
30(w) x 24(h) cm
12.01(w) x 9.49(h) inches
ENQUIRY
Art is about speaking to each other and by making an enquiry you can have direct conversation with us about artwork you find interesting.
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Dennis Oppenheim (American, 1938 - 2011)
30(w) x 24(h) cm
12.01(w) x 9.49(h) inches
Diptych of gelatin silver prints.

Image size: 9.5"(w) x 6.5"(h) each.

Signed and numbered in ballpoint pen on verso.
Edition of 75
PRICE
$ 750.00 Available from a private collection
MAKE AN OFFER
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Many of Oppenheim’s works found a subject matter much closer to home, assigning a key role to his immediate family. A part of his practice he labelled ‘Genetic Works’. In Identity Stretch (1970-1975), Dennis’ and Erik’s thumb prints speak of a genetic link between father and son, a relational connection also present in Go-Between from ’72 that focuses on the day-to-day living as a family. Presented in still photography of 2 to 12 images, Go-Between plays out a fight between sister and brother, placing the artist and his wife in between them. However, the rapid movements make it hard to separate the four individuals in what becomes a blurry arrangement. Switching back-and-forth between the two photos in the edition from 2000, a transformation of the stills facilitates a moving image in the mind of the viewer; details start to surface, and the children’s control of the parent’s wrists to throw punches at each other become clearer. The left image picturing Erik’s right arm pulled all the way back, and in the next, the full force of Erik’s incoming strike. Supplementing an early version of Go-Between, Oppenheim’s intersection of visuals and text offers a logical insight into the performance:

“With arms limp and controllable, Phyllis and I become targets for Kristin’s and Erik’s hostility. Erik’ s blows to Kristin are registered on me, as Kristin’s are thrown at Phyllis (my wife). By acting as go-betweens for their agression, we experience them directly, as if we were inside their bodies”

Go-Between exemplifies the capacity of the artist’s conceptual practice of taking a concept from idea, through execution and documentation. Not only does Oppenheim explore the nature of art, but interestingly leaves the audience with a conundrum. Is it the physical performance or artwork, or the artist’s documentation of it, that is the true representation of the work.

Presented as a diptych, Oppenheim selected two monochrome stills to make up the last rendering of Go-Between in 2000. The edition of 75, of which only half were printed, was produced as gelatin silver prints, signed and numbered in ballpoint pen on verso. In addition to Go-Between, three other exclusive editions were released in a collaboration between Dennis Oppenheim and Eyestorm: Whirlpool Eye of the Storm (1973) , Shadow Projection (1972) and the remarkable Identity Stretch (1970-1975) that stands out as one of the signature pieces within the Land Art movement.

A full article about the print edition, Identity Stretch (1970-1975), can be read here.

To view the photographic edition in further detail and to find more information about available works by Dennis Oppenheim, visit the artist’s page here.
 
Recommended Reading
Confronted by the media in the late-nineties, questioning the use of assistants in the creation of the spot paintings, Damien Hirst replied with few words and two new artworks titled Painting-by-Numbers. Delving into the beauty of infinity was more important than spending time pleasing the critics. In the spot paintings, representing one theme of many in his practice, Hirst found a source to endless sceneries; visualised in perfect grids and utilising colour to guide the emotions of the viewer. The red and blue DIY-kit was an amusing response to his critics, and adding an unexpected act of a gallery cleaner, Painting-by-Numbers contributed to the ever-present question: what is art?
Read more ...
Recommended Reading
Applying two thumb prints stretched to one thousand feet on a field in upstate New York, Dennis Oppenheim set his mark on the history of contemporary art and came to play a key role in the Land Art movement in the late sixties. Later, ambitious installations such as an upside-down church with its steer pointing towards the ground and a chamber made with translucent petal-shaped walls, placed the artist in the visible public space. These are just two of the visionary works that continue to amaze the passers-by. From the series of early ‘Earthworks’, Identity Stretch (1970-1975) is one of his most ambitious land art projects, existing today only as documented by Oppenheim; aerial photographs of the thumb prints, a location on a map, and a description.
Read more ...
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