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Dennis Oppenheim
Attempt to Raise Hell
1974



Dennis Oppenheim
Hot Voices
1989
David Ebony's Top Ten

Dennis Oppenheim at ACE


This bright and buzzing 30-year survey, featuring some two dozen major works by Dennis Oppenheim, is a fine introduction to one of the country's most important sculptors and conceptualist pioneers. Although the show lacks the depth and scope of the Oppenheim retrospective held at P.S. 1 a decade ago, there is still enough here to reaffirm the artist's lofty position in recent art history.

On view are seminal conceptual pieces such as Reading Position for Second Degree Burn (1970), a photo work documenting the artist's self-inflicted sunburn. This early example of Body Art makes a startling equation between the photograph and the human body, each transformed by the effects of light.

While themes of process and the body are constant in the work, Oppenheim, over the years, used his own body less, and instead, substituted it with stand-ins, beginning with a series of haunting and powerful pieces involving marionettes. A number of early 1970s examples on view constitute the show's strongest points. My favorite, Attempt to Raise Hell (1974), featuring a seated puppet in a yellow silk suit, which periodically bangs its head against a bronze bell, is here in all of its ear-splitting glory. One room, filled with dancing marionettes is equally hell raising.

In more recent years, Oppenheim introduced fiberglass figures such as snowmen, animals and toys to further explore life processes. A particularly witty example, Hot Voices (1989), is made of three giant fiberglass heads lying on the floor, with mouths spouting flames fueled by a propane tank. Like cult idols of some long lost civilization, perhaps, the heads and their fiery pronouncements are both illuminating and foreboding.

"Dennis Oppenheim: A Survey," Nov. 18-Mar. 24, 2001, at Ace, 275 Hudson Street, New York, N.Y. 10013.

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