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DENNIS THE MENACE

by Charlie Finch
 
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I first met Dennis Oppenheim when Willoughby Sharp was jacking up his famous shoebox gallery on Spring Street in 1988. Ever the hustler, Sharp called in a lot of favors from those he had featured in single issue interviews for Avalanche, so his initial roster of solo shows included conceptual heavy-hitters like Robin Winters, David Lamelas, Bill Beckley and Dennis.

Dennis went everywhere with the Plumb sisters in those day, Annie and Amy, who were his muses and guardians. He had a terrific exhibition at Annie Plumb’s SoHo space that year, in which reindeer sculpture showered flames out of their antlers and Dennis nearly burned down Greene Street, accidentally, by lighting a match a bit too close to one of the propane tanks torching the antler fires.

Hugh Hefner was a street urchin compared to Dennis when it came to hosting parties. Oppenheim actually welcomed crashers at his Franklin Street space, hanging back with a sly grin and a slyer comment ("who’s that fella?") and providing a smorgasbord of delicacies and the best wines. But, when it came to marketing his art, Dennis ran a more intense phone bank than even the dealer Jack Tilton, with a bevy of babes sweet-talking every fund, nonprofit, out-of-the-way museum and municipal government (he was censored in Milwaukee!) for a commission and some bucks.

Hence, hundreds of year from now, when some kid asks her mom about that weird amalgam of spheres and steel phallic symbols in Biswa or Budapest, the mother will squint at the attached plaque and read "Oppenheim." Dennis’s daughter Kristin, another old friend, was and is his equal as a sound artist and a font of pure dynamism.

Did I mention that Dennis died last night? I don’t believe it.


CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).


 



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