Conceptual artist Dennis Oppenheim died Saturday at the age of 72, following a brief battle with liver cancer. Born in Electric City, Washington in 1939, Oppenheim worked in a variety of media, predominantly performance, sculpture and photography.
His early artmaking career was marked by land art and body art – two of his most iconic images from this period are pictured above. By the 1980s, he had begun making public sculptures, for which he became very well known. “Device to Root Out Evil”, a 1997 sculpture of an inverted church, became the centre of a media storm after Stanford University John L. Hennessy rejected the commissioned work. Hennessy ironically feared controversy. Notably, Oppenheim was a Stanford alum, having received his Masters of Fine Art there three decades prior.
More recently, Oppenheim’s death leaves open questions for an unfinished $700,000 public sculpture in Los Vegas. The subject of some controversy, the artist beat out three local artists competing for the commission with a proposal of giant light-emitting paintbrushes. Some consider the sculpture tacky, others were upset that the project as it was submitted was too expensive to execute. Originally Oppenheim proposed four paintbrushes, not two.
This, though, is a minor snag in a career full of accomplishments. Some of the most accomplished conceptual artists of the last four decades are cited as Oppenheim’s contemporaries, including Gordon Matta-Clark, Bruce Nauman, and Vito Acconci. His work has been exhibited at galleries and museums around the world, including the Tate Gallery, London; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; and the Tate Modern. He moved to New York in 1966, where he remained until his death.
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