Dennis Oppenheim: Material Interchange

Una mirada a la siempre interesante mediateca del Reina Sofía, me revela esta entrevista a Dennis Oppenheim hecha poco antes de morir, sobre los Encuentros de Pamplona del 72.

Dennis Oppenheim: Material Interchange, 1970

Texto de introducción a la exposición en el Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía comisariada por Fernando Francés y Fernando Huici en 1997:

«Los Encuentros de Pamplona (26 junio – 3 julio, 1972) constituyeron el punto de inflexión en el devenir artístico nacional en los últimos años del franquismo, además de señalar el fin simbólico de la etapa de dominio de la pintura informalista y la abstracción, asumida y utilizada por la política cultural oficial. Los Encuentros surgieron como una iniciativa privada de apoyo a la creación musical contemporánea, patrocinada por la familia Huarte: la organización de un evento musical por parte del grupo Alea (Luis de Pablo y José Luis Alexanco), el proyecto enseguida adquiere dimensiones de un festival internacional en el que tienen cabida las nuevas manifestaciones artísticas, poéticas y cinematográficas. Además, se apuesta porque sean los propios artistas quienes lo ideen y diseñen.

De marcado carácter documental, esta exposición quiere reconocer a su lugar en la historia del arte español contemporáneo. Siguiendo la fórmula francesa del “arte en la calle”, la ciudad entera se transformó en gran escenario, activando los espacios públicos y en laboratorio de ideas, donde más de trescientos cincuenta artistas -coordinados por el profesor Ignacio Gómez de Liaño- presentaron sus propuestas fuera de los cánones y de las instituciones que regulan la creación, buscando involucrar al espectador y viandante. A este respecto, logran especial protagonismo las cúpulas neumáticas del arquitecto José Miguel de Prada Pool, como espacio simbólico de reunión y acción artística.
Los Encuentros ponen de manifiesto la existencia de una regenerada vanguardia nacional que mantiene estrechos vínculos y comparte intereses estéticos y estilísticos con las nuevas corrientes internacionales (Fluxus, Situacionismo, videoarte, Arte de acción y happening), lo cual se advierte en la respuesta y presencia de artistas, músicos e intelectuales como: John Cage, David Tudor, Steve Reich, Silvano Bussotti, la bailarina Laura Dean o Dennis Openheim. En todos los participantes prima una actitud experimental, que por ejemplo se hace patente en las presentaciones de música concreta y electroacústica. Asimismo, se da una voluntad de “mestizaje abierto a la abolición de fronteras entre campos creativos y tradiciones culturales”, en palabras de Fernando Huici, comisario de la exposición junto con Fernando Francés. Así -como recuerda Alexanco- no sólo se pretende “hacer convivir a los sentidos”, sino también “mezclar la vanguardia con lo tradicional, lo plástico con lo sonoro” favoreciendo lo multicultural. Ello se pone de manifiesto en: las danzas de Kathakali de Kerala; el trabajo del músico vietnamita Trân van Khê; los conciertos Zaj; la actuación de Diego el del Gastor, o la de los hermanos Arze con la autóctona txalaparta. Además, esta convivencia con lo heterogéneo toma cuerpo en la forma en la que la ciudad integra las distintas piezas de Isidoro Valcárcel Medina y el Espectador de Espectadores 1972, de Equipo Crónica

Dennis Openheim Annual Rings – 1968
 Dennis and Erik Oppenheim, 1971

Dennis and Erik Oppenheim, 1971
1- A Feed-back Situation
«I originate movement which Erik translates and returns to me. What I get in return is my movement fed through his sensory system.»
2- State Transfer Drawing Dennis to Erik Oppenheim
«As I run a marker along Erik’s back he attempts to duplicate the movement on the wall. My activity stimulates a kinetic response from his sensory system. I am, therefore, drawing through him…Because Erik is my offspring and we share similar biological ingredients, his back (as surface) can be seen as an immature version of my own. In a sense, I make contact with a past state.»
3- State Transfer Drawing Erik to Dennis Oppenheim
«As Erik runs a marker along my back I attempt to duplicate the movement on the wall. His activity stimulates a kinetic response from my sensory system. He is, therefore, drawing through me…Because Erik is my offspring and we share similar biological ingredients, my back (as surface) can be seen as an mature version of his own. In a sense, he contacts a future state.»
from Dennis Oppenheim: Retrospective de l’oeuvre/works 1967-1977, Musee D’Art Contemporain, Montreal, 1978

Obituario por Jerry Saltz

I had glimpsed Dennis Oppenheim around the art world for decades. The artist, who died of liver cancer at age 72 on Jan. 22, 2011, was a beautiful bottle-blond — cute and disheveled, like a rock star, even into his last decade. He’d be at openings, across rooms, hunkered down at bars with artists, always with women. I only met him once. I was in my early 30s and interviewed him in his Tribeca studio for a book I was working on. I was interested in how and what he assigned to art students, to help them to expand their work. I didn’t understand a lot of what he said; he had a way of speaking in winding threads, less like an artist and more like a physicist-philosopher-metaphysician. Take these two points: «Make things that carry with them the residue of where they have been.» And «Make a sculpture in the way that you speak, as a projection that dissipates.»

But the wild, labyrinthical ways Oppenheim put things together, the way he allowed thought to unspool ever-outward in involuted configurations, was inspiring nonetheless. His ideas of artistic experimentation, theoretically driven art, the merging of sculpture and science, his absolute unwillingness to create a visual style, his esthetic and material dislocation — all of it wowed me.
His Earthworks from the ‘60s and ‘70s were what first caught my attention — like when he seeded a Dutch field according to the topographical configuration of the land; or created a «landslide» of minimal sculptures along Exit 52 of the Long Island Expressway; or cut a channel in the ice of the St. Johns River at the United States-Canadian border. In 1968, he somehow got a hold of and removed four tons of debris from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange and relocated it onto a New York roof. He called this «free-moving architecture.»
Whatever Oppenheim’s work meant, you immediately got that he was taking art into the world, and bringing the world into his art. He had gone rogue. In 1970, he set up two cinder-block walls beneath the Brooklyn Bridge then hung between them, becoming a bridge himself. And that perhaps best symbolized Oppenheim’s work: He was a human bridge to thought structures that are out of reach yet familiar enough to be thrilling.
Around 1980 his work got a materially battier (though no less thrilling), when he began fabricating bizarre Rube Goldberg–like sculptures of spiral ramps leading nowhere, strange machines that looked like astrophysics generators, pretend factories with levers and moving parts that produced nothing but food for the imagination.
By the ‘90s, this great unruly speculative Conceptualist, this pioneering Body Artist, Earthwork artist, and early explorer of postmodern sculpture, had fallen out of step with the art world. His objects became larger, more unwieldy, precarious, dangerous, and not at all at home in art galleries. He made twisted brick chimneys, reindeer sculptures with fire coming out of their horns — public art works I’ve never seen in places like Corvallis, Ore.; Charlotte, N.C.; and Beijing, China.
But even then, Oppenheim remained adamantly experimental, conceptually dense and visually experimental. He always maintained a stringently personal and highly resolved theoretical position. I loved the way he made discoveries, shared them, then moved on. This could also be frustrating and visually disconcerting and may explain why he ended up mainly making public sculpture. His later gallery shows were a Mardi Gras of noise, fire, moving objects, and mayhem — crazy and smart, but all over the place. Still, even surrounded by peers like Robert Smithson, Walter De Maria and Lawrence Weiner, Dennis Oppenheim was an artistic live wire and a Geiger counter of postmodern possibility.

JERRY SALTZ is art critic for New York magazine, where this essay first appeared. He can be reached at

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