Shout Magazine

Mark Kostabi on Dennis Oppenheim

About two years ago on a sunny summer morning in Venice, Italy, while Dennis Oppenheim and I were both waiting in line to enter the press opening of the Venice Biennial, he told me that he watches and likes my cable television show, “Inside Kostabi.” That’s one of the reasons I chose to write about his current show at the Joseph Helman Gallery. This is not the only reason. Joe Helman is also my neighbor in Rome, and he’s always nice to me when we bump into each other at the outdoor fresh fruit and vegetable market, Campo Del Fiori, while shopping for seedless mandarins, bananas, and artichokes. Apart from successful networking skills on the part of artist-and-dealer (many people tell me they like “Inside Kostabi” and are friendly in Campo Del Fiori but they don’t get the ink), Dennis Oppenheim is also one of the world’s most interesting artists.

Ever since I saw a reproduction of Oppenheim’s conceptual art piece called “Reading Position For Second Degree Burn,” as a student in art school, it has remained one of my favorite works of 20th-Century art. It is a juxtaposition of two photographs: one is that of a figure lying on a beach with an open book on his chest, while the other depicts the same figure without the book but with a rectangular area of unsunburned flesh, where the book used to be. It is sheer, simple, brilliant genius and totally unforgettable.

Now, Dennis Oppenheim is showing a divers group of sculpture, video, and documents of large outdoor projects from 1996 to the present. His titles alone are enough to lure me to the show: “Bats Flying Out Of A Cat’s Ear,” “Blushing Machine,” and “Bus Jump.”

“Fast Exit” (above) above a beautifully crafted football stadium that is turned on its side, casting to the floor its entire audience: hundreds of small figures made of black was. “Blushing Mashing” is a multimedia project, which points to embarrassment as one outcome of risk taking in the production of art. It is a pleasure to look at the work of an artist who thinks but not at the expense of losing visual power.

March 1999