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Dennis Oppenheim Sculpture Destroyed in South Korea

An artwork created by the American artist Dennis Oppenheim for the 2010 Busan Biennale in South Korea was demolished by the city’s district office, according to the South China Morning Post. The city failed to notify Oppenheim’s estate about its disposal of the steel and plastic sculpture. Titled Chamber, the nearly twenty-foot-tall artwork cost $750,000 and was first unveiled at its seaside location in South Korea in March 2011, two months after the artist died of cancer at the age of seventy-two. After the sculpture, which had begun to rust due to brine, was damaged by a recent typhoon, the city started receiving complaints about the appearance of the work, which resembled a metal concave flower.

“We’ve sent the wreckage, mainly steel pipes and polycarbonate materials, to a waste dump,” Haeundae district official Shi Yun-Seok told the news service AFP. Shi said that the city did not alert Oppenheim’s estate, which holds intellectual property rights to the artist’s work, before doing so. The installation’s commissioners envisioned the work as a tourist attraction in which people walked between the sculpture’s steel petals and took photographs. “I’ve never heard of something like that happening before,” said Busan Biennale representative Moon Ju-Hwa. “I was deeply shocked and flabbergasted that this precious artwork was demolished in such a nonchalant manner.”

Oppenheim, whose works are in collections in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Centre Pompidou, and the Tate, is considered a pioneering artist who worked within many movements during his extensive career. “During Dennis Oppenheim’s forty-plus years of artmaking, his idiosyncratic output was variously, if a little awkwardly, squashed into the categories of Land, Body, and Conceptual art, each of which he playfully mined and subverted,” Jo Applin wrote in the March 2014 issue of Artforum.

Chamber was designed for the 2010 Busan Biennale’s “Living in Evolution” exhibition, which was organized by Takashi Azumaya and explored themes of human creation and the relationship between art and society.