New York

Dennis Oppenheim

112 Greene Street

In Dennis Oppenheim’s sculpture Recall, an image of the artist’s mouth appears on an aluminum-bound video monitor at the end of a long oil-filled pan. Oppenheim speaks slowly and disjointedly of his school days in California, and the emergence of his self-definition as an artist. The tape has a confessional aspect modeled on Vito Acconci’s monologues. Esthetic “crimes” are recounted: heromaking, eclecticism, retrogression. Loud static and deletions of names of figures he criticizes dilute the confession to mere autoreflection, with no clues offered to relate past and present. 

Since Recall was presented as part of a series of video performances, Oppenheim seems to demand that it be considered as video art. A central (albeit political) problem in the advancement of video work as an art form is that of access to public airwaves and cable networks, which means that a piece must be reproducible. What is finally important to an art thus defined is what appears on the screen. In this sense, Oppenheim’s video esthetic reveals a dependency on early Warhol, involved with a fixed focus on a single image—the artist’s mouth—which, conjoined with its reflection in the long pool, eventually reads as a nearly abstract organic form. 

Oppenheim’s sculptural esthetic, despite its niceties (the literal reflection of an abstract image of mind reflecting), made Recall a combinative attempt. The videotape—monotonous image and nearly inaudible soundtrack—is subordinated to the sculptural whole. The tape did not inform us so much as the sculptural system of which it was a part. 

Alan Moore