New York

Dennis Oppenheim

The Clocktower

A totally different perspective on the same space is given by Dennis Oppenheim’s work. As one opens the door and mounts the stairs to the room, one’s ears fill with the incessant reverberation of a single chord. At the top of the stairs one stops. Directly in front is a dead German shepherd sprawled on top of an electric organ keyboard. The floor is covered with asphalt swirled in a spiral pathway which suggests the prior dragging of the dog and organ across the surface in a ritualistic ceremony. As in Oppenheim’s earlier Two Right Feet for Sebastian and dancing marionette piece, one has the sensation of a “dead” performance, a performance without performers, independent of human presence, which continues unchanged with or without an audience. While there is a certain bravado theatricality to Oppenheim’s staging, this tends to diminish with time as the performance just goes on without climax or articulation. The solemnity one associates with death tends to increase the feeling of aloneness in this piece. The unrelenting electronic chord only magnifies the silence. One stands in awe, a witness to some sacrificial rite. Yet one wonders—how much does one accept by seeing such evocative subject matter within an art context? To what extent does one’s esthetic attitude contrive the emotional impact? By creating a situation which impels reaction, Oppenheim forces the relationship between art and life.

––Susan Heinemann