new-york

Dennis Oppenheim

Sonnabend Gallery

In 1978 Dennis Oppenheim made a videotape called Whipping into Shape in which he strode around what looked like a Barry Le Va distributional piece swearing at the wooden elements and lashing them with a bullwhip, until he realized finally that he, not the wood, was being punished. As imaginary slave-driver he was prepared to flog even dead wood in his passion for identity, structure, “truth,” “connections”—the metaphors changed as the tape continued. Oppenheim, as usual, was intent on cathartic activity so melodramatic that it can resemble explosion or exorcism. Only a return to the Sublime of Abstract Expressionist theory can do justice to the obsessional nature of Oppenheim’s preoccupation with pure spirit; his work has parallels with the Gothic aspects of Still or the methods of Pollock, especially as interpreted by Kaprow. Since his consuming theme is the distinction between soul and

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