Born to Russian parents on September 6, 1938 in Washington, Oppenheim displayed a strong passion to the arts even from childhood. He eventually graduated from the Fine Arts at the California College of Arts and Crafts in 1964 and then at Stanford University. Subsequently, he made New York his home till his death, in 2011, from cancer. In his early work he was predominantly a performance/ body artist and earthworks artist. A trailblazer in earthworks, he envisioned artwork beyond the confines of a meager canvas. His famous pieces include ‘Annual Rings’ (1968), which were multiple snow rings, resembling the annual tree rings, carved on the border between U.S.A and Canada, ‘Gallery Transplant’ and ‘Huge Fingerprints’, which were shown overlapped. He exhibited photographs and maps of his work at the John Gibson Gallery, New York in 1968.
During 1968, however, Oppenheim also began to show interest and inclination towards the body arts and started working with his friend Vito Acconci. His most noteworthy piece in this genre is ‘Reading position for Second Degree Burn’ in 1970, when he laid down for several hours in the sunlight, placing an open book over his chest. Another body artwork, ‘Rocked Circle, Fear’ in 1971, featured Oppenheim standing at the center of a circle, while his friend dribbled stones from a third floor of a building, into the inside of the circle without hitting him.
Oppenheim kept exploring his possibilities and in the 1980s, designed and built a number of machine pieces. Later he took interest in sculpture, which was an amalgam of architecture and art. His most conspicuous public artwork is a 36 ft. tall eye-catching sculpture at Ventura’s bus transfer station, which is aptly named, ‘Bus Home’. Another of his installations is ‘Radiant Fountains’ (2010) at the Entrance of the Bush International Airport in Houston, Texas, featuring LED light strings and acrylic globes.
Oppenheim will always be remembered as a pioneer, as he proved his worth in many artistic genres through his legendary artwork. His pieces resonate with the audience, urging them to reflect on the concept of limitlessness. Though Dennis Oppenheim is no longer with us, his life continues on through his amazing art pieces.