UAA | University Art Analysis – Sculptures by Oppenheim cause violent pushback

Graphic by Michaeline Collins.

“I did a piece in Alaska called ‘Image Intervention,’ which is like a house that is hit by an earthquake,” Dennis Oppenheim said in an interview with the Archives of American Art.

“Image Intervention” is a $250,000 abstract sculpture by renowned artist Oppenheim. The sculpture is composed of reclaimed painted steel and metal grates. “Image Intervention” is a part of a series of five. A sculpture from the same series sold for $1 million to Berlin, Germany.

Art students are likely to encounter this sculpture while on the UAA campus, as “Image Intervention” is directly across from the Fine Arts Building. Construction is currently occurring nearby, diverting a portion of foot traffic to the path along the sculpture.

Construction is happening directly next to “Image Intervention” by Dennis Oppenheim. Photo by Robert Gant

The sculpture was formally dedicated in 1986. Two years after its dedication, “Image Intervention” was subject to violent vandalism, according to a retrospective from the Anchorage Daily News. An unidentified individual shot the sculpture with a .22 caliber gun. UPD evaluated the damages to be approximately $500. The current price appraisal of $250,000 includes those damages.

This is not the first time one of Oppenheim’s works have caused controversy. In 2018, the city of Busan in South Korea destroyed Oppenheim’s “Chamber” after complaints from residents calling it an “eyesore.”

“It clearly had no artistic value, which is why we decided to take it down.” Busan district official Ham Shim-Yeoung said to a local paper.

“Device to Root Out Evil,” an Oppenheim sculpture of an inverted church, met a less cruel fate. The sculpture was removed from Vancouver, Canada due to the community complaining it obstructed their view of the harbor. 

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Oppenheim admitted that he considers public sculpture a less favorable medium for art in an interview with the Archives of American Art.

“There is much more bad public art than there is bad studio art,” Oppenheim said in the interview. “[Public artists] have to deal with a bureaucratic system, and it takes a long period of time, and by that time you’re totally bored with the project.”

Oppenheim was best known for his temporary art installations and photography. The most well-known art by Oppenheim, however, remains the more permanent public sculptures.

“Image Intervention” by Dennis Oppenheim overlooks a sunrise. Photo by Robert Gant.

Oppenheim died in 2011. His estate is run by his third wife, Amy, and his four children. His life was a series of radical changes with varying results.

“You can have a radical idea, which is truly radical, but the work that exemplifies it is lousy,” Oppenheim said to the Archives of American Art. “Exhibitions that I have really felt were good are not always, and everyone hates them. Then I’ve done pieces that I really have to admit I’d probably like to destroy and everybody likes them.”

In times of radical change, success is fleeting and uncertain. For Oppenheim, his successes were million dollar ideas, and his failures were met with outcry and vandalism. “Image Intervention” stands by the Fine Arts Building as a monument to potential. The sculpture is “like a house hit by an earthquake,” but still stands strong.

This article was written in response to an emailed request. Have you seen art at UAA you want to know more about? Contact Robert Gant at [email protected]