Dennis Oppenheim (1938-2011)
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Dennis Oppenheim (1938-2011)

An Attempt to Raise Hell

Dennis Oppenheim (1938-2011)
An Attempt to Raise Hell
plated cast iron bell, cast aluminium, cloth, felt and wooden base with timing mechanism
100 x 35½ x 47½in. (254 x 90.2 x 120.6cm.) (height variable)
Executed in 1974
Blum Helman Gallery, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Double Trouble: The Patchett Collection, Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego (illustrated, p. 199).
Other examples of this work are exhibited in the following permanent collections: Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago.
Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego.
Museum of Contemporary Art, Miami. Rachofsky House, Houston.
Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.
Louisiana Museum, Humlebaek, Denmark.
Museum of Modern Art, Brussels.
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Lot Essay

As a pioneer of the Conceptual Art scene whose significant oeuvre spanned the realms of a multitude of artistic practices consisting of body, earth, performance and kinetic art, Dennis Oppenheim's career was rarely concentrated on one medium. Aptly recognised for his approaches towards "Process Art", Oppenheim's artistic manner had no qualms over the progress of its individuality.

"Often, after my work has been executed, it doesn't want to be executed again. By existing, it truncates the reasons for doing it. That's why I've jumped around a lot in my career. I've often wondered how these serial artists can do it! How can Sol [LeWitt] sit down on another day and do another one of those drawings? My God!" (Dennis Oppenheim quoted in R. Ayers, "Interview with Robert Ayers", Arts Industry, 4 October 2006). Oppenheim progressed through the conceptual scene in his own swagger so as not to follow the strict practices of his counterparts; he refused to be pinned down by one significant style or signature.

The transitional process was often natural for Oppenheim to jump to the next scheme, almost as if his past triumphs suggested it. Replacement of the body from the transition of body art (1967-1969) to his puppet installations (1972-1980) was essential for Oppenheim to progress as he was tired of the stresses upon his person due to its physical demands. Second Degree Burn, 1970 (inspired after meeting with Vito Acconci in 1968) and Rocked Circle-Fear, 71 are two examples of performance that, Triumph the Irrationality of Chaos, and put the artist at high risk with severe outcomes through the course of a process. For An Attempt to Raise Hell, 1974, also showcased at the Pompidou Centre among other permanent collections, Oppenheim has replaced his body with an automated Marionette. The cast (gold) aluminum puppet sits loose in a limp green velvet suit (mimicking the theatrical attire of theatre puppets), echoing the traits of a past performer, empty of persona replicating a drained version of a self-portrait. But as we observe its vulnerability, slumped on a podium, still, with the intrusion of an iron bell suspended from above, we are suddenly startled by the impulsive mechanical jerk of the head, the brutal clang of the bell and the unsettling chime that resonates fearlessly. The withered body has unpredictably shown a might of power resonant of Oppenheim's past performances. The residue of sound hangs thick skinned and the marionette matures into Oppenheim's spiritual performer. An Attempt to Raise Hell is a form of self-punishment, self-parody and ultimately self-promotion. Oppenheim's reinventions of his personality sought new territory for the fear of non-productive consequences, as Oppenheim has more than once quoted, "make things that carry with them the residue of where they have been" (ibid.). In this case the residue being the repeated chime resonating Oppenheim's artistic achievements.

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