Playthings, of course, are supposed to be utterly safe, straight, and happy, whereas Oppenheim is sort of like the character in David Cronenberg's Dead Ringers who makes gynecological instruments too insane to be properly functional: he starts out with a playful idea, but pushes it to such an extreme that it comes off as dangerous, twisted, or creepy. In Galloping Through the Wheat, 1992, wild horses with long, sharp blades for hooves trample a big loaf of what looks like foam Wonderbread, ruthlessly shredding it (and, by implication, white-bread America) into ever smaller chunks. In Untitled, 1993, three huge plaster busts huddle together in a corner around a pile of brown ears, blue eyes, and black noses that have presumably fallen off their faces. No matter how you read this work (Communication breakdown? A critique of alienation? An allegory of the senses? A loss of sense?), in the end you're still left with the impression that these busts could just be spooky Mr. Potato Heads that someone got tired of playing with and/or didn't care to put back together.
Oppenheim's works rarely allow for neat and tidy interpretations. The installation Blue Tattoo, 1992--93, presents a baffling chain of physical links: tea pots shoot steam into the nostrils of a small mechanized bull as it paws the ground with its leg; its shoulder is engraved with a heart to which is affixed a blue light and a camera that sends an image of the heart to a projector; the projector beams it to a large glove suspended from the ceiling, covered with the words "mother" and "sister." Roland Barthes once wrote that toys mirror the objects of the adult world and thus prepare kids to assume social roles unquestioningly. Oppenheim's works function in exactly the opposite way: in both their semantic play and their formal mischievousness, they mirror the spirit of toys that aren't mass-produced, but cobbled together out of old cardboard boxes and castaway clothes.
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|Title Annotation:||Reviews; exhibit at Blum Helman|
|Date:||Nov 1, 1993|
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