Geof Oppenheimer: Monsters

Review

Geof Oppenheimer: Monsters

By Danica Willard Sachs June 18, 2014

Geof Oppenheimer’s current solo exhibition at Ratio 3, Monsters, continues his investigation of the physical markers of violence. In previous exhibitions, such as Inside Us All There Is a Part That Would Like to Burn Down Our Own House  from 2011, Oppenheimer’s focus has been on the convergence of violence with politics and nationalism. In Monsters, the artist takes an oblique approach, presenting bodies that are variously mutilated and degraded in order to question, in his words, “how the body is affected by the political systems we live under.”1

With Monsters, Oppenheimer’s sculptures employ a litany of art-historical allusions. In the back corner of the main gallery stands The Embarrassing Statue (2014), a Duchampian amalgam of high and low objects combined into an abstract figure. Comprising a brass-plated armature rising from a marble slab resting on a stout pedestal, the piece also echoes Constantin Brancusi’s sleek brass forms and meticulous sculptural supports. With a hulking leaf blower strapped to its back—its hose protruding phallically forward—and a pair of Brooks Brothers slacks pooling around its ankles, the figure is a disjointed combination of gendered signifiers of artistic labor, as well as white- and blue-collar labor (expensive slacks versus gardening tools), literally caught with its pants down. The punch line here about there being something inherently humiliating about the performance of any sort of labor is less compelling than Oppenheimer’s experimentation with sculptural tropes to align a concern with artistic labor with manual labor.

Geof Oppenheimer. The Embarrassing Statue, 2014; electroplated steel, Husqvarna 150BT, marble, Brooks Brothers pants, plaster bandages, and MDF; 101 x 33 x 33 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Ratio 3, San Francisco.

Similarly, Love and Other Abstractions (2011–2012) juxtaposes a triangular neon sculpture suspended from the ceiling above a sculpture of a mutilated skull cast in graphite atop another large, Brancusi-esque pedestal. Filling the small room with a flickering pink light and a throbbing electrical drone, the neon chandelier features text that reads “For Public Institutions, For Classical Value, For Obligations, For Fugazi,” on each face of the suspended sign. Situated on the floor beneath the neon fixture, the grotesque, disfigured bust conveys the physical manifestation of the body collapsing under the oppressive societal constraints explicated by the neon text above, but this relationship between the two components feels overly didactic.

Geof Oppenheimer. Ends Have a Million Fathers, the blues, 2014; pigment print in artist’s frame; 8 x 6 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Ratio 3, San Francisco.

The photograph series Ends Have a Million Fathers, the blues (2014) dominates the main gallery but bears little formal relation to the other sculptures in the exhibition. Each of the fifteen black-and-white pigment prints presents a close-cropped view of a person’s back, marred with oozing gashes that read as cryptic hash marks. Three variations of the image repeat randomly throughout the gallery, each photograph installed spaciously every few feet in a white, plain frame. Ends Have a Million Fathers, the blues invites a slower encounter than the sculptures, and given  Oppenheimer’s stated intent,  it is more successful in addressing the issues he wishes to confront. The series’ uniformity of composition, repetition of subject matter, and lack of overt narrative have a disturbingly numbing effect. Here, Oppenheimer implicates the viewer in the political system as he reduces the effect and impact of a violent act to something one might find in a medical textbook, clinical and devoid of description or context.

Geof Oppenheimer. Love and Other Abstractions, 2011–2012 (detail); cast graphite, neon, aluminum, Hermes scarf, and manufactured wood; dimensions variable. Courtesy of the Artist and Ratio 3, San Francisco.

Geof Oppenheimer: Monsters is on view at Ratio 3, in

San Francisco

, through June 21, 2014.

Notes

  1. Geof Oppenheimer, interview with Kimberly Chun, May 16, 2014, http://www.sfgate.com/art/article/Geof-Oppenheimer-Politics-helps-shape-sculptor-s-5478579.php

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