Art@Site Dennis Oppenheim Engagement

Dennis Oppenheim



Marriage Registry
Engagement, installed at Sunset Beach in 2005, depicts two diamond engagement rings and stands nearly 30 feet tall. The diamonds, illuminated and tilting away from one another, are composed of translucent plexiglass boxes, steel and aluminum. The Vancouver Biennale described the sculpture as pop art. Engagement is one of several sculptures by Oppenheim that has been installed in Vancouver: The Device to Root Out Evil an upside-down aluminum church, was installed along the waterfront in Coal Harbour from 2005 to 2008, and Arriving Home was displayed within Vancouver International Airport as part of the 2009–2011 Vancouver Biennale.
Oppenheim, who often declines to explain his works, kept the meaning of Engagement ambiguous on purpose. According to the San Diego Port, the work reminds spectators that"marriage requires a balance between two people with different interests, tastes and backgrounds" and represents the"dichotomy of marriage, expressing the romantic and the melancholy". Debates over same-sex marriage in Canada were taking place around the time the work was installed in Vancouver.
Engagement, a sculpture by Dennis Oppenheim (b. 1938), marks the street-side entrance to the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno. Comprised of two enormous steel rings topped by houses-as-jewels, it is apparently a monument to the institution of marriage. It also ties directly to Reno's history of quick marriage and easy divorce.
One of three versions, Engagement was constructed in 1998 (the other two are at the Stadtgemeinde Leoben in Leoben, Austria, and in Palm Beach, Florida.) The two nearly thirty-foot-high steel rings tilt away from each other. Sitting atop the rings, in place of gems, are two steeple-roofed houses made of steel and glass and illuminated from within by industrial lamps. The houses are tilted and seem precariously balanced, an effect even more pronounced at night when they are lit and the support rings are dark. The lit houses appear to float, unanchored, if there is not a lot of ambient street light. However, the jewels-as-houses are firmly anchored to their rings. By turning the traditional diamond into a dwelling, Oppenheim suggests the dynamics of a union between two people–anchored in the traditional bonds of marriage but at all times precarious; as dependent on the integrity of those bonds as the stability of the sculpture is dependent on the integrity of its construction.
Oppenheim has historically been considered a Conceptual artist. Conceptual Art emerged in the 1970s, seeming to extend the notion of Minimalism to its furthest point: the object was no longer required. Art could exist as an idea and the documentation of that idea. A significant amount of Conceptual Art was thus ephemeral. Oppenheim's early artworks are known today only through photo documentation. Later works returned to the use of physical objects. Still, as Oppenheim himself took care to point out in an interview with Diane Deming [now Evans] in the Nevada Museum of Art catalogue Galloping Through the West, in most of his sculpture, ideas precede the object, and the object's meaning is often dependent on the artwork's title. In the 1990s Oppenheim moved away from museum/gallery objects and installations into the realm of public art. This change of focus opened up possibilities of scale although Oppenheim did not abandon the basic principle of Conceptual Art. Engagement is an example of that process. At the same time the scale of Engagement, almost outlandish in its translation of the traditional solitaire engagement ring, suggests Pop Art. Pop Art rejected the traditional subjects of high art and turned instead to the products and objects of the consumer-based, mass production environment. The result was often at once disturbing and humorous. Indeed, it was left to the observer to reconcile whatever meanings and absurdity resulted from the dislocation of an object from the everyday into art. As he did in a lecture at the Nevada Museum of Art in 2003, Oppenheim often declines to provide full explanations of his artwork, leaving the interpretation to the viewer. With Engagement Oppenheim appears to cut across neat art historical definitions, creating an object that comments on the nature of marriage, serendipitously connects to local history, and portrays humor in its large-scale restatement of a normally dainty object.
“Engagement,” a large-scale sculpture by noted artist Dennis Oppenheim that is on temporary display on Port tidelands. Oppenheim is recognized as one of the foremost conceptual artists and sculptors in the world today. His work has been included in both the Venice Biennale and the Johannesburg Biennale and he recently was recognized for Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2007 Vancouver International Sculpture Biennale. Oppenheim’s conceptual work initially was introduced through film and video in the 1970s. The New York-based artist has exhibited throughout the world, including works featured in the Tate Gallery in London, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris and the Whitney Museum of Modern Art in New York.
“Engagement” is intended to remind the viewer that marriage requires a balance between two people with different interests, tastes and backgrounds. “Engagement” represents the dichotomy of marriage, expressing the romantic and the melancholy. The romance is found in the light gleaming through two diamonds shaped to reference the form of a house. Melancholy is expressed through the angle at which the two rings lean away from each other, identifying the distance between the people joined in the union. “Engagement” is made of glass and steel and stands 29 feet tall and 21 feet wide. The work will be on display at Laurel and Harbor Drive.
The first sculpture I encountered was Dennis Oppenheim's Engagement, this eye catching piece was originally only a temporary installation as part of the Vancouver Biennale, but it has recently been gifted to the city. Of course they speak of romance, commitment, promise and love, but the twin 'stones' on the rings, illuminated at night, also remind me of light house beacons, are they warning ships off? Or showing the way home safely.