Definition of Progression
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︎Definition of Progression

April 2014

Instructed by: Bryony Roberts
Up until the late 19 century, art was partially a form of documentation to record historical events. After the industrial revolution, artists have started looking for new ways to produce art. There have been many technological advances, and they have changed, shifted, and even derailed art into many directions. This first major shift in the purpose of art happened at around 1839 when “light pictures” – or photography - was invented by Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre. Just as the French history painter Paul Delaroche exclaimed when he first saw Daguerre’s earliest light pictures: “From today, painting is dead! (Page W. 7843)” Since then, numerous categories that spawned in art have come and gone, until it finally arrived to a point in history where “categories like sculpture and painting have been kneaded and stretched and twisted in an extraordinary demonstration of elasticity, a display of the way a cultural term can be extended to include just about anything. (Krauss 30)”

In Rosalind Krauss’ essay Sculpture in the expanded field, she explores the newfound frontiers of the sculptural field which was once considered narrow, and attempts to define these new frontiers. Krauss felt that sculptures in her era were somewhat detached from its conventional idea. As Krauss puts it, “it was what was on or in front of a building that was not the building, or what was in the landscape that was not the landscape. (Krauss 36)” Sculptures were monuments standing in front and apart from buildings, but they were not considered part of the site’s original landscape; therefore they should be defined as “not-landscape and not-architecture”. Having this defined for sculptures, Krauss felt naturally the call for a counterpart of itself, and thus a rectangular diagram of interrelated connections between landscape, not-landscape, architecture and not-architecture was established.

Among the four quadrants of the expanded field diagram, the quadrant where “architecture and not-architecture” lies is perhaps most intriguing. For this specific area, Krauss describes it “in every case of these axiomatic structures, there is some kind of intervention into the real space of architecture (Krauss 41).” Many artists have worked in this manner to evoke one’s attention to their immediate surroundings. And among them, Sarah Oppenheimer, an installation artist known for her perceptual interventions into architectural spaces.

To explore this section of the expanded field, Oppenheimer creates thought-provoking installation pieces that forces spectators to confront them. By having viewers going through angular walls, slanted paths or climbing over pieces, Oppenheimer leads viewers through carefully positioned spaces and let them experience spaces as familiar as a gallery exhibition space differently. Her D-17 that is featured in the Rice gallery “cuts through the exterior glazing and seemingly passes through an interior wall of glass that acts as a filter, subtly changing the lighting and color of the structure. (Rice et al)” Oppenheimer understands how to relate and react to the architectural environment, and creates her pieces accordingly.

Oppenheimer’s piece 610-3556 is perhaps a piece of work hers closest to Gordon Matta-Clark’s conical intersect building. This piece is very similar to how Matta-Clark used the cone as a frame – but with its polarity reversed. Matta-Clark’s conical intersect presents a view through a hole in a house, making the house merely a medium that delivers his message. Matta-Clark’s conical intersect relies heavily on its site-specificity: revealing the soon-to-finish center Pompidou behind it. Oppenheimer’s works are often similarly custom-tailored to a museum or gallery space, making her work very site specific. However, her “site” could virtually be any building in any city. Oppenheimer also inverts the conical relationship and makes the conical intersect visible from within the house, making it seem like it’s almost funneling the room from inside out. This again contributes to her urge to evoke one’s understanding of an interior space.

What Sarah Oppenheimer does cannot be defined as architecture, because most of her work is not designed to fit building codes, nor they are comfort­ably accessible in the conventional sense. Yet her work does a good enough job to evoke one’s understanding of space, which is what architects do. Therefore, her work cannot be deemed as entirely “not-architecture” either. It may seem confusing that Oppenheimer’s work struggles in the space between architecture and non-architecture, but this just simply denotes that her work needs not to be clearly defined and explained. To the spectators, “sorting all this out is immensely pleasurable, and happily there is no resolution. (Smith 1)” Ultimately, Oppenheimer is an artist. And artists leave room for their viewers to breathe, and to come up with their own understanding of an art piece.

Fifty years have passed since Krauss first attempted to predict where art was headed, and the expanded field still continues to define artists’ work in the modern day. However radical and detached an artists’ work may seem, “the new is made comfortable by being made familiar, since it is seen as having gradually evolved from the forms of the past. And we are comforted by this perception of sameness, this strategy for reducing anything foreign in either time or space, to what we already know and are. (Krauss 30)”

1. Page, Walter Hines, and Arthur W. Page. The World’s Work. Vol. 12. N.p.: Doubleday, Page &, January 1, 1906. Print.
2. Krauss, Rosalind. Sculptures in the Expanded Field. Spring 1979 ed. Vol. 8. N.p.: MIT, 1979. P.30-44. JSTOR Archive. JSTOR, 6 June 2006. Web. 21 Apr. 2014.
3. “Sarah Oppenheimer D-1716September - 5 December 2010.” D-17. Rice Gallery, n.d. Web. 21 Apr. 2014.

4. Smith, Roberta. “Sarah Oppenheimer’s D-33 at PPOW” The New York Times. The New York Times, 11 Oct. 2012. Web. 21 Apr. 2014.