Korean Public Officials Destroy Dennis Oppenheim Sculpture
By Julee WJ Chung
From December 11 to 17, 2017, one of the last standing sculptures by American artist Dennis Oppenheim (1938–2011) was demolished by Haeundae district officials, who claimed that the public artwork in Busan no longer held any “artistic value” and was in a state of disrepair. Titled Chamber, the work was commissioned by the Busan Biennale in 2010 as a permanent installation to encourage the community’s interaction with artworks, and was erected on one of South Korea’s southernmost beaches. However, Oppenheim’s floral-inspired structure of colorful steel pipes and plastic had rusted over time, especially after being hit by Typhoon Chaba in 2016.
“We also received a lot of phone calls from pedestrians and residents in the area demanding its withdrawal as the artwork was turning into an eyesore,” Haeundae district official Shi Yun-Seok told Agence France-Presse. “We’ve sent the wreckage, mainly steel pipes and polycarbonate materials, to a waste dump.” Shi also said that the district office did not inform the artist’s estate—which holds the intellectual property rights to the sculpture—of the removal of Chamber. Having paid KRW 800 million (USD 755,000) for the commission, Haeundae District Office officially holds the ownership rights to the sculpture.
Amy Plumb Oppenheim, the late artist’s partner and head of his estate, told Hyperallergic that upon receiving the news about Chamber’s destruction, “I immediately wrote to the director of the Busan Biennale, that they must agree that this action sets a bad precedent for works of art in the public view.”
Oppenheim himself had never seen the sculpture at its seaside location. The work was unveiled in March 2011, two months after the artist died of cancer at age 72.
Julee WJ Chung is the assistant editor of ArtAsiaPacific.
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