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The Mass Media

Search Burst Lands At UMB

Steel, steel mesh, lighting. A deep see-through blue navigating consciousness. The piece entitled Search Burst is now suspended from the coffered ceiling of the University’s Healy Library.

Extending 20 feet in length and expanding five feet in width it is composed of 1/16th inch perforated metal mesh welded to five steel circles. It is open on one end, capped on the other with a nose cone of welded steel and trimmed with 560 tiny white Christmas lights. It is the second piece lent to UMB by artist Dennis Oppenheim.

After talking at some length with Paul Tucker, professor of Art at UMB and director of “Arts On The Point,” and reading the refined articulate representations of “Search Burst” offered by Arts on the Point, the work is thusly described.

“Search Burst is startling and suspicious as this “Jetson”- like unidentified flying object negotiates the surrounding maze of columns on its way to the huge two-story expanse of glass at the heart of our library. It is as provocative as it is inexplicable; benign yet it has a threatening quality. Its hundreds of tiny white lights, that activate it surface, add to its strangeness and absurdity much like life and war, while suggesting its flagrant accessibility.

The sizable light bulb that acts like a headlight as the piece hurls itself through space. How odd it appears against the stoic library. It is an enigma that does not hesitate to declare its own inherent contradictions. Yet how appropriate it seems to be floating magically above us all, a reminder that the unknown is as important as the things we understand, the search for truth is as meaningful as the facts we may discover, and the questions we ask are as essential as the answers we are given.”

Born in Electric City, Washington (how appropriate) in 1938, Dennis Oppenheim is one of America’s pioneering conceptual and performance artists. He studied at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland and earned his Master’s Degree at Stanford University, graduating in 1966.

His early works were “Land Art”- large- scale outdoor projects such as patterned crop plantings. From “Land Art” Oppenheim traveled through “Body Art,” which involved the use of his own body as canvas. In one work he “painted” his body with the sunburned pattern of an open book on his chest.

In 1979, he began making “factories”-Rube Goldberg-like machines. Then came the “fireworks” series of mechanical constructions using electric motors and fireworks – all of which involved considerable danger as elements and posed the ominous possibility of either destroying the work or harming the observer.

In the ’80s, Oppenheim combined many of his interests by focusing on generic forms like the boot, the glass, and the teapot. Through changes in scale, color, and materials, these common elements obtained a humorous, mesmerizing, confusing, and mysterious, much like life itself. Oppenheim devotes much of his time to promoting public art, an arena that he feels possesses tremendous potential because it is free from “the clutches of the art world circuit and museums.”

“Search Burst” sat in storage in Jamaica Plain for 2.5 years awaiting its placement among the awe of the UMB campus, while our library was being re-bricked. Oppenheim is devoted to placing his artwork in the public realm and UMB has two of these pioneering pieces. “The other ‘Black’ pots and kettles sits in the Quinn building cafeteria,” explained Tucker. We have the pleasure of being I great artistic company, so take your eyes, clear them and observe “Search Burst” from one of the many vantage points on Campus.