Seward, Keith, Artforum International
"A toy is a child's first initiation to art," Charles Baudelaire once claimed; conversely, art could be the adult's swan song to toys. There's an area where the tendrils of the ludic wrap around the roots of the esthetic, and that's precisely where Dennis Oppenheim works. Ranging from the little art experiments he did with his kids in the '70s to the sculptures in his latest exhibition, Oppenheim has created a body of works that comprise his own little Land of the Misfit Toys. For instance, Think Tank, 1993, is half Cat in the Hat, half a passionately staged Gomez Addams toy-train wreck: two choo-choos circumnavigate the brims of giant (nearly six-foot-tall), brightorange top hats that rest on the floor at slight angles so that the trains chug away on the inclines but plummet perilously on the slopes. As a resounding clackety-clack-clack fills the air and cheap metaphors for celebration flash through your mind, you can't help but find yourself hoping for the little trains to jump their tracks and smack into one another.
Playthings, of course, are supposed to be utterly safe, straight, and happy, whereas Oppenheim is sort of like the character in David Cronenberg's Dead Ringers who makes gynecological instruments too insane to be properly functional: he starts out with a playful idea, but pushes it to such an extreme that it comes off as dangerous, twisted, or creepy. In Galloping Through the Wheat, 1992, wild horses with long, sharp blades for hooves trample a big loaf of what looks like foam Wonderbread, ruthlessly shredding it (and, by implication, white-bread America) into ever smaller chunks. …