Home 5 Gallery Artists 5 Dennis Oppenheim 5 Reading Position for Second Degree Burn 1970


Dennis Oppenheim

(American, 1938-2011)

Reading Position for Second Degree Burn

Chromogenic print
Edition of 30
Signed, dated and numbered on the reverse
24 x 20 inches (60.96 x 50.8 cm)

Originally executed in 1970, the present work was printed by the artist from the original negative in 2001.

Not for sale


Estate of the Artist

Acquired directly from the above in 2020 by exchange


New York, Whitney Museum of American Art Downtown at Federal Reserve Plaza, Identity: Representations of the Self, 14 December 1988 – 10 February 1989 (a larger example).

New York, Institute for Contemporary Art, P.S.1 Museum, Dennis Oppenheim: Selected Works 1967-90, And the Mind Grew Fingers, 08 December 1991 – 02 February 1992 (another example).

West Palm Beach, Norton Museum of Art, Burn: Artists Play with Fire, 31 March – 03 June 2001 (another example).

Columbia, South Carolina, Columbia Museum of Art, Burn: Artists Play with Fire, 07 July – 09 September 2001 (another example).

Chicago, The Chicago Art Institute, Light Years, Conceptual Art and the Photograph 1964-1977, 13 December 2011 – 11 March 2012 (another example).

Saint-Priest-en-Jarez, Saint-Etienne, Musée d’Art Moderne de Saint-Etienne Métropole, Dennis Oppenheim, 14 May – 21 August 2011 (another example).


Staff. “Documents: Dennis Oppenheim“, article in Avalanche Magazine, November 1971, No.2, pp.18-19, illustrated (another example).

Lippard, Lucy. Six years: the dematerialization of the art object from 1966 to 1972. 1973, New York, Praeger, p.185.

Lippard, Lucy. Overlay: Contemporary Art and the Art of Prehistory. 1983, New York, Pantheon Books, p.54.

Heiss, Alanna with Thomas McEvilley. Dennis Oppenheim: Selected Works 1967-90. 1992, New York, Institute for Contemporary Art, P.S.1 Museum, p.62, illustrated (another example).

Pultz, John. Photography and the body. 1995, London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, p.132, no.85, illustrated (a larger version).

Pultz, John. The Body and the Lens: Photography 1839 to the Present. 1995, New York, Harry N. Abrams, p.132, no.85, illustrated (a larger version).

Haden-Guest, Anthony. True Colors: The Real Life of the Art World. 1996, New York, Atlantic Monthly Press, p.89, illustrated (another example).

Lucie-Smith, Edward. Visual Arts in the Twentieth Century. 1997, New York, Harry N. Abrams, p.315, no.9.23, illustrated (another example).

McEvilley, Thomas. Sculpture in the Age of Doubt. 1999, New York School of Visual Arts, p.95.

Ratcliff, Carter. Out of the Box: The Reinvention of Art. 2000, New York, Allworth Press, pp.233-234.

Celant, Germano. Dennis Oppenheim: Explorations. 2001, Milan, Charta, p.149, illustrated (another example).

Homes, A.M.. Burn: Artist Play with Fire. 2001, Norton Museum of Art, p.45, illustrated (a larger version).

Laurin, Michel. Histoire culturelle de l’art. 2005, Laval, Québec, Beauchemin, p.230, illustrated (another example).

Jones, Amelia, ed. A Companion to Contemporary Art Since 1945. 2006, Malden, Massachusetts, Oxford, England and Carlton, Victoria, Blackwell Publishing, pp.380-81.

Bajac, Quentin; Chéroux, Clément; Centre Georges Pompidou; Christian Caujolle. Collection photographs : a history of photography through the collections of the Centre Pompidou, Musée National d’Art Moderne. 2007, Paris, Centre Pompidou, Musée National d’Art Moderne in association with Steidl, p.387, no.300, illustrated (a larger version)

Aycock, Alice. “Passages: Dennis Oppenheim (1938-2011)”, article in Artforum, May, 2011, p.65, illustrated (a larger version).

Hegyi, Lóránd and Alberto Fiz. Dennis Oppenheim. 2011, Saint-Etienne, Musée d’Art Moderne de Saint-Etienne Métropole, p.31, illustrated (a larger example).

Kay, Nick and Amy van Winkle Oppenheim. Dennis Oppenheim: Body to Performance 1969-73. 2016, Milan, Skira, pp.158-159, illustrated (another example).


Dennis Oppenheim was part of the early generation of Land artists, along with Michael Heizer, Robert Smithson, Walter De Maria, Charles Ross, Nancy Holt and a handful of others, who pioneered this new form of art in the 1960s, in which the earth itself served as their medium. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Oppenheim’s early interventions into the natural landscape took the form of removal, returning to the ancient sculptural principal of carving, by, in the artist’s own words, “taking away rather than adding“. The process of removal was also important to Oppenheim’s investment in the dematerialization and de-commodification of the art object. His ephemeral, time, and idea-based works, which resisted circulation in the art market as well as the actual physical space of the art gallery of the 1960s and 1970s, were often produced by a literal, playful, and documented removal of the object, as in Annual Rings (1968) one of Oppenheim’s earliest Earthworks.

In 1970 and still engaged in the dematerialized art practice of Land Art, Dennis Oppenheim began to explore the ways that his own body could be used to carry out artistic concepts. The relation between body and land continued to remain a key element in Oppenheim’s practice, though Oppenheim describes the present work as a corporeal enactment of painting, explaining, “The piece incorporates an inversion or reversal of energy expenditure. The body is placed in the position of recipient … an exposed plane, a captive surface. The piece has its roots in a notion of color change. Painters have always artificially instigated color activity. I allow myself to be painted … my skin becomes pigment. I can regulate its intensity through control of the exposure time. Not only do the skin tones change, but change registers on a sensory level as well. I feel the act of becoming red.” The language and process of ‘exposure’ with regard to intensity of color also links to photographic and development processes, including the processes, which would have produced these documentation images of the artist’s ‘exposed’ chest.

Shortly before Reading Position for Second Degree Burn was carried out, Oppenheim befriended the performance artist Vito Acconci, who would go on to become famous for his subversive performances, which frequently focused on the artist’s own body, such as Trademarks (1970), in which he bit down on various parts of his own body hard enough to break the skin, and Conversions (1971), in which he used matches to singe off his own chest hair. It is evident that the two friends were exploring similar ideas around this time, focusing on the ways that they could use their own bodies to enact art making, at times exploring the limits of pain that they could endure. Additionally, Oppenheim’s body-focused performance art of the early 1970s clearly had an influence on other body/performance artists of the mid 1970s such as Marina Abramovic. For example, there is a strong affinity between Oppenheim’s Rocked Circle – Fear (1971), in which he stood in a circle with a diameter of five feet while viewers threw rocks at him and Abramovic’s Rhythm O (1974). In both of these works, the performances left physical marks and scars on their bodies, which endured past the end of the performance itself, but would ultimately fade away. Thus, documentation through photography was an important secondary aspect of their performances.

Reading Position for Second Degree Burn is an extremely important document of the experimental body/performance practices of the late 1960s and early 70s. It is singular in its tongue-in-cheek references to traditional art processes such as photography and painting, which have influenced a number of more playful performance practices of a younger generation of artists, including those of Angus Fairhurst, Roman Ondák, and Janine Antoni, to name a few.


Museum of Modern Art, New York (a larger, unique and variant version)

Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (a larger, unique and variant version)

National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (a unique and variant version)

Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin (a larger, unique version)

Centre national d’art et de culture Georges-Pompidou, Paris (a larger, unique and variant version)

Musée d’art Moderne et Contemporain/MAMCO, Geneva (a slightly larger, unique and variant version)