The “Boho Dance” goes on

Exactly one year ago Christie’s procured a sale of a non-fungible token for an eye-watering sum of US$69,346,250. Since then, my friend and former colleague Professor David Hawkes and I have co-authored a series of articles on the subject of NFTs: their relationship to other currencies, their lack of aura, and their use for art history.

Over the winter break, as I was preparing to teach my usual Spring course on later 20th century art, I reread The Painted Word—an oldie-but-goodie little book by Tom Wolfe originally published as an article in 1974. I was struck by how well the model of modern art’s de-materialization Wolfe constructed (and raged against) fits our current NFT predicament. Wolfe’s astute social comedy that caused outrage among critics and especially artists turned out to be eerily accurate in its predictions of trivialization and monetization of culture that started decades ago, but picked up pace recently.

The resulting analysis “Against De-Materialization: Tom Wolfe in the Are of NFTs” is our fourth article on the subject. It just came out in Quillette (which bravely published my article on the relationship between art history and pornography last summer). In it, we apply Wolfe’s ideas to the new, Twitterfied, reality.

Click on the image below to read the article.

In Memory of Wayne Thiebaud

My tribute to the great Wayne Thiebaud is out in the February issue of The New Criterion—a magazine he had subscribed to for decades. I had the privilege of working with Wayne for the past few years, so the text below contains my insights into this man of impeccable integrity, strong will, and unwavering dedication to painting. Click on the image below to read the article.

During the time of our collaboration (Wayne’s words), I wrote three magazine articles—all published in The New Criterion—and three catalogue essays about his work. First, came the “Hour of the clown,” an article that dealt with social and artistic contexts, as well as the reasons for the timing of his circus-themes series. It was followed by “There ought to be clowns”—a piece on the historic background of the series. An in-depth essay on the topic, titled “Nothing is Unimportant,” was included in Wayne Thiebaud 100 centennial catalogue. Shortly after this essay was published, I took part in a panel discussion “Three Takes on Thiebaud” organized by the Crocker Museum of Art.

The third article on the circus series was “Past continuous.” It explored the parallels between Thiebaud’s direction and T.S. Eliot’s theory of artistic influence. I also contributed an essay “A Masterwork: Thiebaud’s One Hundred-year-old Clown” to the catalogue for the Wayne Thiebaud: Clowns exhibition held at the Laguna Art Museum in 2020-21. As part of the programming for the LAM exhibition the museum recorded my video tour an online lecture on the evolution of the series.

My latest monographic essay on Wayne’s work “Anyone Can be My Protagonist: Wayne Thiebaud’s Unrepresented Spectator” is forthcoming in the volume titled People. The book contains a selection of paintings and drawings of the human figure from the entirety of the painter’s career. This was Wayne last project before his passing on Christmas Day 2021.

In memory of Dave Hickey

I wrote this piece following Dave’s passing November 12, 2021. It was published in the January 2022 issue of The New Criterion magazine. Click on the image to read the full text.

I met Dave in 2012, and three years later we embarked on a project based on his Facebook writings. The result was two pendant volumes, Wasted Words and Dustbunnies, which explored Hickey’s mood over the eighteen months he engaged in debates on social media. It also gave a rare glimpse into what could best be called his verbal ephemera—bon mots and musings that would not necessarily make it into the critic’s honed writings. Times Literary Supplement published a review of the books. A series of in-conversation events in Las Vegas CAC, Site Santa Fe and the UCLA Hammer Museum followed.

Contemporary Arts Collective in Las Vegas, NV, 03.05.2016, Photo Credit Check Salgado
Site Santa Fe, Santa Fe, NM, 04.15.2016
UCLA Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA, 05.12.2016

Damien Hirst, art history and crypto art

Our third essay on crypto art (co-authored with David Hawkes). The first one “The Marriage of Art & Money” dealt with the financial nature of the digital art NFTs, while the second “The Afterlife of the Aura” took up the thorny subject of materiality in contemporary art. This article explores the significance of Damien Hirst’s NFT project “The Currency” which recently entered its second phase—the redemption—when the owners of NFT tenders can exchange them for physical art. Once the painting is collected (in person, or via a shipping courier), its NFT is destroyed. This process cannot be reversed. We will not know how the experiment ends until late July 2022. To read the full text click on the image below.

Culture Wars 2.0

My review of the first book about the American art and culture critic Dave Hickey is out in Atheneum Review. Click on the image below to read the full text.

Oppenheimer is the first writer to dedicate an entire book to Dave Hickey, who is now in his early eighties. Although Hickey made occasional public appearances in the 1970s and the 1980s (most notably as a smartly dressed and inexorably clever member of the 1975 panel on William Buckley Jr.’s Firing Line with Tom Wolfe), he came into real prominence in the mid-1990s, with the publication of The Invisible Dragon: Four Essays on Beauty (Art Issues Press, Los Angeles: 1993) and Air Guitar: Essays on Art and Democracy (Art Issues Press, Los Angeles: 1997). Invitations to speak at various art institutions began to pour in, and Hickey delivered dozens of intrepid lectures in which he dazzled audiences with knowledge and wit, while mocking the academic and museum bureaucrats who paid his honoraria. In 2001 he was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship, also known as the Genius Grant, and in 2006 Hickey won a Peabody Award for his work in the American Masters series documentary about Andy Warhol. The College Art Association honored him with the Frank Jewett Mather Award for art criticism in 1994. His decades-long writing career has included essays on art, music and culture in Rolling StoneArt NewsArtforum, the London Review of Books and Art in America, where he also served as an executive editor.

In 2012 a revised and expanded version of The Invisible Dragon was published by The University of Chicago Press, which also printed 25 Women: Essays on Their Art in 2016, and Perfect Wave: More Essays on Art and Democracy in 2017. In 2014, Pirates and Farmers (Riding Press, London) hit the shelves, sending Twitter into overdrive. There is even a collection of short stories, written in the 1960s and issued in 1989 as Prior Convictions (SMU Press, Dallas). As Hickey’s fame grew, and his readership expanded, a new generation of art students fell under the spell of his artful prose. But he also made enemies along the way and, by the time Pirates and Farmers was published, his detractors were burrowing into his frequent infractions of the tightening PC codes. In his book, Oppenheimer sets out to bring the spotlight back on Hickey’s serious writing.  Penetrating the ruse of his subject’s impish provocations, and fully understanding the power of critical thought, Oppenheimer builds a solid argument for revisiting Hickey’s books—not only because they contain some of the best-ever Anglophone writing on art, but also because we badly need Hickey’s evaluation of the 1990s to help us survive the culture of the 2020s.

Icons of happiness

An upcoming Christie’s sale of a stunning Vincent Van Gogh drawing led me to contemplate Dave Hickey’s two decades-old predictions about the danger of shifting our collective gaze from the “beautiful object” to the “rhetoric of virtue.” All, because of a silly headline on

Click on the image below to read the full article.

William Shatner: “I Don’t Understand”

Earlier this month, I was invited to be a guest on William Shatner’s new talk show I Don’t Understand. I am honored to join the ranks of his distinguished guests, including astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson and social psychologist Jonathan Haidt. Our topic was: “What is Art, Really?”

Click on the image below to watch the full episode.

Or, here is the audio: