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This week's assignment comes to you from Chicago based artist Geof Oppenheimer. Geof's work reflects personal experience and the social and political atmosphere they were created in, and he wants you to make an object that does the same. Here are your instructions:

1. Create something that makes you feel uncomfortable, out of a material or group of materials
2. Document it and upload using #theartassignment
3. Fame and glory (Your work might be in a future episode)

Check out more of Geof's work:
http://www.ratio3.org/artists/geof-oppenheimer

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  Introduction (0:00


Sarah: Today we are meeting up with Geof Oppenheimer, who grew up in DC, spent time in San Francisco, and is now based here in Chicago. Geof makes art using a wide variety of materials and approaches, including photography, sculpture, and video, thinking about how images and objects are not neutral presences, but are invested with the social and political structures that created them and that surround them.

Recent works, such as the Embarrassing Statue, bring together disparate materials, like a leaf blower, a brass-plated armature, a pair of pants, and a marble pedestal, to consider the human figure and the dehumanizing aspect of the labor it performs.

For the assignment today, we are going to be thinking about sculpture and how it can represent our values and engender a wide range of emotional responses.  

 Meeting Geof Oppenheimer (0:43


Geof: Hi, I'm Geof Oppenheimer and this is your art assignment.

I came to be interested in sculpture because the sculpture is in life. Like we walk around things all the time, it wasn't so alienated as a painting, which was always a presumed world over there inside the frame, where sculpture is made from the things we walk around about every day and it seemed a lot more accessible to me and was also capable of communicating a lot more because it's something we all share.

Even the videos I make and the photographs it's all sculpture. I think  sculpture is a thinking process as much as it is a medium. Sculpture is just a way to think through objects and space and the social legibility of objects. Once you have that, you can apply that to any way of thinking. There's videos that are sculptures, just as easily as there are videos that are not sculptures. It's just dependent on how you use the tool.

One of the hardest and most interesting things to do with young artists is to teach them that regardless of the type of work that they do, whether they are a painter or a sculptor, is that art is a really broad world and is capable of inducing a variety of reactions and states of mind. It doesn't always have to be affirmative, it doesn't always have to make you feel good although that's an important thing for art to do.

I mean it sounds like a really romantic idea but I think that art should reflect experience. I don't know about you but I often feel uncomfortable or embarrassed and I think that it's a great productive challenge to do in an art assignment is to do something that makes you feel uncomfortable.

 The Art Assignment (2:44


Art can produce lots of different responses. For your art assignment, I want you to make an object that is embarrassing, out of a material or group of materials, make something that makes you uncomfortable.

John: So Sarah, I feel that you might get a lot of poop jokes during this particular assignment.

Sarah: Yeah. Well I think that bathroom humor can be okay if well played. Paul McCarthy is an artist who, for the past few decades, have been making pretty brilliant work that makes me blush quite a bit.

John: Yeah, the giant inflatable poo.

Sarah: But for me, what is embarrassing is so personal and so subject. I mean, what embarrasses me might not embarrass you, right? And it's also something that changes so much over the course of time, like what embarrassed you a 100 years ago is different than what embarrassed you 50 years ago or now.

John: And also embarrassment is not just personal, but social and political and historical, that's part of how our embarrassments change. But one thing that I think that has always been embarrassing is the human body.

Sarah: That's true. We all have a body so it's not really surprising that artists have used that as a vehicle to communicate ideas. You can go way back into art history, to the ancient Greeks or earlier, to think about the way that the human body is depicted in art.

 Art History (3:58)


The ancient Greeks were preoccupied with the idea of the perfect human body, including Polykleitos, who made sculptures like this Doryphoros, or Spearbearer in the 5th Century BCE. It was a naturalistic but not realistic depiction, as a soldier would have certainly been wearing clothes and it wasn't of a particular person either. It was an idealized figure, meant to demonstrate the perfect mathematical proportions of the body and thus was released on the world of classical sculpture, which would be copied by the Romans, during the Renaissance, 18th and 19th century Europeans, by Americans, and so on.

The idealized figure held it's sway for a long time but by the end of the 20th century, artists like Martin Kippenberger had pretty aggressively picked this ideal apart. In 1989, he put a male figure into a gallery, but it wasn't a confident, virile specimen. It was a series of slight, downward gazing replicas of himself, titled "Martin, into the corner, you should be ashamed of yourself" made after an art critic called out his drunken and provocative behavior.

Kippenberger's ashamed sculpture, like Geof's embarrassing sculpture, plays with the long tradition of the heroic figure and dramatically undercuts its power, asking us to ponder who exactly is experiencing these feelings. Is it the artist? the sculpture? or is it us?

 Geof Oppenheimer Reflections (5:06


Geof: I think that the sculpture that you're making for the assignment can be figurative, but I think a more challenging thing is to think about what are the kinds of form and materials that are embarrassing or make you feel uncomfortable that don't rely on a representational form.

It can reference things, whether it be the figure or architecture or control, but maybe need not look like those things directly.

I think in doing this assignment, you should take the prompt as a way to think about your own experiences and speak to what you know. What are the materials or forms that are embarrassing? Are you going to go get terry cloth? I find that terry cloth is an incredibly embarrassing material. That's what I would do. Is it squishy? Is it hard? Is it sharp? Is it you know, bulbous? What are the things that in your own experience engender those reactions?

I think that's a good way to think about art, even outside of this assignment. Speak to what you know and trust your own subjective experiences, and inherently, subjective field. The goal is to be acute in your own subjectivity.

 Credits (6:36


I like that ambiguity. I think that it's productive because I look at it, I made it, and I still get embarrassed looking at it like I feel like you're looking at something you're not supposed to see.