D-17, 2010
Photo: Nash Baker © nashbaker.com

Sarah Oppenheimer
D-17
16 September - 5 December 2010

Walking up to Sewall Hall after dark, Sarah Oppenheimer’s D-17 feels otherworldly. An intervention into the light gradient of the building space, D-17 angles above the transom of Sewall Hall’s front doors, into the foyer, and extends down to the gallery floor. Along the way, the work cuts through the exterior glazing and seemingly passes through an interior wall of glass that acts as a filter, subtly changing the lighting and color of the structure.

D-17 visually changes during the course of the day. Approaching Sewall Hall in full sun, D-17 is essentially invisible; the wall of windows becomes a mirror reflecting the green leafy grounds of the campus. Your only clue to what lies inside is the foot or so of the structure that pokes out from the opening above the doors. It is only once you enter through the doors that the rest of the construction is revealed, looming above you. While the daylight turns the building’s glass exterior into a mirror, the same thing occurs discretely inside. An overhead channel in the piece directs sunlight in from the outside. This isolated channel of direct sunlight transforms the translucent glass wall of the gallery into a framed mirror, reflecting the leafy, swaying branches of a Live Oak, as if it were a film projection.

Inside the gallery, the expansive aluminum plane angles dramatically up from the gallery floor and soars out toward the courtyard beyond. That slender channel running along one side of the piece directs your eye out into the trees beyond the building. (If you happen to stand equidistant from a lobby viewer watching the tiny reflected image in the glass, you both will be watching the same scene while facing each other.)

D-17 evolved out of an intensive exploration into how light penetrates a glass facade. In June, Oppenheimer conducted a design workshop with Rice architecture students in which they analyzed the light conditions in the space and reflectivity of the gallery’s glass wall. The final realization of D-17 involved multiple disciplines and production processes: CNC milling, metal fabrication, structural engineering, a fire and safety inspection, as well as an intrepid construction team. The fabrication process began this summer with actual construction beginning in August.

Oppenheimer is known for perceptual interventions into architectural space. An installation in an upper gallery of Pittsburgh’s Mattress Factory art museum created a framed aperture in the gallery floor. Looking down and through the floor, the viewer sees an angled view into a neighbor’s back yard, four stories below. As one visitor described the experience, “I took my second step into the room and my stomach fell into my shoes.”

D-17 is a continuation of Oppenheimer’s investigation into the visual and spatial cues of architectural absence. D-17 articulates this absence by controlling the passage of light from the building exterior, across two glazed walls, and into the recesses of the building envelope.

SPECIAL THANKS

Sarah Oppenheimer wishes to thank Edward Stanley Engineers.

EXHIBITION CATALOGUE

Funding for the catalogue to be published post-exhibition
is provided by Architecture Center Houston Foundation
and The Brown Foundation, Inc.

ABOUT THE ARTIST

Sarah Oppenheimer received a BA in Semiotics from Brown University and an MFA from Yale University, where she is a Critic in the School of Art. Her work has been exhibited in Europe and in the United States at venues including the Saint Louis Art Museum, Missouri, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, California, and the Queens Museum of Art, New York. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including the 2010-11 Gilmore D. Clarke/Michael Rapuano Rome Prize, New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) Fellowships in Architecture/Environmental Structures (2010, 2006), the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Fellowship (2009), the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Art (2007), and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship (2007). Sarah Oppenheimer was born in Austin, Texas; she lives in New York.