Anna Oppermann: Being Different (Why is She so Different?) 1970-1986

June 20–August 29, 1999

Open June 20, P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center presents Anna Oppermann’s expansive multi-media “ensemble” Being different (Why is She so Different?) 1970-1986 (1999) in the third floor archive gallery. This installation marks the first New York presentation of work by the late German artist (1940-1993), who was celebrated in international exhibitions such as the Venice Biennale (1980) and documenta (1977 and 1987) but never exhibited in the United States during her lifetime.

Anna Oppermann’s chosen term “ensemble” describes both the form of her work and the process of its construction. The ensembles were created often over many years, growing from ordinary everyday found objects, small still lifes, flowers and plants, and words or phrases taken from passing conversation. The resulting assemblages led the artist to specific problems that she approached by adding new observations, comments, and findings. In the ensembles, each step of this artistic process of perception, research, and interpretation is documented and constantly rearranged.

Oppermann declared “from the personal to the general” as a main tendency in her visual thought process. Over sixty large works by Anna Oppermann remain—assembled from hundreds of little pieces based on themes such as “being a woman,” “being an artist,” “being different,” “love, eroticism, and sex,” as well as the thematic areas “oil on canvas,” “myth and enlightenment,” or “the economical aspect” (of making art).

Being Different (Why is She so Different?) 1970-1986 (1999) is not a self-portrait, nor does it describe otherness as an identifiable quality. Instead, this ensemble tells about the experiences of dissociation, revealing otherness as something hidden, undiscovered, and impossible to find. A central motif in the work is a sitting woman whose face remains obscured by her own hair. The figure is simultaneously hiding and left out. Paradoxically, she hides something to avoid being accepted without managing to avoid acceptance. The ambivalence of this gesture runs throughout the whole ensemble, which unfolds the inter-relationship between isolation and deprivation.

One of the first large ensembles created by Oppermann and exhibited publicly, Being different was first shown in 1972 at the Hamburg Kunsthalle and was last shown fully assembled in 1986. This presentation of the ensemble at P.S.1 will not only introduce Oppermann’s work to the American public, but also make this important piece from her early oeuvre accessible for the first time in thirteen years.


Being Different (Why is She so Different?) 1970-1986 (1999) is organized and curated by Ute Vorkoeper and Herbert Hossmann. The exhibition is presented in cooperation with the Goethe-Institut New York / German Cultural Center.