"Stage Set for a Film #1"

Dennis Oppenheim
Year Installed: 
Location Detail: 
East of Wellness/Recreation Center


Description: This steel structure is 24 feet high x 20 feet wide x 24 feet long and also contains marine plywood, acrylic, aluminum siding, windows, and doors. The sculpture is constructed to reflect the activities of the Wellness/Recreation Center. It contains gymnastics rings, abstract basketball hoops, bench presses on the side of the sculpture, and an aqua blue diving board crowning the top of the piece.

Photos by Matt Kollasch

Critical Reaction: The sculpture was installed in mid-May 2000. It garnered few comments until an article in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier asked for public opinion on two new sculptures in Cedar Falls; one of these sculptures was "Stage Set for a Film #1." The Courier stated that approximately 90 percent of the comments and e-mails received (about 50 in all) were unfavorable for this sculpture. Those comments dealt mainly with the cost of the sculpture and its overall appearance.

"Knowing that the state mandates a percentage of the building expense to be spent on art for UNI buildings, many of us spoke of the type of lovely, inspiring sculpture that might exemplify the idea of wellness for all to see when visiting or passing our building. Words cannot express the incredible disappointment we experienced when we realized that the piece of art assembled in front of our building was actually finished (it looks as though there should be more to it). My first reaction was that it was a Menard's display gone wrong . . . ."

"A major flaw of the Wellness Center sculpture is that it is just not visible. At least it is hidden from all the traffic going down Hudson Road. Perhaps they intentionally hid it there, since it looks so much like an unfinished piece of carpentry . . . ."

" . . . When I first saw it I thought, "Cool, the ROTC has built a climbing wall for a class". Then I realized it was supposed to be a piece of art (?). Now, every time I drive by that piece of crap I get angry. How dare UNI spend money on junk like this and then have the guts to raise tuition by 4.50 to 5.50% (Sunday Courier). I've thought about a lawsuit for forcing them to pay for this crap out of their own pockets, then maybe they'd a little more careful about how they spend the taxpayers' money . . . ."

"My drive to work takes me by the Wellness Center each day. Months ago I noticed a pile of stuff placed by Hudson Road for the sanitation department to pick up. It was comforting to see the University was finally throwing out some of its old junk. As the weeks passed the junk remained, I was tempted to stop and rummage through the junk pile but it appeared it had been picked clean of anything useful, except for a couple of pieces of sheet metal and some door hinges. You can imagine my surprise as I read your article. Still confident in the Sanitation Department!"

"Stage Set for a Film, #1 at UNI This "thing" is terrible. It is not pretty, it is not pleasing, it does not fit the location. It is hard to believe that anyone would pay for this. I wouldn't even think that anyone would even allow it to be erected for free. It should be given to Home Depot . . . ."

" . . . I am a 21 year old UNI student. . . . UNI has one of the most beautiful college campuses, and in my opinion, "Stage Set for a Film #1" is the most hideous, profoundly atrocious eyesore on the UNI campus and in our community. I'm sure the artist, Mr. Oppenheim, is an extremely talented, respectable artist; however, this work of art does not fit with our gorgeous facility. In all honesty, this "work of art" looks like a Home Depot display gone bad, very bad."

Those favoring the new sculpture shared these perspectives:

"As for the 'Stage' sculpture at UNI, I don't understand it, but I don't need to. I like it at its face value. Backdropped by the lush green lawn, it is colorful and intriguing, and adds a bit of life to the starkly drab UNI-Dome. Its open doors add a bit of mystique, inviting imagination to run wild . . . ."

"I get the sense that if there's a controversy regarding these pieces, it largely revolves around the fact that they probably don't fit somebody's preconceived notion of what public art should be . . . Public art is a civilized thing. If it provokes discussion, then that's part of what it is that art is supposed to do. The character of any city is defined by things like its public art and architecture. These things exist as monuments to our imagination as much as anything else and in their absence it's rather like saying that we have no imagination."

Mr. Oppenheim was quoted in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier (July 30, 2000) concerning the sculpture, "I wanted to situate in the city a piece of sculpture that related to another art form, which is film, (particularly) the prop. It was a desire to confuse something false with something real, which a stage set attempts to do . . . I want it to look as though it's going to be used and not just looked at."



Dennis Oppenheim at the Dedication Ceremony of "Stage Set for
a Film #1", September 21, 2000 at the Gallagher-Bluedorn Performing
Arts Center

Also in attendance at the ceremony was former
University of Northern Iowa President, Dr. James W. Maucker,
celebrating the 40th Anniversary of the Percent for Art Program on campus.

Compiled by Gail Briddle
Special Collections and University Archives
October 2000