Oppenheim's parents were Russian immigrants and his father was Jewish. Oppenheim was born in Electric City, Washington, while his father was working on the Grand Coulee Dam. Soon after, his family returned to their home in the San Francisco Bay area.In 1964, he earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, California, and an MFA from Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, in 1965.He moved to New York in 1966 where he first taught art at nursery school and then high school art while working toward his first one-person exhibition in New York, held in 1968 when he was 30 years old. He lived and worked in New York City until his death from liver cancer on January 21, 2011, aged 72.
In the early 1980s, he began his "machine pieces", complex, space-filling devices, and after the mid-1980s, he worked on the "transformation of everyday objects in art". From the mid-1990s, he created a number of large-scale public art pieces in major cities around the world, some of which proved controversial.
He received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. He was included in both the Venice Biennale and the Johannesburg Biennale in 1997. In 2007, he was recognized for Lifetime Achievement at the Vancouver Sculpture Biennale.Wikipedia