Temporary Structures: Performing Architecture in Contemporary Art

This exhibition features thirteen artists and collaboratives who underscore the changeable and active nature of our built environment. In doing so, they take architecture beyond its obvious function as shelter and design and examine its social, psychological, and cultural resonance in our lives. Video, sculpture, installation, and performance converge to address architecture through three broad themes: intervention, mobility, and participation.

Over the past 50 years, architecture’s agency in society has emerged as a growing concern for contemporary artists. Be it the white-cube space of the gallery, the historic walls of a specific site, or the loaded evocations of Modernism embedded in glass and concrete surfaces, artists and theorists agree that there is no such thing as a neutral environment—every space speaks.

“We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.”—Winston Churchill

Churchill delivered this truism in response to the wartime bombing of the House of Commons in London. An unsteady climate asks us to pause and reexamine our
surroundings, as ideals and places that we once thought infallible and reliable begin to crumble away—a symbolic building, a free market, housing investments, or political ideals. In the aftermath of recent man-made and natural disasters, and in the decade since the attacks on the World Trade Center towers there has been a media wave bearing collective witness to the unreliable nature of architecture’s capacity to protect and shelter us. The artists in this exhibition infuse buildings or the idea of buildings, typically considered static and stable, with the element of time through architectural interventions, changeable environments, and participatory performances. In approach and framework, these artists merge two dominant strains of art practice today—time-based performance and architectural subject matter. They ultimately destabilize our idea of fixed space and present a collective notion of the changing, almost living, nature of architecture, blurring the lines between the organic and built worlds. Accordingly, buildings are viewed as active agents within our social lives, informing and performing human behavior, changing states, and telling stories.

Temporary Structures: Performing Architecture in Contemporary Art uses nontraditional spaces of the Museum’s unique building and outdoor spaces to present an
avante-garde exhibition comprised of site-specific, performative, and participatory installations, engaging Museum visitors in a new way throughout the duration of the

Featured artists:

Vito Acconci, Ant Farm, Mary Ellen Carroll, Kate Gilmore, Liz Glynn, Gordon Matta-Clark, Mary Mattingly, Sarah Oppenheimer, robbinschilds, Alex Schweder La, Ward Shelley/Douglas Paulson, Mika Tajima, and Erwin Wurm.

Temporary Structures will be accompanied by a full-color catalogue, featuring guest essayists Neil Leach, architectural historian and theorist and Professor of Architecture at the University of Southern California, and Giuliana Bruno, Professor of Visual and Environmental Studies at Harvard University. Organized by Dina Deitsch, Associate Curator of Contemporary Art.

This exhibition has been made possible in part by a major grant from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and by generous matching support from Anthony and Beth Terrana.

The catalogue publication is made possible through a generous grant from the Elizabeth Firestone Graham Foundation.