Temporary Structures: Performing Architecture in Contemporary Art

Temporary Structures: Performing Architecture in Contemporary Art
Click images for larger view
On View Sep 18, 2011 - Dec 31, 2011

Temporary Structures: Performing Architecture in Contemporary Art is on view from September 18–December 31, 2011. 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.

Click Here for the robbinschilds collaboration with students from SMFA, Instruction Construction deCordova.


All programs are free with Museum admission.


Build “Cleopatra’s Needle's” with artist Liz Glynn

Sunday, September 18, 10 am–12 pm; 12–2 pm

Liz Glynn creates monumental sculptures and participatory performances that explore human ambition and the potential for change through acts of building, destruction, and recycling. For this exhibition, the artist with the help of volunteers will construct two large-scale obelisks based on “Cleopatra’s Needles”, the famed pair of Egyptian Obelisks exported to London and Central Park respectively. 

Call for volunteers! DeCordova is currently seeking volunteers to assist in the unearthing and erection of two obelisks to be created on-site on opening weekend. Email programs@decordova.org to sign up to volunteer.


Public Installation: Ward Shelley and Douglas Paulson’s “Grow or Die”

Sunday, September 18 through Friday, September 23, 10 am–5 pm

Witness the installation of “Grow or Die” as the work weaves up the grand staircase through the third floor lobby up to the fourth floor and engage with Ward Shelley and Douglas Paulson as they create this amazing spectacle of an installation that serves as the “spine” of the exhibition. 

Curator Tour

Dina Deitsch, Associate Curator for Contemporary Art

Saturday, October 22, 3pm

Tour Temporary Structures: Performing Architecture in Contemporary Art with the exhibition curator. The public will gain the curatorial perspective behind conceiving such an innovative exhibition, why the artists on view were selected, and a behind-the-scenes understanding of how the site-specific works were created. 

Demonstration and Discussion: Performative Process

Mary Mattingly

Saturday, October 29, 3 pm

Learn about Mary Mattingly’s process and creative inspiration as she animates her sculptural “wearable home.” Performance and discussion will be followed by a brief Q & A session.

Interactive Performance

robbinschilds and students from SMFA

Saturday, November 5, 1 pm

This interactive performance will be lead by artist collaborative robbinschilds and students from the School of Museum of Fine Arts. They will have created a site specific performance engaging body movement, architecture, as well as self designed directives to culminate in a multi-sensory experience. The directives provided by the performers will guide their bodily movements to react to specific structures within the Museum. Individual interpretations are welcomed and spontaneous choreographies will result. Museum visitors are welcome to participate as performers or spectators.

Lecture: Architecture as a Medium

Dina Deitsch, Associate Curator of Contemporary Art

Saturday, November 12, 2 pm

Breaking and manipulating the technical conventions of functional structures have invigorated contemporary artists to create a new visual and philosophical language surrounding the art of architecture. How are we as viewers meant to understand architecture as a medium? Join Associate Curator of Contemporary Art as she discusses the practice of using architectural elements in contemporary art.


Cell Phone Audio Tour

Bring your cell phones with you to deCordova this fall to hear the audio tour for Temporary Structures: Performing Architecture in Contemporary Art. Listen as artists explain how they manipulate space through performative and architectural means, as well as their ideas and inspiration behind their work.

Family Activity Kit

Check out our Family Activity Kit at the front desk of the museum. The free kit includes art making materials and activities that focus on current exhibitions and is great for ages 5–12. This is a perfect way for families to engage in contemporary art together!