Power Fields

An exhibition exploring the assertion and contestation of power in the writings and practices of Vito Acconci and Acconci Studio


Fields of Knowledge
  • Aesthetics / Media
  • Artistic legacies
  • Design
  • Pedagogy
  • Performance
  • Public culture

Organizing Institutions


Contributing Institutions

The History of Art Department at University of Pennsylvania


Christine Poggi, Meredith Malone


Acconci Studio, Leslee Halpern-Rogath and David Rogarth, the Department of the History of Art at the University of Pennsylvania, the Society of Friends of Slought


Acconci Studio, the Department of the History of Art at the University of Pennsylvania, Leslee Halpern-Rogath and David Rogarth

Opens to public



4017 Walnut
Philadelphia, PA 19104


75% Formal - 25% Informal

Slought, in conjunction with the Department of the History of Art at the University of Pennsylvania, is pleased to announce Power Fields: Explorations in the Work of Vito Acconci, an exhibition featuring the work of artist Vito Acconci and the Acconci Studio. The exhibition will be on display in the Slought Foundation galleries from February 15-March 31, 2008. The opening reception will take place on Friday, February 29th, 2008 from 6:30-8:30pm. Preceding the opening reception, Vito Acconci will give a public lecture entitled "FROM WORD TO ACTION TO ARCHITECTURE" from 5-6:30pm at the School of Design at the University of Pennsylvania. In this talk, he will address the role of process, drafts, and the question of the archive in his studio practice.

Titled Power Fields: Explorations in the Work of Vito Acconci, the show and publication will provide an occasion to think about the artist's engagement with the experience of power, understood through the activation of, or indeed the attempt to control or dominate, specific bounded zones. These have included the page, streets in New York, a basement, galleries, and public environments. Acconci developed his notion of the "power field" by reading the works of sociologists such as Kurt Lewin and Edward Hall in the late-sixties. The exhibition mobilizes the artist's concept by focusing on works in different media including writing, street works, performances, photo works, videos and video installations, "self-erecting" structures, clothing, and architectural projects. The exhibition thus addresses the ways in which Acconci's work illuminates, employs, or contests the assertion of power, its relation to the body, and to public and private spaces.

Instead of a comprehensive retrospective, the exhibition focuses on the artist's practice of writing, and his exploration of text, body, and space. Recent interpretations of the artist's work have seen writing as a determining core; while in no way denying the artist's continuing engagement with forms of writing, this exhibition instead considers the artist's interest in the relation of writing to the body and the environment, as well as to social and political power structures. The exhibition will also explore the artist's plans for several controversial and unrealized architectural projects. Acconci's earliest forays into the realm of architecture in the 1980s marked a major shift in his work from an emphasis on the individual body (often his own) to the social body in an urban context. At the same time, the artist's focus on architecture, the built environment, and relevant social systems has emerged as a natural extension of his earlier interests in probing idiomatic language, the boundaries of the body, and the unstable delineations between private and public spaces. Recognizing the fact that architecture has the power to control the body and the rhythms of daily life, Acconci visualizes structures that perpetuate instability and the possibility of choice on the part of the user. The projects, which are collaborative undertakings with a team of designers and architects, focus primarily on the creation of dynamic circulation systems that bend, twist, ooze, flow, bulge, and ripple across an existing landscape or a body. Flexibility, mobility, and sociability are prized above all else. The exhibition at Slought Foundation will also address Acconci's fascination with mobile architecture and the multiple ways in which his designs grapple with the dramatically altered conceptions of public space and interactivity in an electronic age.

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Vito Acconci was born in Bronx, NY in 1940, and currently lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. His early work took the form of fiction and poetry, and his last poems reduced words to indices of the writer's and reader's travel across the page. In the late 1960s and the early 1970s, his first artworks used performance, photos, film and video as instruments of self-analysis and person-to-person relationships. His audio and video installations of the mid-1970s turned an exhibition-space into a community meeting-place. His architectural games of the early 80s made performative spaces for viewers, whose activity resulted in the construction and deconstruction of house prototypes. In the mid 1980s the work crossed over into architecture, landscape, and industrial design.

In 1988 he started Acconci Studio, a theoretical-design and building workshop. Their method is, on the one hand, to make a new space by turning an old one inside-out and upside-down; and, on the other hand, to insert within a site a capsule that grows out of itself and morphs itself. Their tendency is toward leftover sites and outlands, where hypotheses might be buildable and testable as future cities. They treat architecture as an occasion for activity; they make spaces fluid, changeable, and portable. For more information on the Acconci Studio, visit http://www.acconci.com/

"It is the best of architecture, it is the worst of architecture. It's the age of lightness, of fluid architecture; it's the age of architecture that's constructed into forms of fluidity and lightness that themselves remain solid and heavy. It's the epoch of architecture that emerges and grows as a living creature; it's the epoch of architecture that looks as if it emerges and grows, that looks like a living creature. It's the era of sensual architecture; it's the era of a visual architecture of effects. It's the season of virtual architecture, science-fiction architecture, video-game architecture; it's the season of architecture that, when built, comes tumbling back down to earth. It's the spring of computational architecture; it's the winter of a generic architecture generated by and justified by numbers. We architects and designers practice operations now that will make architects ultimately unnecessary, we anticipate architecture that designs itself; in the meantime, we're specialized into a chosen few starchitects. We architects and designers harness multiple complexities; all the while we refine complication into elegance, we revive aesthetics, we do something that smells like art, we fall back on taste, we hang onto an 'upper class.' We architects and designers build for people; but, as we write personally derived scripts, and mix and match a multitude of formal parameters, our design-process gets lost in translation – the building masquerades as a force of nature, and we're asking people to only believe."

-- Vito Acconci/Acconci Studio, "A Tale of Two or More Architectures (An Architecture of Fairy-Tales)," Icon Magazine (Feb 2007)

Additional Media

For more information, download a visual overview of the exhibition, and Vito Acconci'svisual presentation

About the Seminar

Organized in conjunction with a Fall 2007 Halpern-Rogath Curatorial Seminar on the artist's work in the Department of History of Art at the University of Pennsylvania. Through personal interaction with the artist, critics, and curators, the students will come to understand the challenges and creative possibilities of the curatorial process. This class is one of the only undergraduate seminars of its kind in the country, providing students with the opportunity to gain practical and theoretical knowledge about the process of curating an exhibition involving contemporary art at an organization such as Slought.

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Artist and architect Vito Acconci reflects on his development as an artist, and discusses his relationship to the page, galleries, the streets of New York, and public environments.

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