A series of previously unfinalized works about social and institutional boundaries and thresholds


Reading Dennis Oppenheim's Guarded Land Area (1970)

A conceptual performance about experiential thresholds and the guarding of a land area within sight of a museum building

Fields of Knowledge
  • Aesthetics / Media
  • Artistic legacies
  • Curatorial practice

Organizing Institutions

Slought, Dennis Oppenheim Estate, New Orleans Museum of Art


Aaron Levy, Amy Oppenheim, Katie Pfohl


Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts

Process initiated


Opens to public



New Orleans
Museum of Art
1 Collins Diboll Cir
New Orleans, LA 70124

Slought, the Dennis Oppenheim Estate and the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) are pleased to announce a reading of "Guarded Land Area," 1970, beginning with a 2-hour event at the New Orleans Museum of Art on Friday, November 20, 2015 at 3:30 pm and a conversation with Katie Pfohl, Amy Plumb Oppenheim, and Aaron Levy at 6:30pm. The project continues with "Second Life," a series of previously unfinalized works about social and institutional boundaries as thresholds, on display February 9 to April 27, 2017.

Following extensive press coverage in the late 1960's on earth art and its practitioners, artist Dennis Oppenheim was invited to the New Orleans Museum of Art to do an earthwork near the museum grounds. With the help of the museum's registrar he executed "Concentration Pit" near the landing field at the city airport. Visible to passengers in approaching aircraft as a square area void of trees, it could thereby serve as a potential interruption of concentration.

On February 24th, the morning of his departure, Oppenheim was asked by curator Bill Faley to do a second work. The artist asked to borrow a museum guard in order to conduct a preliminary test for a series of performance activities involving museum guards and guards for hire. He provided the guard with a floor plan of gallery #5 and directed him to "demarcate the floor plan of the gallery on the adjacent land area" in a two hour performance work.

In so doing, Oppenheim shifted the guard's concentration and responsibility and from guarding art to guarding a land area of no particular value.

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Yet it would be a mistake to think that this land area of no particular value is not fertile. As the guard recalled the floor plan from memory and transposed it to the land area, he might have engaged in a series of reflections.

Such reflections might include the power of museums to determine preciousness, and later, the way he internalizes this power dynamic and even participates in the assignment of value by virtue of his position within the institution. It is in this way that the guard's presence imparts value to this otherwise empty land area.

These reflections can be understood as thresholds that invite the guard to reconsider his relationship -- psychologically, spatially and socially -- to himself, the institution of the museum and society.

As the guard makes visible the land area within sight of the museum, perhaps he also reflects on his invisibility within the institution and by contrast his hyper-visibility in this performance activity. The guard has become at once a spectacle and a performance artist whose presence makes legible power dynamics within the institution and society.

Can he relate to his new role as a creative actor? Can the conditions of labor and invisibility that one finds within the corporate museum be countered? What is the investment of the public in this unfolding process?

"It was just a way of creating a diagram based on individual exhaustion in relationship to a group, it was a way of establishing a configuration based on those terms. But it was more than that."

-- Dennis Oppenheim, 1970

"Energy in the form of concentration injects this landscape with vestiges of museum preciousness."

-- Dennis Oppenheim, 1971