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


Reading Dennis Oppenheim's Guarded Land Mass (1970)

A conceptual performance about experiential thresholds and the guarding of another's land area

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

Organizing Institutions

Slought, Dennis Oppenheim Estate, University of Pennsylvania History of Art Department


Aaron Levy, Amy Oppenheim, Assaf Evron, and the University of Pennsylvania Spiegel-Wilks Seminar


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

Process initiated


Opens to public





Hamilton Village Green
40th and Locust St
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Slought, the Dennis Oppenheim Estate and the Spiegel-Wilks Seminar in the History of Art Department at the University of Pennsylvania are pleased to announce a variation of Dennis Oppenheim's Guarded Land Mass, 1970, a conceptual performance about experiential thresholds and the guarding of another's land area. The event, a recording of the activity of guarding and being guarded in an adjacent neighborhood, will be transferred to the Hamilton Village Green at 40th and Locust St on Friday, April 29, 2016 from 12:00-2:00pm. 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.

In March 1970, Oppenheim invited three armed guards to march in eight hour shifts, twenty-four hours per day for seven days in a remote area around a barren land mass in South Central Wisconsin. The work was conceived of during a ten day period which Dennis spent in the Department of Art at the University of Wisconsin, Whitewater as a visiting artist. In describing the period and place, Tom Nusum, then Chair of the Department of Art, referred to it as "Nowhere USA."

"Guarded Land Mass" took place in a remote area that the artist termed "barren." "Guarded Land Area," another work by Oppenheim from the same year that we engaged, took place on a land adjacent to the New Orleans Museum of Art, on public property belonging not to the museum but rather to all residents of the city.

These two works about boundaries, borders and the determination of value are the subject of a Spring 2016 undergraduate seminar in the Department of the History of Art at the University of Pennsylvania. In dialogue with the Dennis Oppenheim Estate, the students have reflected on the theme of guarding land - both barren land ("Guarded Land Mass") and another's land ("Guarded Land Area"). Considering these two works together invites us to consider the cultural politics of words such as "barren" and the act of "claiming" from different perspectives. The relationship between these two works is thus of particular relevance to Philadelphia, where in recent decades rapid development by universities and developers has redrawn the borders of neighborhoods, communities and the city itself.

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In what way does these one-time conceptual performances anticipate the crisis of gentrification and global realities of disempowerment?

In raising questions such as these, we invite conversation about what is at stake - spatially and politically - when private entities such as universities and business improvement districts guard public property. What voice does the community have in this process? Is the action on behalf of or undermining the state?

Over the past few months, we have undertaken a series of walks, accompanied by walking guards from Allied Barton and the University City District, through West Philadelphia neighborhoods adjacent to the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University.

On April 29, 2016, one of us will assume the role of a guard and transpose a mental map of our walks to Hamilton Village Green, a process which we will also document. Please join us for this conceptual performance and conversation.

"I see the earth as sculpture... Any addition to the ground- any scratch or anything you add- becomes a relational addition to what is there- it ties into it, extends it toward another meaning."

-- Dennis Oppenheim, 1969

"If you were going to use land, you should make it part of an ecological, geological, anthropological continuum, a more real time dynamic."

-- Dennis Oppenheim, 1992