Pawel Althamer, Roberto Behar & Rosario Marquardt, David Gissen, Amy H. Ho, David Ireland, Paul Kos, Roy McMakin, Christian Nagler & Azin Seraj, Ben Peterson, Michael Robinson, Jonathan Runico, Mungo Thomson, Together We Can Defeat Capitalism
Temporary Structures takes root in the exciting possibilities of impermanence. The guiding spirit of this exhibition is architectural, be it a literal focus on buildings and their component parts—walls, stairs, windows—or the intangible zones and belief systems that comprise more psychological spaces. No matter how solid such structures and systems seem, things change along the way. “Finished” entities evolve, and things constructed to live briefly often become concretized through historical readings and reimaginings.
This show considers the relationship between temporary architecture, social structures, and spectacle, addressing both sites (galleries and museums, pavilions, shelters, classrooms) and what they produce (culture, leisure, habits, dialogues, and economies). Featured works engage with aesthetic, political, and social ideals from various historical moments related to the rise of consumer culture, from 19th-century French uprisings to the recent Occupy movement. The exhibition also recognizes shifting ideologies and functions in museum culture: With the modern museum often veering into a social zone of entertainment and tourism, its role as a permanent repository is no longer its most salient feature.
The broad allure of World’s Fairs, and their use of temporary pavilions in the service of now-questionable views of internationalism and entertainment, is a key element of the exhibition. San Francisco has its own fair holdovers, most notably the Palace of Fine Arts, designed by Bernard Maybeck in 1915 for the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. Conceptualized as a Greco-Roman ruin, the structure was a gateway to exhibition halls of international art. Today, this folly structure has been annexed into landmark status, a sense of permanence bestowed by retrofitting its wood and covered burlap-fiber bones. The Palace represents a growing collection of such structures across the globe (Mies van der Rohe’s 1929 Barcelona Pavilion being another) that now shape and brand images for places and cities. There’s a soul to these structures, an inherent romance to recalling and reclaiming the past, yet the fantasies that these provisional places conjure divert critical questions about how many should be saved and why.
Another visual subtext for Temporary Structures takes hold in late modernism. The visually iconic utopian capital city Brasilia, designed by city planner Lucio Costa and architect Oscar Niemeyer and completed in 1959, features prominently in works by Polish artist Pawel Althamer, and the collaborative architecture of Roberto Behar & Rosario Marquardt. Each work infers a kind of transcendent possibility in the critically revered, yet politically failed, UNESCO World Heritage Site. Brasilia’s protected status through UNESCO both collectivizes a diverse culture into a singular touristic viewpoint and suggests that it is a global duty to protect that viewpoint. This mapping of the world into sites of tourism often means that those who temporarily occupy places become actors in a showcase of place, thus making the architecture more memorable than the culture that has made it.
The Walter and McBean Galleries—SFAI’s own piece of late modernism—are, in a sense, another artwork in Temporary Structures. The SFAI campus resides within two California architectural histories: the Mission style architecture of its original 1926 building, and the Brutalist architecture of the 1969 expansion by architect Paffard Keatinge-Clay. The galleries, a part of this addition, show the influence of Louis Kahn and Le Corbusier with their solid concrete and treatment of natural light. For Kahn, making light a prominent feature in modern architecture was a means to relate back to ancient ruins. Keatinge-Clay’s work gestures towardts the historical with similar translations of light in space.
Over their 40-plus years, the galleries have hosted countless temporary exhibitions and architectural permutations. Revealed for Temporary Structures is a 1985 wall work by Paul Kos that has been interned under sheet rock for over a decade. Also remembered is David Ireland’s stunning pour of concrete down the galleries’ signature staircase in 1987, a kind of lava flow descending. Jonathan Runcio’s newly commissioned piece points to additions to and subtractions from Keatinge-Clay’s building since its “completion.”
One goal of this exhibition is to make transparent the adaptability and shifts of such a hard-edged, seemingly fixed space, and offer renewed reasons to interact with the perhaps-familiar Walter and McBean Galleries. In this process, the entrance has been reworked, the skylights opened, a wall removed, new structures built.
It’s only temporary.