What Is Installation Art? Description, History, and Prominent Artists

An art installation is a three-dimensional visual artwork, often created for a specific place (in situ) and designed to change the perception of space. The term “installation”, which appeared in the 1970’s, generally applies to works created for interior spaces (gallery, museum); outdoor works are more often referred to as public art, land art or artistic intervention.

The installation is most often expressed in a three-dimensional setting: the artist includes the environment as part of the work, or other factors, which distinguish his work from simple hanging. The work is put into a situation and makes use of the off-field, a dimension that is not immediately visible to the person who is watching: the mere fact of including it as a “spectator” calls for notions of participation, immersion and theatricality.

The space of the installation can be closed (eg limited to a waiting room, a kitchen, etc.) or open (for example a bridge, a wheat field, a square, a street, a city etc.): thus, Land art tends today to be redefined by the yardstick of the concept of installation.

Finally, an installation can be either:

  • mobile (or re-mountable);
  • permanent (or fixed);
  • ephemeral (or temporary).

The installation can most often be assimilated to a sculpture but it can not be reduced to it. One speaks of hybridization and mutations.

It also makes it possible to explode the notion of volume: the installation can be understood as an object of reduced size to a very large space (eg. Monumenta).

Specificity: Some installations are designed for (and depending on) a particular exhibition location.

Interaction: in some cases, the public is led to interact with the installation or even the artist himself. The distance between the public and the work is more or less abolished; in some cases there is participation, the public penetrates within the perimeter proper to the work, engendering new types of relations between creation, creator and viewer.

The scenography: some works invite a course, a path and propose different stages or sensorial sequences.


 

History of Installation Art

The term “installation” is relatively new in its use and in its definition as an artistic concept.

In 1958, the artist Allan Kaprow spoke of the “environment” to describe his productions, which consisted of the creation of a room requiring the intervention or the situation of the spectator and the place in a sort of happening, later described as ” performance.”
 
In the same year, French artist Yves Klein invited the public to visit the Iris Clert gallery space in Paris to present his latest work, the “Exposition du vide”: floor, ceiling and walls painted white, all lit by a bluish light.
 
Playful, participative and mobile dimensions are already present in these avant garde works.

In retrospect, contemporary artists themselves are part of a genealogy, which, at the turn of the 1920’s, saw the appearance of certain artists (alone or in groups) capable of organizing, presenting and staging their productions in a non-conformist way, and which art theorists situate in the wake of currents such as Dadaism and Surrealism: for example, Marcel Duchamp, who is the designer of the International Exhibition of Surrealism at the Galerie des Beaux-Arts in Paris, or the Merzbau by Kurt Schwitters, two artists who, however, worked in the secret of their workshops.

In 1969 the public discovers Given, Duchamp’s last work, begun in 1946 and completed in 1968: the artist described it as a “demountable approximation” and is accompanied by ” a specification, which makes it, in theory, “remountable”.

The first “ephemeral” installation, designed to be destroyed after a brief exhibition, was realized in 1956 in Barcelona by the Catalan poet Joan Brossa. In Japan, the Gutai group was expressing itself through neo-dadaist performances and forms of installations.

In 1958, Wolf Vostell realized an installation, The Black Room ( Das schwarze Zimmer ), and exhibited in 1963 at the Smolin Gallery of New York an installation called 6 TV De-coll / age.

Incorporating all Medias

Depending on their fashions and arrangements, in a setting that has its own dynamics, the installations use traditional media such as painting , sculpture , photography , but more often more recent media such as projections (film, video), sound, lighting.

An artist like Nam June Paik was the first to use a mixed technique, combining television, video, sounds and lights in Exposition of Music – Electronic Television at the Parnass Gallery in Wuppertal in 1963.

Artists of the Fluxus and Lettrist group also expressed themselves through temporary installations, more or less provocative.

In the early 198’0s, interactive visual and sound installations appeared, using analogue and digital means, such as Jean-Robert Sédano and Solveig de Ory .

Beginning in the 1990s, the installations use computer tools either to drive the effects or to form the main medium, with artists like Perry Hoberman, David Rokeby, or digital and immersive with Jeffrey Shaw or Maurice Benayoun.



 

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