Any lover of Contemporary art would have come across the term “Installation art”. Installation art has grown immensely in popularity over the last few decades and has become an important focus of artists, art institutions, and art collections. Whilst some viewers have found understanding Installation art challenging, others have particularly enjoyed its immersive and participatory approach. But what is Installation art? This article will aim to answer this question by introducing some prominent installation artists and exploring interesting Installation art examples.
Table of Contents
- 1 What Is Installation Art?
- 2 Installation Art Examples You Should Know
- 2.1 Yard (1961) by Allan Kaprow
- 2.2 The End of the Twentieth Century (1983 – 1985) by Joseph Beuys
- 2.3 Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View (1991) by Cornelia Parker
- 2.4 The End of Uncle Tom and the Grand Allegorical Tableau of Eva in Heaven (1995) by Kara Walker
- 2.5 My Bed (1998) by Tracey Emin
- 2.6 Work No. 227: The lights going on and off (2000) by Martin Creed
- 2.7 The Dinner Party (2002) by Judy Chicago
- 2.8 The Weather Project (2003) by Olafur Eliasson
- 2.9 You (2007) by Urs Fischer
- 2.10 Infinity Mirrored Room – The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away (2013) by Yayoi Kusama
- 3 Reading Recommendations
- 4 Frequently Asked Questions
What Is Installation Art?
Installation art is a term mostly used to describe artworks that are made “in situ”. This means that the work is created or installed within the specific space where it is meant to be viewed. For this reason, Installation art is sometimes also called “environments” and it is often large in scale and created with a variety of different media and mediums.
An installation artwork often occupies an entire room or gallery space that requires the viewer to walk through the work to experience it.
Embankment (2005 – 2006) by Rachel Whiteread, displayed at the Tate Modern in London, United Kingdom; Gryffindor, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Although these are some common qualities of installation art, the boundaries of what is considered installation art have been blurred since the introduction of the genre. The following section will have a closer look at some Installation art characteristics.
Installation Art Characteristics
Installation art is a very versatile art genre, including a myriad of different approaches, mediums, and possibilities. Installation artworks at times can be very simple, whilst others are extravagantly complex. Installation in art can also take form in any space, be it a gallery space, the outdoors, or even computer or electronic-based.
An installation artwork often occupies an entire room or gallery space that requires the viewer to walk through the work to experience it.
Installation Art Is Often Designed to Be Immersive
Installation art varies widely, but generally, its focus is placed on the viewer’s experience of the work. Installation artworks often aim to transform the viewer’s perception of space, making them very immersive.
Whilst some installation artworks are silent, others are interactive and require the audience’s participation and engagement to work.
Vision II (2017) by David Spriggs, made out of painted layered transparent sheets; Technical Institute, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
The immersive experience is so important to many installation artists that they aim to heighten the viewer’s experience by the addition of sound, smell, and touch. By engaging the viewer’s senses, the installation artwork often becomes a whole new environment that viewers can experience.
It Is an Art Genre Popular with Postmodern Artists
Installation art is most popular among Postmodern artists, but it is not necessarily only Postmodern artists that create installation artworks, nor do all Postmodern artists focus on Installation art. Installation art developed alongside conceptual art, and together they are the two most important art genres of Postmodern art.
Postmodern artists are known for pushing the boundaries of what is considered to be “art objects” and they often pushed these boundaries as far as they could.
10.000 Moving Cities (2010 – ongoing) by Marc Lee, located at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul, Korea; Marc Lee, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Installation art came to be from this shifting of boundaries, where artists wanted to make work that is not admired from a distance (as in the case of a painting or sculpture) but rather experienced from inside of the work itself. In Conceptual Art, the most important aspect is the “idea” of the artwork and the impact of the idea on the viewer.
Whilst installation artist is also concerned with the idea and the impact of the idea, it is also much more materially orientated.
While “pure” Conceptual Art is not concerned with the materials used in the art or its “end product”, Installation art is much more focused on which materials are used to present the idea. In this way, installation is more “grounded” than Conceptual Art as it remains tied to physical materials and physical spaces.
The Longevity of Installation Art Varies
Installation art can be made either to be temporary or permanent. This often depends on the space where the installation piece is made, for whom the installation is created, and which materials were used to make the installation.
Some materials used in art installations can sometimes be temporary, for example, plants that will deteriorate and dry.
Untitled (Portable Planetarium) (2009) by Sarah Sze, for the Lyon Biennale in Lyon, France; dalbera from Paris, France, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Other installation works might be very site-specific and thus has to be taken down for a space to function as normal after the installation has run its course. In these cases, the only way that the installation work can live on is in the documentation of the work, that is, in photographs or videos.
In some cases, museums or collectors might commission an artist to create an installation work within their space to exist within the space permanently.
Installation Art Utilizes Many Different Materials
With its goal of immersion, installation in art can take on many different forms and use a myriad of different materials. One can imagine the kind of materials that artists might use to evoke certain sounds, smells, touches, or even tastes. Installation art can thus utilize a wide range of materials, including the more traditional ones like painting, sculpture, or photography, but it can also use unusual mediums such as light, electronics or projections, dance, and sound, or even tea leaves, grass, and dirt.
There is no limitation on which materials can be used in Installation art.
An installation art of Mad crab created with waste plastics and similar non-biodegradable wastes at Fort Kochi (2015); Augustus Binu, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
How Did Installation Art Develop?
Installation art started to emerge during the early 1960s. Developing alongside Conceptual Art, Installation art can be traced back to artist Marcel Duchamp (1887 – 1968), who, by bringing a urinal into the gallery space, called Fountain (1917), challenged the definition of art as it stood back then.
Installation art was thus hugely inspired by Dadaism and the avant-garde artists of the time.
Irrationnal Geometrics (2008) by Pascal Dombis; Cracksinthestreet, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
These included Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948), El Lissitzky (1890 – 1941), Lucio Fontana (1899 – 1968), and Allan Kaprow (1927 – 2006). These were all artists that started to consider the importance of using space much more in their work.
Installation Art Examples You Should Know
Installation art is a very exciting art genre to explore and below are some of the most recognizable and memorable Installation art examples ever made. This section will look at ten artists you should know that made unique contributions to the genre of Installation art. One prominent work of each artist will be discussed to help us define what is Installation art.
Yard (1961) by Allan Kaprow
|Artist||Allan Kaprow (1927 – 2006)|
|Medium||Installation of black rubber tires|
|Location||Outside of the Martha Jackson Gallery, New York|
Allan Kaprow is considered to be one of the first installation artists and his work Yard (1961) was a turning point in art history. In this work, the artist utilized the backyard of the Martha Jackson Gallery in New York and completely filled it up with a plenitude of black rubber car tires.
The artist invited participants to explore the transformed backyard and they climbed and jumped on the tires like it was a giant playground.
This magical work allowed visitors to engage with art like they were never before allowed to do. Kaprow believed that by making viewers be participants in artworks, rather than mere spectators, that art can become closer to life.
In this way, Kaprow managed to blur the line between art and life, which he believed made it all so much more interesting.
The End of the Twentieth Century (1983 – 1985) by Joseph Beuys
|Artist||Joseph Beuys (1921 – 1986)|
|Artwork Title||The End of the Twentieth Century|
|Medium||Installation of basalt rock with felt and clay|
German sculptor Joseph Beuys might be one of the most famous twentieth-century artists. Beuys made The End of the Twentieth Century, only a year before his death, making it one of the last works ever created by this monumental artist. The installation consists of 31 large basalt rock slabs, arranged haphazardly across the floor of the gallery space.
Each basalt rock slab is unique with its own weight, character, and history.
In each of the pieces, the artist drilled a cylindrical hole, which he filed with a mixture of felt and clay, and then polished down so that it is hardly recognizable in the rock. Beuys’ artistic intervention in this work is so subtle, leaving only a gentle trace that he had a hand in the history of each basalt rock.
With this subtle intervention, made at the turn of the century, Beuys wanted to reference the weight of history that carries on into the new era.
Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View (1991) by Cornelia Parker
|Artist||Cornelia Parker (1956 – Present)|
|Artwork Title||Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View|
|Medium||Installation of an exploded shed|
Cornelia Parker is a British installation artist best known for her 1991 work titled Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View. Her installation is visually striking and utterly memorable, mimicking a shed mid-explosion. To create this work, Parker exploded an actual shed, filled with all sorts of domestic objects, tools, and toys.
She, however, did not explode the shed herself but rather asked the British Army to explode it for her in a field.
Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View (1991) by Cornelia Parker, exhibited at the Tate London in London, United Kingdom; Caroliney76, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
She then recreated the explosion scene in the gallery space, bringing together all the fragments and suspending them in mid-air. Eerie lighting cast onto the installation made the once familiar object become abstract shadow shapes, and with the title Cold Dark Matter, Parker seems to be drawing parallels with dark matter in the universe and the explosion that both destroyed and created life.
The End of Uncle Tom and the Grand Allegorical Tableau of Eva in Heaven (1995) by Kara Walker
|Artist||Kara Walker (1969 – Present)|
|Artwork Title||The End of Uncle Tom and the Grand Allegorical Tableau of Eva in Heaven|
|Medium||Installation of black silhouettes|
|Location||Brooklyn Museum, New York|
American artist, Kara Walker, is best known for her monumental theatrical monochrome silhouettes. Her work often addresses the problematic racial history of America and touches on themes such as race, sexuality, gender, identity, and violence. Her work has a strong narrative quality, which can be seen in her often-lengthy titles.
Her works are inspired by historical events, similar to how history paintings were used to commemorate notable events such as war victories.
Unlike these historical paintings, however, Walker’s silhouettes are more ambiguous and the event depicted is often unclear. Playing out scenes against the walls of the gallery, Walker’s silhouettes perform narratives of violence in a way that still allows for audience interpretation.
Walker creates this ambiguity deliberately, arguing that the generalization of her silhouettes resembles how black Americans have been and are being stereotyped, which is something she wishes to unveil.
My Bed (1998) by Tracey Emin
|Artist||Tracey Emin (1963 – Present)|
|Artwork Title||My Bed|
Tracey Emin’s controversial art installation, My Bed, changed the course of Installation art when it was exhibited in 1998. Emin’s art installation took the form of a literal visual autobiography. In this work, which has inspired equal amounts of critique and praise throughout the years, Emin displayed her own bed after spending four days with depression in it, following a traumatic relationship break-up.
The bed was displayed in a mess, covered and surrounded by actually used condoms, blood-stained underwear, and empty bottles.
The installation is blatantly realistic as it gives a visual snapshot of the artist’s life in a time of crisis. Whilst some described the work as delusional, narcissistic, and self-absorbed, others saw it as a seminal work that is powerful and authentic due to its unapologetic realism.
Critics, however, agreed that the work brought an intimacy into the gallery space that was undeniable.
Work No. 227: The lights going on and off (2000) by Martin Creed
|Artist||Martin Creed (1968 – Present)|
|Artwork Title||Work No. 227: The lights going on and off|
|Medium||Installation of an empty room with a light|
Martin Creed’s Work No. 227: The lights going on and off is possibly one of the simplest and most minimal pieces of Installation art that exist to this day. Creed’s installation consists of an empty room that will light up and go dark in recurring patterns of five seconds on, and 5 seconds off.
This incredibly subtle work had many people wondering how it can be considered art at all. In all its simplicity, it was an artwork that got people talking and grabbed the attention of audiences.
What then is the work about? Work No. 227: The lights going on and off is a conceptual installation artwork that uses the illumination of a room as a way to make viewers reconsider the things we take for granted in our everyday lives.
This minimalist installation plays with the viewer’s expectations and the artists wanted people to interact with the space from a space of confusion.
The aim was to shift the viewer’s preconceived expectations to allow them to gain new perspectives. Through the complete simplicity and mundanity of the work, Creed forced the viewer to interact differently with this seemingly static room.
The Dinner Party (2002) by Judy Chicago
|Artist||Judy Chicago (1939 – Present)|
|Artwork Title||The Dinner Party|
|Medium||Installation of a triangular dining table with thirty-nine place settings|
|Location||Brooklyn Museum, New York|
Judy Chicago is an iconic feminist artist and writer. Her installation artwork The Dinner Party (2002) has become a monument to women’s history. The work consists of a large triangular ceremonial banquet table, seating 39 guests, all women of honor, either historically or mythically.
The table is adorned with embroidered runners, golden utensils, and porcelain plates that proudly resemble the female vulva, and each guest has a unique design that symbolizes them.
The table has 39 place settings that each honor an important woman, either historically or mythically. Each table setting is personalized and the guests include female artists, activists, academics, and even goddesses. On the floor, beneath the table, is 999 other female names, inscribed with gold on a white tile. In this installation, viewers are invited to walk around the table, inspecting the names of the guests to be honored.
The artists chose names of women who had been under-represented in history and through the audience viewing the work, the artwork became the event of the dinner party itself.
The Weather Project (2003) by Olafur Eliasson
|Artist||Olafur Eliasson (1967 – Present)|
|Artwork Title||The Weather Project|
|Medium||Installation of mirrors, light, and mist.|
|Location||Tate Modern Turbine Hall, Berlin|
In this incredibly immersive and surreal installation, Danish-Icelandic installation artist Olafur Eliasson changed the weather conditions within the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall. In this ambitious work, Eliasson transformed the space by creating the effect of a massive sun glowing through fine mist hanging in the space.
The golden glow of the artificial sun was made with low-frequency lamps that dominated the space, giving everything around it a magical illumination of black and gold.
The Weather Project (2003) by Olafur Eliasson, exhibited at the Tate Modern in London, United Kingdom; Michael Reeve, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
The low-frequency lamps are assembled in a half-circle that glows against the top of the wall, meeting the ceiling. The half-circle reflects onto the ceiling, which the artist had covered in mirrors, completing the full circle shape of a sun. The mirrored ceiling also reflects the viewers’ shapes, and many of them lied down on the ground to see themselves floating in the glowing orange sky above.
Eliasson is an artist described to be a master of illusion, using the science of light to orchestrate his marvelous and immersive creations.
You (2007) by Urs Fischer
|Artist||Urs Fischer (1973 – Present)|
|Medium||Installation of a crater in the gallery floor|
|Location||Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, New York|
Urs Fischer’s installation titled You (2007) is an artwork that is based on removal rather than addition. In this work, Fischer transformed a gallery space in New York City by destroying its concrete floor. By tearing out the floor, Fischer created a void that he filled with dirt.
This massive dirt crater created by the artist was over two meters deep and stretched to all corners of the white-walled gallery space, measuring approximately nine by eleven meters.
Viewers described the experience of the work as ‘thrilling’, as they stood at the edges of the hole, looking into the now natural-looking landscape created within the gallery. The work begs the question both of what the tole of the traditional gallery space is, and what constitutes art being worthy to be exhibited in such a space.
Infinity Mirrored Room – The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away (2013) by Yayoi Kusama
|Artist||Yayoi Kusama (1929 – Present)|
|Artwork Title||Infinity Mirrored Room – The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away|
|Medium||Installation of mirrored panels and colored lights|
|Location||The Art Gallery of Ontario|
Japanese installation artist, Yayoi Kusama, is one of the most interesting and iconic installation artists of our time. Kusama’s famous infinity rooms have captured the imagination of audiences since 1965 with her masterpiece Infinity Mirror Room – Phalli’s Field. In this work, Kusama used mirrors to elevate the effect of her earlier textile works of polka-dotted phallic fabric shapes.
Since the success of this work, Kusama continued to make over twenty more distinct “Infinity Rooms”, all differing in size, medium, and extent of audience engagement.
Infinity Mirrored Room – The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away (2013) by Yayoi Kusama; Ron Cogswell from Arlington, Virginia, USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Her installation Infinity Mirrored Room – The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away (2013) is just one of numerous immersive ‘Infinity Rooms’ which has become so popular with viewers all over the world that she has been dubbed “the infinity artist”. This specific installation is made by covering all the walls, ceiling, and floors of an enclosed space with mirrors.
The artist then has a network of tiny colored lights projected in different directions over the otherwise completely dark room.
As a result, the entire space becomes an infinity of lights, refracting on all the mirrored surfaces and multiplying into infinity. The visual effect of the work is so strong that the viewer feels immersed in an endless space as if standing among the stars. Furthermore, the viewer’s experience is made even more surreal by seeing their reflection mirrored and scattered all around the room.
Installation art is an immensely rich genre of art, full of fabulous works that are immersive and expansive. The book recommendations below introduce its readers to the exciting world of Installation art. All these books are sure to expand our ideas about what art is and what art can be!
Installation Art (2011) by Claire Bishop
Installation art by Claire Bishop is one of the most comprehensive publications on contemporary Installation art to date. In this book, Bishop provides both a history of the genre and a critical examination of the genre from 1950 until 2011. The book utilizes and unpacks the most exciting case studies that Installation art in this period has to offer. This beautifully illustrated book will unpack acclaimed installation artworks, whilst also introducing the reader to various emerging artists on the rise.
- History and critical examination of this area of contemporary art
- Fully illustrated book to introduce the reader to a wide spectrum
- Case studies of significant artists and individual works
Unexpected Art: Serendipitous Installations, Site-Specific Works, and Surprising Interventions (2015) by Jenny Moussa Spring
This book is a fabulous publication full of wonder and curiosities, from icing Graffiti to man-made clouds. Consisting of a collection of over 50 innovative installation artists, the book is sure to amaze and inspire. The works featured in this book are focused on unique site-site-specific installations and works that are full of experimentation and ingenuity. The book, with its unusual design of different colored pages, will also make a stunning gift for any art lover.
- Showcases the experimental work of more than 50 innovative artists
- Three different-colored page edges complement the art inside
- Thought-provoking gift for anyone interested in the next cool thing
Installation art is a very unique genre of art that prioritizes the spatial experience of the viewer. Artists all over the world continue to push the boundaries of what can be achieved through Installation art, making it one of the most exciting and dynamic art genres of our time. One of the newest developments in Installation art is the incorporation of virtual reality and artists are only beginning to understand this new and rapidly developing digital toolbox full of new possibilities for immersion.
Take a look at our art installations webstory here!
Frequently Asked Questions
How Should One Interact or Engage With Installation Art?
How a viewer interacts with installation artworks will depend on each work. Often, viewers are expected to walk through the installation to fully appreciate and engage with it. Some installations might, however, be too fragile to allow the viewer to walk through them and requires the viewer to either walk around them or even look into them from a window or doorway. Other works might require the viewer to physically participate in the work to make it come alive. When visiting art installations, most artists or institutions will be able to explain to the viewer how best to engage with each different work.
Do Artists Still Make Installation Art?
Installation art remains one of the most dominant art forms that contemporary artists choose to use. The genre also continues to grow and transform with the advancement of technologies, for example, virtual reality. In this way, Installation art continues to re-invent and update itself and thus continues to stay relevant and dynamic.
What Happens to Installation Artworks After They Are Exhibited?
An installation artwork is created around the main focus of the experience it can provide and not on its value as a commodity. Beyond this, not all materials used in installations are chosen for their permanence. In these cases, the installation will simply be taken down after it was exhibited and photographs or films of the installation will be the only way for the artwork to live on. There are, however instances where installation works are bought by a collector or institution. In this case, the work will most likely be dismantled by the artist and re-assembled in a new space chosen by the buyer. In another scenario, the artist might give installation instructions to the buyer on how the work must be installed should it be included in some future showcase.