In a plethora of different forms and styles, the emergence of installation artists has changed the face of art. Involving the configuration of installation of objects in a space, installation art presents a unified experience practiced by an increasing number of postmodernist artists. Mostly temporary, installation art draws the viewer in, engaging them in multiple ways and making them a part of the art. In this way, art becomes something you can touch, hear, feel or smell.
Often associated with found objects and Conceptual Art, the earliest form of this avant-garde movement was referred to as the environment, which was started by the American artist Allan Kaprow in 1957. Referring to his first installation, Kaprow stated in a 1965 interview: “I just simply filled the whole gallery up…When you opened the door you found yourself in the midst of an entire environment…The materials were varied: sheets of plastic, crumpled up cellophane, tangles of Scotch tape, sections of slashed and daubed enamel and pieces of colored cloth…five tape machines spread around the space played electronic sounds which I had composed”.
It wasn’t until the 1970s that the term started to refer to works that take into account the viewer’s entire sensory experience, often filling the entire gallery room. From then on, installations have become a major strand in modern art. From lard and felt installation by Joseph Beuys and the introduction of live animals into the gallery space by Jannis Kounellis to neon light sculptures and video installation of Bruce Nauman and Tracey Emin presenting her bed as art, this movement has taken many forms and it continues to evolve and change still.
We have compiled a list of famous installation artists you should definitely know about.
Featured images: Yayoi Kusama – Pumpkin; teamLab – Floating Flower Garden, via team-Lab.net; Olafur Eliasson Installation, via olafureliasson.com; Damien Hirst – The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, via art21.com
Ai Weiwei - The Dissident
One of the most controversial figures associated with installation art is certainly Ai Weiwei. Expanding the definition of art to include new forms of social engagement, his dramatic actions highlight the widening gap between the ideal and the real in Chinese society. Some of his most memorable pieces are the installation Remembering where he campaigned to bring justice to the victims of the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan, the installation Sunflower Seeds consisted of 100 million porcelain seeds made by 1600 artisans commenting on the mass production and consumption, and lately a controversial piece addressing the plight of Syrian immigrants.
Featured images: Ai Weiwei, via chicagoparksfoundation.org; Ai Weiwei – Sunflower Seeds, via juxtapoz.com
Christo - Enhancing the Genre of Land Art
Christo and his wife Jeanne-Claude enhanced the genre of land art, presenting a different approach to the environment and raising our expectations of it. Creating large-scale installations such as wrapping of the Reichstag in Berlin, Running Fence in Sonoma and The Gates in New York City’s Central Park, they have repeatedly rejected all theories that their projects contain any kind of deeper meaning other than their immediate aesthetic impact. After an artistic and personal relationship that lasted over fifty years, Jeanne-Claude died in 2009. Christo continued working, and this year, he created the most ambitious project ever. Conceived by the couple, but executed by Christo alone, Floating Piers was a monumental installation in Italy that consisted of 3 kilometers long runway that floats on water, allowing people to walk freely across it.
Featured images: Christo, via katep.it; Christo – The Floating Piers, via nytimes.com
Damien Hirst - The Enfant Terrible
The wealthiest living British artist, Damien Hirst is a self-styled enfant terrible of contemporary art. Fusing any person’s biggest questions and concerns, his works explore the idea of death, how it fits into life, and how both of these interact with art. The piece A Thousand Years from 1991 that portrayed a dead cow’s head in a tank being consumed by maggots and flies, was the first of its kind, launching Hirst straight into the limelight of the artistic world of the 1990s. Involving an entire zoo of dead animals, his famous series Natural History included various preserved creatures placed in steel and glass tanks filled with formaldehyde solution. The piece from this series The Physical Impossible of Death in the Mind of Someone Living became representative of British art of the 20th century.
Featured images: Damien Hirst, via newsweek.com; Damien Hirst – Mother and Child (Divided), via tate.org.uk
Doris Salcedo - Exploring Political and Mental Archeology
Sculptures and installations of Doris Salcedo function as political and mental archeology. Using domestic materials charged with different meanings, she depicts burdens and conflicts with precise economical means. Researching Columbia’s recent political history, her early sculptures such as La Casa Vuida combined domestic furniture with textiles and clothing directly linked to personal and political tragedy. Recently, her works became increasingly installation-based, turning the gallery space into vertiginous environments charged with politics and history. The piece Noviembre 6 y 7 from 2002 commemorating the seventeenth anniversary of the violent seizing of the Supreme Court in Bogota involved wooden chairs that were slowly lowered against the facade of the new Palace of Justice building. This created “an act of memory” that re-inhabited the space of forgetting.
Featured images: Doris Salcedo, via wmagazine.com; Doris Salcedo Installation, via art21.com
Marcel Broodthaers - The Father of Installation Art
A Belgian poet, filmmaker, and artist with a highly literate and often witty approach to creating art, Marcel Broodthaers has indirectly written the history of art as we know it today, but has remained in the shadows of his more famous colleagues. Regarded as a father of installation art, his practice involved many unconventional materials such as eggshells or mussels mixed with more traditional art. His practice was regarded highly innovative during the transformative decades of the 1960s and 1970s. In the final years of his life, Broodthaers created immersive décors, large-scale displays in which examples of his past works were often unified with objects borrowed for the occasion. In May 2016, MoMA organized the first comprehensive New York retrospective of Marcel Broodthaers, forty years after the artist’s death.
Featured images: Marcel Broodthaers, via villagevoice.com; Marcel Broodthaers – DÉCOR, A Conquest, 1975, via tohumagazine.com
Judy Chicago - The Pioneer of the Feminist Movement
An American artist, art educator and writer, Judy Chicago is best known for her large collaborative art installation pieces which examine the role of women in history and culture. As one of the pioneers of the Feminist Art Movement in the 1970s, she called attention to women’s roles as artists and aimed to alter the conditions under which art was produced and received. As an attempt to redress women’s traditional underrepresentation in the visual arts, she placed the female subject in the center of her practice. Her most celebrated piece The Dinner Party from 1979 celebrated the achievements of women throughout history, featuring explicit vaginal imagery. She also employed “domestic” and “feminine” arts such as needlework and embroidery, introducing them to the world of high art.
Featured image: Judy Chicago, via jewishlouisville.org; Judy Chicago – The Dinner Party, via brooklynmuseum.com
Kara Walker - Exploring the History of Racism
An African-American installation and conceptual artist, Kara Walker has been exploring the history of the American South with her wall-sized cut paper silhouettes. Exploring and illustrating histories of racism, these vignettes are drawn from various sources such as historical novels or slave testimonials. Using imagery of mammies, pickninnies, sambos and other racial stereotypes, these silhouettes present a powerful metaphor which she describes as something that “says a lot with very little information”. She invites the public to explore the origins of racial inequality, but also the vast social and economic inequalities that persist in America. Relying on humor and viewer interaction, her works are deeply engaging.
Featured images: Kara Walker, via thenewyorker.com; Kara Walker – Darkytown Rebellion, via sikkemajenkinsco.com
Olafur Eliasson - Taking Responsibility
Working with the purpose of turning thinking into doing, the art of Olafur Eliasson is relevant to the individual as well as the public. Concerned with the environment and its safety, he uses natural elements such as light, water, air temperature and fog with makeshift technical devices to transform museum galleries and public areas into immersive environments. One of his most famous works is The Weather Project from 2008 when Eliasson installed a giant artificial sun inside the Tate Modern. Among his famous installations created outdoors, the project Green River included dying the rivers of Moss, Los Angeles, Bremen, Tokyo, and Stockholm with nontoxic powder to remind their inhabitants of its fluidity. “It is not just about decorating the world… but about taking responsibility,” Olafur Eliasson said of his practice in a 2009 TED Talk.
Featured images: Olafur Eliasson, via theguardian.com; Olafur Eliasson – The Weather Project, via valoer.blogspot.com
Yayoi Kusama - Creating an Immersive Sensory Experience
A famous provocative avant-garde artist from Japan, Yayoi Kusama is one of the most prominent figures in her country’s present-day culture. Becoming active in New York avant-garde circles during the formative years of Pop Art and Minimalism, her practice was seminal to the development of assemblage, environmental art, and performative practices. In the mid-1960s, she began developing her interests in the optics and interactive elements of mirrors, electric lights, sound and kinetics. Becoming famous for her provocative happenings and exhibitions, her extraordinary artistic endeavors spans various media and continues to appeal to the imagination and the senses. She has lived voluntarily in a psychiatric institution since 1977, traveling often to her studio in Tokyo. Much of her practice has been marked with obsessiveness and the struggle with her psychological trauma.
Featured images: Yayoi Kusama; Yayoi Kusama – The Obliteration Room, viahttpinteractive.qag.qld.gov.au;
teamLab - Ultra-Technologists
A collaborative interdisciplinary group that brings together professionals from various fields of practice in the information age, teamLab seeks to navigate the confluence of art, technology, design and the natural world. Rooted in the tradition of ancient Japanese Art and modern forms of anime, teamLab operates from a distinctly Japanese sense of spatial recognition, investigating human behavior in the information era and proposing innovative models for societal development. Giving us an insight into the future of art, their installations are scaled up to larger-than-life proportions, inviting the audience into a kaleidoscopic and multi-sensory expanse of color and light. In July 2016 in Tokyo, they have presented their largest digital art show yet, an installation structured as a labyrinth of virtual experiences.