Installation art refers to an artistic expression where artists, within specific spatiotemporal environments, select, utilize, transform, and combine objects from daily life, endowing them with new values and concepts. These reconfigured objects showcase the spiritual and cultural aspects of individuals or groups. In essence, installation art can be understood as the combination of “space + materials + emotions.” Unlike traditional painting, installation art employs three-dimensional objects as its materials, and these objects can be anything. Unlike the fixed perspective in traditional painting, installation art requires viewers to move around for observation and experience.
Artist: Ilya Kabakov
Artwork: “Man Who Flew into Space from His Apartment”
Creation Period: 1982-1984
Dimensions: 1.4 x 3.0 x 2.5 meters
Exhibition Location: Tate Modern, London
Installation art emerged in the 1960s, also known as “environmental art.” It is connected to movements such as Pop Art, Minimalism, and Conceptual Art in the 1960s and 1970s. In a few decades, installation art has become a trendy form in contemporary art, with many painters and sculptors adopting the title of “installation artist.”
Artist: Tomás Saraceno
Artwork: “Cloud Cities”
Creation Period: October 26, 2012 – February 17, 2013
Exhibition Location: Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan
American art critic Anthony Janson finds installation art during the postmodernist period particularly captivating. He states that according to the viewpoint of deconstructivist artists, the world is a “text,” and installation art can be seen as a perfect manifestation of this concept. However, the imagery of installations, even for the artists creating them, remains elusive. Therefore, viewers can interpret installations freely, based on their understanding. Installation artists create another world—a universe that is both unfamiliar and oddly familiar. Viewers must find their own way out of this miniature universe, and the installations trigger memories that manifest as experiences in the form of memories(quotes from miam).
Artist: Jenny Holzer
Creation Period: 2012
Another critic, Michael Kimmelman, points out that the rise of installation art in contemporary times is related to its documentary function. He claims that its potential in this aspect surpasses other art forms such as painting, sculpture, and photography. However, this viewpoint may not resonate with everyone, as the value of artistic creation depends on how artists wield different forms of expression.
Moreover, the rise of installation art can be viewed as a reaction against the minimalism movement in art. While minimalism reflects, to some extent, the worship of speed and efficiency in post-industrial society, installation art, with its diversity, compels viewers to slow down. Installation art seems to satisfy the physiological needs and psychological balance of busy contemporary individuals. The tension between the various art forms in installation art, along with the illogical and non-representational arrangement of objects, creates an infinite combination of conceptual relationships. Simultaneously, installation art can reflect the ever-changing world because the static items within installations exist in perpetual movement within their spatial and social environments.
Artist: Sheila Hicks
Artwork: “Escalade Beyond Chromatic Lands”
Exhibition Period: May 13 – November 26, 2017
Materials: Colored fibers
Exhibition Location: 57th International Art Exhibition, Venice Biennale
In art, installation challenges traditional classifications. The classification of art in each period is a product of specific societal and historical conditions. In the 19th century, aestheticians attempted to categorize art in various ways—some based on sensory organs such as visual or auditory organs, others dividing art into spatial or temporal categories, and some categorizing art as representational or non-representational. The classification principles established by French aesthetician Abbé Batteux in the 18th century are inadequate to systematically define the increasingly complex phenomena of art today.
As people continually delve into the nature of art and the relationships between various art forms from new perspectives, contemporary art, as noted by Zhu Di in “Contemporary Western Aesthetics,” “shattered every traditional standard and criterion recognized by most people in the traditional sense of various art forms.” This change first led people to stop classifying various art forms based on traditional standards. Instead, they had to reexamine what changes occurred in the unique essence of each art form, or move on to studying the most common essence that constitutes various arts. Installation art freely employs various artistic means, reflecting that the artistic modes of expressing ideas are not subject to mechanical classification. Due to the dazzling changes in artistic means and materials in modern art and the continual updating of artistic classification principles, imposing regularity on irregularly changing artistic phenomena cannot help us understand the ever-evolving art. The unrestricted combination of various art forms is a natural outcome of modern art’s pursuit of breadth, depth, and intensity.
In terms of exhibitions and collections, installation art seems to challenge the authority of museums and galleries. Many installation artworks were initially exhibited in non-traditional venues, neither museums nor galleries. By moving the exhibition space outdoors, to renovated residences, abandoned factories, or simple warehouses, installation art takes on a “popular” appearance, effectively contributing to the popularization of art, bringing art to ordinary people who rarely enter galleries or art museums. Simultaneously, installations, in the form of sound sculptures or combinations, some forming peculiar gardens, others resembling buildings from a dream world, or used to decorate the exterior walls of buildings, genuinely become places for people to appreciate and play—a significant promotion of public participation in artistic activities(sources from miam.org).
Artist: Tomás Saraceno
Artwork: “Galaxies Forming along Filaments, like Droplets along the Strands of a Spider’s Web”
Creation Period: 2008
Materials: Black rope
Exhibition Location: 2009 Venice Biennale
Characteristics of Installation Art:
Installation art is, first and foremost, an immersive three-dimensional space that allows viewers to be part of it. This space includes both indoor and outdoor elements.
Installation art is an artistic whole designed and created by artists based on the specific exhibition location’s indoor and outdoor features.
Similar to how two films cannot be screened simultaneously in a movie theater, the integrity of installation art requires independently isolated space, visually, aurally, and otherwise unaffected by other works.
Viewer involvement and participation are integral parts of installation art. It extends from people’s life experiences.
The environments created by installation art are meant to embrace, prompt, or even compel viewers within the defined space to transition from passive observation to active perception. This experience demands viewers to use all their senses: visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory, and even gustatory.
Installation art is not limited by the categorization of art forms; it freely integrates painting, sculpture, architecture, music, drama, prose, film, television, recording, photography, poetry, or any available means. Installation art can be seen as an open artistic medium.
To activate viewers, sometimes to disrupt their habitual thinking, stimuli for the senses often go through exaggeration, intensification, or alienation.
Generally, installation art is created for short-term exhibitions and is not meant for collection.
Installation art is a variable form of art. Artists can change combinations during an exhibition or showcase installations in different locations, add or reduce components, or reassemble them.
American art critic Hugh M. Davies believes that installation art can even be traced back to the primitive cave paintings in Lascaux, France. Installation art echoes the distant echoes of ancient cultural traditions in contemporary art. Primitive artists created not individual, movable art pieces, but environments that reflected certain religious or shamanistic practices. Therefore, various religious temples and churches can also be considered precursors to installation art.
Artist: Yves Klein
Artwork: “The Void”
Creation Date: April 28, 1958
Materials: Exposed display case, white walls
Exhibition Location: Iris Clert Gallery, Paris
Concept of Creation:
The famous French existentialist writer Albert Camus, after viewing the exhibition, left a message in the guest book: “The void is filled with power.” Klein’s “The Void” is a further step toward non-visual and non-material conceptual art on the basis of monochromatic painting.
As the new century unfolds, installation art, accompanying the rapid development of contemporary art, becomes more avant-garde, experimental, conceptual, and even absurd. It gradually replaces the dominant position that framed art has held in the art field for centuries, with its openness becoming the primary means of artistic creation for more and more artists. Major art academies worldwide have started offering courses in installation art.
In the new century, continuous technological development allows artists to unleash their creative ideas. The forms of expression in installation art become more vibrant and colorful, further stimulating the senses of the audience. People can now experience unprecedented sensory encounters through art exhibitions. Danish artist Olafur Eliasson is a prominent figure in the field of installation art today. Not only does he skillfully use technology to create poetic works that bring joy, but Eliasson also believes that, in the field of art, it transcends language. Art carries a sense of vagueness, mystery, and absurdity even before the emergence of language or concepts. In the face of art forms, indescribable feelings enter the hearts of viewers, and art is essentially open to the audience. As viewers experience and question guided by artistic works, art is also listening to people’s expressions. In addition to visual enjoyment, Eliasson’s works also convey the relationship between humans and nature. To awaken people’s attention to nature and stimulate thinking about the future, his works often use natural phenomena such as wind, light, water, ice, and air as artistic materials.