What Is an Art Installation?

An art installation can be temporary or permanent.
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  • Written By: L. Whitaker
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 02 September 2014
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Art installation is a modern art form in which art is arranged in a specific space either by the artist or as specified by the artist. Art installations are usually site-specific, allowing them to utilize and interact with the given architecture or landscape. Artists will choose and arrange materials within a space to transform the viewer's perception of the space. Artworks that are installed out-of-doors can also be referred to as environmental artworks.

An art installation can be temporary or permanent. It can appear in public or private venues and is not limited in material. Often, an installation will include a variety of media such as sculpture, sound, video, light, and performance. It seeks to immerse the viewer in an environment, engaging him or her in a variety of sensory experiences rather than the static experience of viewing one object or artwork at a time. Art installations rely heavily on the viewer to act as witness or participant.


Although the idea of the art installation has been around much longer, the art installation movement can be traced to the early 20th century when Surrealists such as Marcel Duchamp began arranging spaces in which to display assemblage sculptures. By the 1960s, artist Allan Kaprow began using aspects of art installation as an impetus for an early form of performance art in which the viewer would be immersed in the environment and become an active participant in the artwork. It was during this time period that the idea of installation art became more popular. In fact, the Oxford English Dictionary first documented the term installation in referencing an art form in 1969.

The term art installation became popularized in general use in the 1970s, when more artists began creating works that did not fit the standard museum or gallery model for displaying artwork. Instead, many artists began creating works that brought attention to structures or filled spaces in unconventional ways. In 1977, Walter De Maria created The New York Earth Room, in which he filled an interior space measuring 3,600 square feet (334 square meters) with 250 cubic yards (191 cubic meters) of earth totaling 22 inches (56 cm) deep.

More recent forms of art installation emphasize newer technologies. Examples include virtual reality, projected images, and web-based art either in conjunction with or in lieu of site specificity. These new forms of art installation redefine internal space and create even greater interactive environments.


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