Installation Art
History & Characteristics of Installations - Form of Conceptual Art.

Pin it

Instant Karma
Installation by Korean installation
artist Do-Ho Suh. An attempt to
represent the Theory of karma in
three dimensional visual art.

Installation Art


Definition & Characteristics
Installations on Tour
Difference Between Sculpture and Installation
Famous Installation Artists


Obliteration Room (2012)
Installation by Yayoi Kusama
Queensland Gallery of Modern Art.
Starting with a room painted from top
to bottom in pure white Japanese artist
Yayoi Kusama then unleashed into it
thousands of kids armed with thousands
of coloured stickers.

The Sequence (2008) by Arne Quinze.
A wooden sculpture-installation at the Flemish Parliament in Brussels.
Postmodernist public art.

For some of the best installation
artists, see: Turner Prize Winners.

Definition & Characteristics

Installation art is a relatively new genre of contemporary art - practised by an increasing number of postmodernist artists - which involves the configuration or "installation" of objects in a space, such as a room or warehouse. The resulting arrangement of material and space comprises the "artwork".

Because an installation usually allows the viewer to enter and move around the configured space and/or interact with some of its elements, it offers the viewer a very different experience from (say) a traditional painting or sculpture which is normally seen from a single reference point. Furthermore, an installation may engage several of the viewer's senses including touch, sound and smell, as well as vision.

Because of its flexibility and three-dimensionality, installation art is influenced by developments in computer art - such as software developments in video and film projection - as well as techniques used in avant-garde theatre and dance. Architectural and interior design are other influences.

Above all, installation is a form of conceptual art - a genre in which "ideas" and "impact" are regarded as being more important than the quality of a finished "product" or "work of art". (Remember, an installation is a purely temporary work of art. Unless it is photographed or documented in some way, there will be no evidence of its existence.) If a traditional work of art allows us to appreciate the craftsmanship of the artist, an installation allows us to experience the "artwork" and perhaps even rethink our attitudes and values.

As in all general forms of conceptual art, installation artists are more concerned with the presentation of their message than with the material used to present it. However, unlike 'pure' conceptual art, which is supposedly experienced in the minds of those introduced to it, installation art is more grounded and remains tied to a physical space. Conceptual and installation art are two of the most popular examples of postmodernist art, a general tendency noted for its attempts to expand the definition of art. Both forms are widely exhibited in many of the world's best galleries of contemporary art.

For other new art styles see Contemporary Art Movements (1970 onwards).

For an guide to aesthetics, see:
Art Definition, Meaning.

For a list of important dates about
movements, schools, famous styles,
from the Stone Age to 20th Century,
see: History of Art Timeline.

Definitions, forms, styles, genres,
periods, see: Types of Art.


Types of Installations

Installation art ranges from the very simple to the very complex. It can be gallery based, computer-based, electronic-based, web-based - the possibilities are limitless and depend entirely upon the artist's concept and aims. Almost any type of material or media can be utilized, including natural or man-made objects, painting and sculpture, as well as recent media such as film, animation, various forms of photography, live performance art (including happenings), sound and audio.

Some compositions are strictly indoor, while others are public art, constructed in open-air community spaces, or projected on public buildings. Some are mute, while others are interactive and require audience participation.

Installations On Tour

Some installations (site-specific) are custom-made for a particular space. Others - such as the still-life line drawings of clustered objects made from adhesive tape, by Michael Craig-Martin (b.1941) - can be assembled anywhere. Some even tour as part of a touring exhibition, examples being: the kinetic light environments of the Groupe Recherche d'Art Visuel which toured Europe; Earth Room (1968) by Walter De Maria (b.1935) which toured America before finding a permanent home in New York; and '20:50' by British sculptor Richard Wilson - a room filled with sump oil, viewed from a footbridge - which was shown in London, the Royal Scottish Academy and is now permanently installed at the Saatchi Gallery, founded by Charles Saatchi. (See also Turner Prize.) However, whatever their particular character, most installation artworks have a low intrinsic value: their real 'value' is the artistic effect they produce.


Difference Between Sculpture and Installation

At first glance, some installations may resemble traditional craft based sculpture or the more modernist assemblage art. But this is an illusion. Installation art effectively inverts the principles of sculpture. Whereas the latter is designed to be viewed from the outside as a self-contained arrangement of forms, installations often envelop the spectator in the space of the work. The viewer enters a controlled environment featuring objects as well as light, sound and projected imagery. The formalism of the composition remains of secondary importance - it is the effect on the spectator's spacial and cultural expectations that remains paramount.


Emerging during the 1970s, Installation is associated with Conceptual art and can therefore be traced back to artists such as Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) and his modernist readymades such as his controversial urinal called Fountain (1917). Other influences include the avant-garde Dada exhibitions in Berlin and Cologne; the work of the collage artist and sculptor Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948), notably his 'Merzbau' assemblage which filled a whole building; the Proun Room at the Berlin Railway Station in 1923, designed by the Russian artist El Lissitzky (1890-1941), possibly the earliest ever installation; the Spatial Environments of the painter and sculptor Lucio Fontana (1899-1968) and his White Manifesto outlining his theories of Spatialism; the "4-33" silent musical composition composed by John Cage (1912–1992). In addition, the assemblages and writings of the American avant-garde artist Allan Kaprow (b.1927) - notably his 1966 book 'Assemblage, Environments and Happenings' - were also highly influential on the development of the Installation genre.

Famous Installation Artists

Famous modern installation artists include: Joseph Beuys (1921-86) the war-scarred ex-Professor of Monumental Sculpture at the Dusseldorf Academy, whose lard and felt installations, extensive use of found objects, bold lectures on art and creativity and career long dedication earned him a retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum in New York; Italian Arte Povera artists Mario Merz (1925-2003), Michelangelo Pistoletto (b.1933), Jannis Kounellis (b.1936), and Gilberto Zorio (b.1944); the German multi-media artist Rebecca Horn (b.1944), noted for her performance films, her kinetic installations, and her Guggenheim retrospective which toured Europe in 1994; Judy Chicago (b.1939), noted for her installation of feminist art - The Dinner Party (1979, Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, Brooklyn Museum, New York); Bruce Nauman (b.1941), noted for his neon light sculpture and video installations; and the Frenchman Christian Boltanski (b.1944), famous for his installations of photographs, sometimes with lights. A unique form of postmodernism was practised by Christo and Jeanne-Claude (both b.1935), the Bulgarian-French couple who became famous for their huge 'empaquetage' interventions in nature. Other contemporary Installation artists include: the Norwegian Olafur Eliasson, whose works include The Forked Forest Path (1998, Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne); Young British Artists like Damien Hirst (b.1965) and Tracey Emin (b.1963); and the Koreans Nam June Paik (1932-2006), noted for his videop art and Do-Ho Suh, noted for his composition Some/One (2002) featuring thousands of nickel military dogtags, at the Serpentine Gallery, London.



• For information about avant-garde art, see: Homepage.

Art Glossary
© All rights reserved.