Installation Art is a fairly new concept to the public world and is therefore difficult to define. The category consists of a family of related art forms that have varying yet similar characteristics. Installation Art takes into consideration all aspects of the viewer’s surroundings. No longer does the viewer look at a painting or walk around a sculpture, but in many ways they become part of the artwork.
During the first century C.E. in Rome we begin to see architects understanding the concept of space as a physical element of a building and not simply a result of the walls and ceiling surrounding it. This understanding then grew to become the main building concept in today’s world. The exterior of the structure is just as dependant on the shape and size of the space on the interior as the interior is on the shape and size of the exterior.
In many respects painting and sculpture, as we have grown accustom to, are similar to the buildings created before the Common Era. Artists and viewers looked at art; art was vertical and very much (even in regards to sculpture) two-dimensional. Installation art takes advantage of the entire space. The Installation artist takes into account not only the space that is being occupied by the sculpture or painting, but also all of the space around it, above it, and below it.
Artists and non-artists alike have come to realize that not all art was meant to be housed in a gallery or museum. Installations allow the art to be viewed exactly as it was intended to be. Every element in an installation is controlled and manipulated by the artist.
Installations achieve what many artists have been attempting to for ages. Artists have wanted to completely engage the mind of the viewer. The artist wants more than just the control of the artwork; he or she wants also to be able to control the mind of the viewer. Artists such as Mark Rothko are perfect examples of this mindset. Rothko’s huge Colour-Field paintings create an environment that takes control over the viewer due to their size and large spans of solid color.
Installations are environments very similar to Rothko’s paintings, but pushed one step further. The color is no longer limited to just the canvas it can now be the wall the canvas hangs on, the light that shines on the canvas, the ceiling above, the carpet below…the color can trap the mind of the viewer.
Color of course is not the only form of Installation Art. Themes are a common unifying characteristic of installations. Often it is the objects placed in the environment that play the most significant role. For Sandy Skoglund the objects were brightly colored floating fish or radioactive cats. Judy Pfaff filled entire rooms with colorful shapes and wires. “Up until about five or six years ago, I thought all the work was about exterior things—noticing how the light falls, or a tree grows…Then suddenly, I saw it was really an interior landscape. I’ve just come to it. I don’t think it’s a surprise to anybody else, but it was a surprise to me.” – Judy Pfaff
Installation Art for Andy Goldsworthy is quite different. Goldsworthy does not create the space itself; he uses nature as his space. Goldsworthy uses the environment that already exists for his environment. His art can still be considered Installation Art because he forces the viewers to take into account all of their surroundings.
Installation Art is generally quite ephemeral. It obviously takes quite a bit of space to house an installation. This limits the amount of time that installations are in place. Most installations live on through the use of photography.
Many people find installations at least a bit infuriating because they bring up the age-old question of, “what is art?” It helps to keep in mind that there are no longer black and white standards for what is and what is not art. In fact even the gray area that most art fell into not long ago has begun to fade. The line that used to distinguish between art and “stuff” is now like an invisible electric fence: we cannot see it, we don’t know how close we are coming to it, but when the line is crossed we can feel it. The whole world knows when an object is going to change the way people think, this object (be it an actual object, an image, or an environment) is art.
Some Installation Artists:
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