Installation Art

As it’s obvious, the term installation is of English origin. It defines three-dimensional site-specific art objects that transform the space around. Unlike environmental and land-art projects, installation ones are erected mainly in closed space, which can vary from an extremely tiny, where you can have a look with a half an eye, to several halls in big museums. In contrast to paintings on surfaces and single objects, in installations the accent is made on organization of the interior.

The oldest forerunners of installation can be seen in various structures of altar type inside the cult buildings that submit to the rule of synthesis of arts and meant to affect viewer’s emotions through witty combination of architecture, sculpture and painting, typical for Baroque and Rococo style. But the real incitement for its thematic development was vanishing of thematic and genre boundaries of art. Along with performances, happenings, actions, land-art and environment, installation is a very flexible branch of artistic activity, were the broad context is projected on common reality by imposing the artistic gesture. As Boris Groys noted, “… the installation is material par excellence, since it is spatial—and being in the space is the most general definition of being material. The installation transforms the empty, neutral, public space into an individual artwork—and it invites the visitor to experience this space as the holistic, totalizing space of an artwork.”

Specific features of installation

Installations could be divided into three main types thus considering all conventionality of classification and diversity of in-between and hybrid forms. The first type is characterized by a dominating narrative (or quasi or pseudo-narrative) frame. As an illustration we can mention numerous installations of Ilya Kabakov or Komar and Melamid. The second type can be described as an object/subject- oriented. For instance, this could be various imitations of scientific laboratories, real or pseudo-real living and museum interior etc. And the third one – visual-visionary type that accentuates on contemplation of certain image or construction. Usually they involve some pictures or press-clippings, or any other sort of visual material.
One of the most compelling traits of installation is its fragility, temporality and short life. Unlike the painting, its existence is often defined only by the time of exhibition (though in museums of contemporary art some samples are included in permanent exposition, often losing their vivid aura because of that, like dried butterflies). It’s their ephemerality that adds special dramatic power to te message of installation and performances, which could be partly fixated only in reconstructive documentation (photo or video). Their pathos contains not in the virtuosity of execution that passes through ages despite the resistance of time, yet in almost ritual suggestibility. As one of the leaders of Moscow conceptualism Dmitry Prigov wrote: “Usually, parts, details or documentations of the vanished installations that arrive to museums or collections, remind by form and essence of art relics or material traces of the miracle-artefact that once happened”.

Evolution of installation art

Installation as kind of art became most wide-spread during Postmodernism age but its key principles emerged in the melting pot of vanguard movements in early 20th cent. Marcel Duchamp and surrealists are considered to be its founders. The speeding pace of technological and scientific progress enriches the possibilities of installation with video and computer innovations that led to introducing new forms of this art like video installations. They can also include static objects, as well as photos of all kinds, computer graphic, laser projections and other technical elements. Nam June Paik is one of the most famous creators of video installations.


Major masters installation

Joseph Beuys

In the beginning of 1980s the name of Joseph Beuys was on the top in the list of then-contemporary artists and Andy Warhol even included his portrait together with Marilyn Moroe, Stalin and Mao Zedong. In 1960s – 1970s Beuys, a professor of Dusseldorf academy, became a cult figure, a sort of guru for a young generation. He believed that traditional conception of art, which included only painting, graphic and sculpture, was exhausted. He used to repeat “ Objects aren’t very important for me anymore. I want to get to the origin of the matter, the thought behind it… Out of the old disciplines we together will bring forth the social concept of art like a new born child.”

Robert Rauschenberg

Robert RauschenbergAmerican artist Robert Rauschenberg worked mainly in collage and readymade technique, following and interpreting Cubistic and Dadaistic traditions. His so-called combinations represented the pace of development and vigorous character of urbanistic and technocratic culture, which forced master to shift from paper and canvas to flows of information, captured in photography, newspapers and computers.


Joseph Kosuth

Joseph KosuthThe art of American artist Joseph Kosuth was greatly affected by the philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein. In his famous essay Art after philosophy, published in 1969, Kosuth claimed that traditional art-historical discourse had lost its actuality and suggested investigating factors that allow art gaining its status – shortly, what makes an art art. Joseph suggested using language as an art media itself. As the result, he created conceptual pieces deprived of any morphological features, trying to prove the potential of words to explored cultural, social contexts. Kosuth wanted to prove that it’s idea or concept that’s crucial in art, not the object itself.


Edward Kienholz

Edward KienholzAnother American master, Edward Kienholz, was known for its spatial environments. Filled with things and mannequins in grotesque-surreal combinations, they remind scenes of some satiric play. Apart from visual elements, he applied audio effects and pre-programmed scents in his “living paintings”. The ironic intonations often transformed into shocking-naturalistic images or parody of official political stereotypes.


Ilya Kabakov

Ilya KabkovRussian artist Ilya Kabakov is one of the most successful representatives of Conceptualism in the former Soviet Union. He staggered the soviet culture with candid and harsh criticism of the socialistic reality with all its unsightly issues. It represented through a microcosms of cause-effect relations that reveal the story of a whole epoch. The term total installation, invented by the artist, defines an object of art, which can’t be perceived from outside – you need to “enter” it.

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