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What Is Installation Art?

Mark Wollacott
Mark Wollacott

Installation art stages ordinary objects or created objects within a specific location in order to create a piece of art. This location can be anything from a room and a wall to a whole building or a park. Like a lot of art, installation art is open to interpretation and is often dependent on its context for meaning. It is designed to provoke emotions and reactions from its audience. By its nature, such installations are temporary and are often dismantled when the exhibition closes.

Some galleries, such as London’s Serpentine Gallery in 2005, label any collection of art and sculpture as examples of installation art. For many artists, installation art is not the staging of art itself, but the staging of ordinary objects to make a piece of art. This is an important difference between collections found in art galleries and installations where a single piece of art is fitted to its surroundings.

Some galleries label any collection of art and sculpture as examples of installation art.
Some galleries label any collection of art and sculpture as examples of installation art.

The idea of any collection as an installation comes from the 1960s. During this decade, a photograph that was taken to record and display a collection of art was called an ‘installation shot.’ The idea of installation art grew out of the minimalism movement, which emphasized the space around the art. Ilya Kabakov created a halfway house between installation shots and installation art by displaying his paintings within a piece of installation art: a fictional soviet museum.

Pieces of installation art can often be found in galleries. They tend to be exhibited within a specific room or location within the gallery. Many galleries, such as the Tate Modern, have rooms permanently set aside for these kinds of art. Such artwork does not have to be limited to just the temporary exhibition room or the installation room. Installations can also be installed into parks, courtyards and tents for random exhibitions or planned pieces of event or public art.

There is almost no limit to the types of materials that can be used. Ann Hamilton made use of a diverse range of materials including dead birds, soot and cut flowers. Tracy Ermin created a piece of installation art out of her messy bedroom. Martin Creed, on the other hand, used no materials for his 2000 piece of art entitled The Lights Go On and Off. This piece literally involved an empty room with the lights turning on, then off.

By its very nature, installation art is temporary. Only a small number of installations become permanent parts of a collection. This is the case at galleries such as the Tate Modern, Tate Britain and the Guggenheim in New York. Installations made for festivals, stunts and in public places are even less durable and long-lasting.

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Discussion Comments


@Iluviaporos - That makes me think of those installations where the artist, or another person, is part of the work. I vaguely remember reading about one where you entered a room and the artist could see you on a video and would call out weird things to you as you wandered around.

I'm not always a big fan of those, because I think they are often arranged simply to provoke, and not really to enlighten, but they can be done with both in mind.


@bythewell - Light installations in general tend to be amazing. But I also like interactive installations, particularly when the audience has a real chance to change the piece.

The first one that springs to mind went viral when it was first displayed and it was basically a room done completely in black and white and people were given colored stickers to place anywhere they wanted when they went into it. You ended up with these gorgeous sprays of color everywhere.

I also went into a gallery once that had installed a kind of tunnel that you could crawl around in and it was supposed to feel like you had been swallowed. That was weird, more than life changing, but I still remember it years later which, to me, is one of the signs of a good piece.


One of my favorite kinds of installation art is when they invite artists to make light installations at the local park for the summer. I particularly like it when they make immersive black-light displays. One year I got to help out at our local one and painted several giant flowers to be put up around the place.

Another year they had a holographic projector set up so it was making patterns on the undersides of the trees and it was really stunning.

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    • Some galleries label any collection of art and sculpture as examples of installation art.
      By: JackF
      Some galleries label any collection of art and sculpture as examples of installation art.