Installation art can be defined as an artistic genre of site-specific, three-dimensional works designed to transform the perception of a space. Since the 1960s and 70s, this medium of artwork has evolved and manifested itself in museums and galleries as well as public and private spaces across the globe. While installation art was born out of more traditional practices of artwork, it has a completely different approach. Most paintings are presented as snapshots of life or a specific vision and are hung on a neutral wall. Conversely, installations take into account the viewer’s entire sensory experience and seek to create a complete environment that the viewer becomes a part of.
Yet, some viewers have a hard time reconciling installations as fine art. Many are made from mundane objects, such as cups, pins, old fabric, etc. and none conform to a traditional definition of fine art. Paintings are framed, put behind glass, and frequently travel the world to be in various exhibitions. A painting never changes from one place to the next. Starry Night in New York will be the same Starry Night if it is displayed in Paris. However, installations defy transportation and containment since many installation artists create their pieces in direct response to the space they are given. Furthermore, it is almost impossible to really capture an installation in an image. Installations have an important aesthetic quality that can be recorded in a snapshot, but the whole experience of walking through or interacting with an installation can only be had at the site itself. Therefore, in one sense, the chance to see a specific installation may be even more elusive than a chance to see a major painting.
Over the past 30 years, many of the world’s major museums have created spaces for and series of temporary installations. Recently, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York opened the latest installation atop its roof. Big Bambú: You Can’t, You Don’t, and You Won’t Stop by twin brothers Mike and Doug Starn is a maze-like forest of bamboo that will continue to be constructed and grow verticallty until its close in October. This installation, part art, part performance, is the most ambitious to date in the Met’s series. The Met, which hosts one roof installation each year, has featured installations by Jeff Koons, Ellsworth Kelly, and Roxy Paine.
The Tate Modern in London also hosts an annual installation in their main Turbine Hall. Such noted artists as Anish Kapoor, Louise Bourgeois, and Olafur Eliasson have created massive installations to fill the expansive and towering space. Their installations all evoke drastically different environments. The participants over the eleven years of the Unilever Installation Series have turned the hall into a burning, sun-filled room, filled it with organic steel forms, and even created a void of complete darkness within the hall. The Tate Britain also includes installations in their galleries, despite having the Tate Modern just down the river.
The New Britain Museum of American Art also has an established series of installations. Since the opening of the Chase Family Building in 2006, the NBMAA has hosted two large installations in the LeWitt Staircase, which was designed to be a changing installation space. The first, by Stephen Hendee, was a large construction of metal, Plexiglas, and fluorescent lights entitled The Eye. The current installation by Lisa Hoke, entitled The Gravity of Color, New Britain, was selected from over 50 finalists following a national competition. For more information on Lisa Hoke, Stephen Hendee, and the NBMAA installation series, please see this blog post.
Installation artist Elana Herzog’s NEW/NOW exhibition will open at the NBMAA on May 7 and run through July 25. Herzog is known for her installations created from found fabrics that she distresses and staples to walls. The tattered remains create striking artworks that evoke a sense of memory and human mortality. Her installation at the NBMAA will be inspired by and relate to the famous Benton murals that hang just one gallery away. For more information on Herzog, please see this blog post on Eco-Friendly Art.
What do you think of installation art? Is it fine art? Why or why not? What do you think of artists who create an environment for the viewer, rather than a window? Do you prefer one over the other? What is your favorite installation piece? What would you like to see as the next installation at the NBMAA?