Five Leading Installation Artists and Their Effect on The World of Installation Art

Installation Art is a unique style, one which takes the ability to meld several styles of art into one cohesive piece (whether it be a single presentation of collection of such) and the right location to showcase the work.

These five artists have seemed to perfect this method of art, with exhibitions that have changed the world of art, for other artists and future art enthusiasts:

Marcel Duchamp

One of the forerunners of installation art, Marcel Duchamp never associated with the term but is instead, considered a pioneer of Dadaism. His use of everyday items in collections, called “readymades” challenged the common notion of what constitutes art. He wished to create works which were not merely attractive (retinal pleasure), with a strong penchant for Futuristic artists who focused on movement and the human body/machine connection. He is known for stating that art didn’t need to be beautiful to be art. Born into a creative family (3 of his siblings went on to become artist), he used the combination of words and mixed media art to create more intellectual arts, urging viewers to do more than just admire what they saw, to think about what the work meant.

Most Notable Work

Fountain, 1917.  This work of art truly changed the art world; for the first time a seemingly worthless (and un-artistic) item was nominally changed and submitted as a work of art. In an uproar, a group of art intellectuals (including Duchamp himself, who promptly resigned from the group) made the statement that it could not be art, stating it had no artistic value.  Causing a stir among artists, this piece paved the way for the new attitude that anything “could” be art if the creator’s intention is such.

Ai Weiwei

A revolutionary in terms of bringing human rights violations in his homeland to international attention, Ai balances traditional Chinese culture and artistic beauty with a more Western attitude towards personal narratives and government criticism.

Ai Weiwei’s career has spanned nearly 40 years, during which he has created works which express his desire to make statements about Chinese culture and history and the control which the Chinese government has placed on its people. His parents were both creative, a poet and writer, and his childhood experience could be termed “volatile” due to his parents being at odds with the Chinese government, at one side of the political spectrum or the other, even spending a year in exile at one point.

Most Notable Work

Sunflower Seeds, 2010. Ai has created many works which are more recognizable or relatable to viewers, but this work stands alone due to the reaction to it. 100 million handmade porcelain sunflower seeds were poured to create this work. During the cultural revolution in China in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, Mao Zedong was portrayed as the sun shining upon the Chinese people, as sunflowers. The installation led viewers to consider what it meant to be an individual in China during this tumultuous time, and the power of people “en masse” to instigate change in their society.

Allan Kaprow

Allan Kaprow is a leader in the 1960’s art movement which redefined art. No longer was it something stationary, sculpted into a static object or hung on a wall; art could constitute anything which would engage human senses, including sounds and scents. He was fascinated by everyday existence and began to create art which enveloped viewers into the environment, becoming a complete experience. In fact, his immersive exhibitions morphed into what was described as “happenings,” where there was no true audience, but mainly participants.

Most Notable Work

18 Happenings in 6 Parts, 1959. First exhibited at the Reuben Gallery in New York city, this interactive exhibition (audience members were instructed when to applaud and to move to different seats within the set at distinct times) has been presented hundreds of time over the years. Instructions were designed for “participants” (the audience) to experience, combining actions, dance, and sound, in this new theory of participatory art.  This is perhaps the first time when the audience becomes part of the art and no longer a spectator. Kaprow later made a record of instructions on how to make a “Happening,” instituting this as a re-creatable work of art.

Yayoi Kusama

The “polka dot princess,” known for her obsession for polka dots and its representation of the power of many vs. the weakness of one, has used art to offset her lifelong struggle with mental illness, beginning with hallucinations as a child. Yayoi Kusama’s work in the 1960’s coincided with the feminist revolution, and she used her work in representations of the challenges women face with sexuality and the battle for power in a male-dominated world.

Most Notable Work

Kusama has created many outstanding and daring works, so choosing one pivotal piece is difficult. However, during her early years in NYC, she became well-known in the local art scene for her use of Happenings, including the Infinity Mirror Room-Phalli’s Field in 1965. The presentation of thousands of stuffed tubes covered with polka dots, along with mirrors to multiply the view, also brought the viewer into the work with mirrors, as from any angle, the audience was included. This type of installation has been recreated thousands of time since then.

Gabriel Dawe

This Mexico City-born artist is renowned for his use of light in the rainbow pattern in his breathtaking installation works. In his scrutiny of machismo in his native country, Dawe uses the combination of textiles and architecture to create his “plexus” exhibits, recalling the networks found within the human body of blood vessels and nerves. He has created over 35 of these colorful works in museums around the world.

Most Notable Work

Although is plexus themes are found worldwide, his recent Plexus 35 made quite an impression at the Toledo Museum of Art. Created specifically for this location (typical of installation works), Dawe considers the remnants of the exhibit “relics” after closing.

Leaders in a World of Installation Artists

Many artists, and now, teams of artists using technology to create installations, have entered the world of installation art as the demand for works both in- and outside of public places grows. Installation art has become a theme for travelers and is now featured in many art fairs worldwide.  These leaders in the installation art world have not only created works which inspire art lovers but have helped inspire other artists to make their own mark upon the world with installation art!