Important Art and Artists of Installation Art
Étant donnés was one of the first works to set up a specific and controlled viewing environment for audiences, which today remains a central tenet to Installation art. Duchamp surprised the art world with this three-dimensional tableau, since most believed he had decidedly retreated from art-making almost a quarter century before this, his final piece, was revealed.
The piece was described by the artist Jasper Johns as "the strangest work of art in any museum." At the time, it was. Imagine peering through two peepholes in a wooden door to find a reclining cast of a nude woman in the forefront of a lusciously painted landscape. By crafting an experience of voyeurism, rather than simply showing a traditional nude painting on the wall, Duchamp forced the viewer into a sense of complicity. Only one person at a time could peek in, making this a very enveloping experience and creating an intimate encounter with the work's enigmatic inhabitant.
The Dinner Party, an installation artwork that has become an icon of Feminist art, consists of a large triangular table adorned as a ceremonial banquet, with 39 place settings, each honoring an important woman. Each setting comprises embroidered runners, gold eating utensils, and porcelain plates that unapologetically resemble the female vulva and that vary in motif based on each specific honoree. The list of honorees includes, among others Sacajawea, Virginia Woolf, and the goddess Kali. The names of another 999 women are inscribed in gold on the white floor beneath the banquet table.
By creating this emulation of an event that audience members could easily relate to -the honorary dinner - and by designing the piece in a triangular fashion that would promote many people walking around and reviewing the place settings simultaneously, the artist sparked dialogue about these women who had been under-documented in history. Viewing the piece became an event in itself. By delivering her message through a three-dimensional, physical piece rather than a written manifesto or painted tableau, she proved the power in the presence signature to Installation art.
Sol LeWitt's Wall Drawing #260 is one among hundreds of wall drawings started in 1969, which the artist continued to produce throughout his prolific career. Not only would LeWitt create a drawing for one specific location, he would then maintain detailed instructions on its composition so that others could duplicate it in other spaces going forward, even after his death. Even if LeWitt's Wall Drawings are ephemeral and endlessly replicated, the idea behind their initial conception lives on undiluted.
This seminal line of work inaugurated a new relationship between drawing and architectural spaces, furthering Installation art's site-specificity. By claiming entire walls, LeWitt's drawings responded to the spaces they occupied and enclosed viewers in work that alternated between soothing symmetry and dazzling randomness.
These drawings were also radical inclusions into the Installation art canon because they challenged the preciousness and permanence that is expected from fine art. They are birthed in conceptualism and carried out with simple tools. They are not confined to the originating artists' hand and they can be duplicated in multiple settings ad infinitum.