Installation first became a prominent method of art-making in the 1960s as artists took sculpture off its pedestal, integrated actions and performance into gallery spaces, and explored projected film’s ability to change space and the viewer’s perception.
Since these explorations—and even earlier experiments by avant-garde artists in the early 20th century who combined theater, dance, music, and the visual artists—installation has since taken many forms, from seemingly chaotic “scatter” pieces to spare meditations on light and space. As an approach to art-making seemingly at odds with traditional notions of art spectatorship (a separation between viewer and art object), installations can activate the surrounding architecture, draw attention to the relationship and space between objects, and immerse the viewer in a perceptual environment. Such environments are usually created partly or entirely on-site rather than in the artist’s studio, and are often ephemeral, posing a challenge for collecting institutions. When possible, the artist is brought in to reinstall their work, but often it is up to the art handlers and curators on staff to restage complicated multipart installations according to detailed instructions and photo documentation. These works make the collection a truly “living collection,” as installations are restaged, and reanimate the galleries.