Exercise 3: Tate article ‘But is it installation art?’

Reading the article ‘But is it installation art?’ by Claire Bishop, ahead of going to see contemporary work at a Gallery might actually have been a smart idea. It caused me to stop and consider how I interact with installation works, or even what they are.

I’m 25, and I can’t really remember a visit to a Gallery or exhibition where I didn’t encounter some form of installation art. In fact it seems fairly common place. So it was interesting to read an article talking about the origins of that medium. I find it helpful to consider what was it like first encountering work which challenged you as a viewer to see the space around, and presentation of a piece as part of the art work, rather than just a background to be ignored.

The article puts form to a thought I’ve had before when encountering installation works:

“In a recent issue of Artforum, James Meyer lamented the new trend for museums to endorse ‘an art of size’. He quoted critic Hal Foster on the Bilbao Guggenheim: ‘To make a big splash in the global pond of spectacle culture today, you have to have a big rock to drop.’ Big audiences are assumed to demand, and like, big works: wall-size video/film projections, oversize photographs and overwhelming sculptures. Rather than ‘inducing awareness and provoking thought’, wrote Meyer, this type of art is ‘marshalled to overwhelm and pacify’.”

I have found that often viewing installation works are overwhelming, they seem to leave me feeling drained, dull, rather than enlivened or provoked to thought or discussion. I’m not saying this is always the case, but certainly is how I feel when faced with something that fills a space or overwhelms the senses. I hadn’t ever considered this might be part of a response to cultural expectations or desires to put on a spectacle or performance to please a crowd.

The conclusion of the article is a good summary of perhaps what to look for when viewing installation art – it is a broad medium, but I agree with the sentiment that installation works should provoke thought rather than consumerism.

“Despite the dearth of a manifesto, one can nevertheless point to a persistence of certain ideas in the work of contemporary artists who continue its tradition. These values concern a desire to activate the viewer – as opposed to the passivity of mass-media consumption – and to induce a critical vigilance towards the environments in which we find ourselves. When the experience of going into a museum increasingly rivals that of walking into restaurants, shops, or clubs, works of art may no longer need to take the form of immersive, interactive experiences. Rather, the best installation art is marked by a sense of antagonism towards its environment, a friction with its context that resists organisational pressure and instead exerts its own terms of engagement.”


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