Exploring the Origins and Evolution of Installation Art

When Did Installation Art Start?

Installation art allows artists to express themselves in a variety of unique ways. Whether using everyday materials like cardboard and styrofoam or more immersive virtual reality installations like those of Yayoi Kusama, artists use installation art to evoke emotion and conversation.

The development of this genre began during the 1960s and 1970s as artists were disillusioned with the commodification of artworks. They began to break away from artistic conventions, creating works that were a direct response to their exhibition space.

Duchamp’s Readymades

Marcel Duchamp’s Readymades shifted the paradigm of art from its traditional forms and positioned it in a new space. This movement was an antidote to what he called “retinal art.” By selecting, repositioning or joining objects and then titling and signing them, he established a new understanding of artistic production.

For example, the piece Hidden Noise (A bruit secret) from 1916 consisted of a ball of twine between two brass plates that contained an object. Another piece, Why Not Sneeze Rose Selavy?, from 1921, featured marble cubes, a thermometer and a cuttle bone in a painted birdcage.

These works challenged centuries of thinking that a painting’s value was determined by its technical skill and sensual appeal. They demonstrated that the artist’s intention was more important than their aesthetic qualities.


The artists of installation art embrace the concept that an artwork should be experienced from within, rather than admired from a distance like a painting or sculpture. This is in contrast to traditional sculpture where the emphasis is on form.

This new art form draws upon a range of materials and techniques to stimulate the viewer’s multisensory experiences. Artists leverage this immersive connection to explore ideas ranging from social commentary to deep explorations of human emotion.

The first forms of installation art began to emerge in the 1960s as artists, disillusioned by the commodification of art and the focus on representation over experience, discarded traditional artistic conventions. The first examples of this movement came from the neo-Dadaist events of the Gutai group in Japan and the work of American installation pioneers such as Allan Kaprow and Wolf Vostell.


Involving the viewer in a more physically interactive way is a central theme for Installation artists. For example, Carsten Holler and Rosemarie Trockel’s House for Pigs and People (1997) used one-way mirrored glass to create an immersive metaphor for social division.

Lucio Fontana’s 1947 Manifesto Spaziale launched the spatial movement with its revolutionary call for art to evolve with science and technology. His goal was to create a synthesis of sound, color, movement and space in a single artwork.

The movement also includes artists like Yayoi Kusama who mesmerize audiences with her psychedelic infinity mirrors and James Turrell’s transcendent light installations. Many of these works are ephemeral, existing only for the duration of an exhibition, but their impact is powerful regardless of their longevity.

Performance Art

Although installation art is associated with the 1960s and 1970s, it has roots in earlier avant-garde movements. Marcel Duchamp’s readymades and Kurt Schwitters’ alterations to rooms with his Merz art objects, for example, were precursors.

While minimalist sculpture focused on a work’s form, installation art emphasizes how a piece is displayed or the environment it occupies. It also relies on the viewer’s participation, which reflects a shift away from the spectatorship of traditional art forms like paintings and sculptures.

Artists like Tracey Emin and Yayoi Kusama have both incorporated performance art into their careers. Their works revitalize overlooked spaces, turning them into significant artistic spots. They challenge audiences to rethink their relationship with space, sound, and movement. Allan Kaprow’s theatrical Happenings and Yves Klein’s jump into the void are also precursors to Installation art.

Conceptual Art

With installation art, the artist’s goal is to create a unified experience for the viewer. This immersive moment transcends aesthetic preference and provokes critical thought and emotion in the audience. Installations often use a variety of materials that aren’t typically associated with art to achieve this effect. Many artists also incorporate emerging technologies into their works to evoke more meaningful connections with the audience.

The roots of installation art reach back to early twentieth-century avant-garde movements. Duchamp’s readymades, the Dadaists’ rejection of sculptural forms, and Spatialism’s exploration of interaction between space, material, and movement all laid foundations for this genre. More recently, contemporary figures like Yayoi Kusama’s mesmerizing dots and psychedelic Infinity Mirrored Room have pushed installation concepts to new heights. The future looks bright for this trending art form.

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