From Margin to Center: The Spaces of Installation Art
Julie H. Reiss
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Unlike traditional art works, installation art has no autonomous existence. It is usually created at the exhibition site, and its essence is spectator participation. Installation art originated as a radical art form presented only at alternative art spaces; its assimilation into mainstream museums and galleries is a relatively recent phenomenon. The move of installation art from the margin to the center of the art world has had far-reaching effects on the works created and on museum practice.
This is the first book-length study of installation art. Julie Reiss concentrates on some of the central figures in its emergence, including artists, critics, and curators. Her primary focus is installations created in New York City -- which has a particularly rich history of installation art -- beginning in the late 1950s. She takes us from Allan Kaprow's 1950s' environments to examples from minimalism, performance art, and process art to establish installation art's autonomy as well as its relationship to other movements. Recent years have seen a surge of interest in the effects of exhibition space, curatorial practice, and institutional context on the spectator. The history of installation art -- of all art forms, one of the most defiant of formalist tenets -- sheds considerable light on the issues raised by this shift of critical focus from isolated art works to art experienced in a particular context.
these cutaways; instead he removed some of what was there. Whether or not spectators visited his works, the spectator’s presence was implied, because Matta-Clark most often worked with residential architecture. The spaces could be entered and walked around before the building came down. It is easy to imagine how jarring the experience of standing in Splitting: Four Corners, 1974, a single-family house that he had cut nearly in half, would have been (figure 4.2). This unsettling effect is
spectators to control their experience of viewing the art on the walls.19 At the time, Lissitzky said that “if on previous occasions in his march-past in front of the picture-walls, he was lulled by the painting into a certain passivity, now our design should make the man active. This should be the purpose of the room.” 20 Lissitzky’s sentiments were prophetic. The desire to shake the spectator out of a passive, spongelike state and instead have a selfdetermined, active experience is borne out in
Gilbert (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Co., 1953), 30. 10. For a discussion of Schwitters’s Hannover Merzbau, see Dorothea Dietrich, The Collages of Kurt Schwitters: Tradition and Innovation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 164–205. 11. Allan Kaprow, “The Legacy of Jackson Pollock,” Art News 57, no. 6 (October 1958): 24–26, 54–55. 159 notes 12. Jennifer Licht, Spaces (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1969). 13. For further discussion of Galaxies, see Lisa Phillips, et al.,
Frederick Kiesler (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art in association with W. W. Norton, 1989), 77–78. 14. Richard Marshall, preface to Louise Nevelson:Atmospheres and Environments (New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1980), 9. 15. George Dennison,“Sculpture as Environment:The New Work of Herbert Ferber,” Arts (May–June 1963): 90. 16. See Germano Celant, “Ambient/Art,” in La Biennale di Venezia: Environment/Participation/Cultural Structures, vol. 1 (Venice: Alfieri Edizioni D’Arte, 1976), 187–194.
his early Environments. 53. William Seitz quoted in a letter from Waldo Rasmussen to Allan Kaprow, 27 February 1963. Museum of Modern Art library, New York. 54. Allan Kaprow, telephone interview by the author, 24 August 1994. 55. Kaprow, Assemblages, Environments and Happenings, 316. 56. Ibid. 57. Jim Dine, telephone interview by the author, 11 May 1995. 58. Valerie Petersen, review of Allan Kaprow, An Apple Shrine, Art News 59, no. 9 (January 1961): 12. 59. Jill Johnston, review of Jim Dine’s