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15.2: Installation and Sculpture

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    With the globalization of art and artists, public art has broadened, no longer a painting on the wall or the statue in the public square. Art installations and sculptures include experimental ideas, oversized installations covering a room of the museum or areas of large public spaces, bringing the public into the artwork with multi-dimensional views. The artist, building architects, or the local artisans who make the parts of art installation now collaborate to create a successful result.


    Native Country

    Ai Weiwei


    Yayoi Kusama


    Kara Walker

    United States

    Dale Chihuly

    United States

    Nam June Paik


    Andy Goldsworthy


    El Anatsui


    Mona Hatoum


    Judy Chicago

    United States





    Ruth Asawa

    United States

    Esther Mahlangu

    South Africa

    Ai Weiwei (born 1957) is a contemporary Chinese artist and the artistic consultant on the Beijing National Stadium for the 2008 Olympics. Weiwei studied animation at the Beijing Film Academy and is a founder of the Avant-Garde art group called the 'Stars'. Exploring the issues of freedom of speech and human rights, he exhibited with the Stars in Beijing. Weiwei attended the Parson School of Design in New York and spent eight years taking photographs. He returned to China when his father became ill and started working on political art. In 2010, he was put under house arrest by the police when the government objected to his political ideas.

    In 2014, Weiwei created an art installation to explore the issues of freedom of speech and human rights at Alcatraz Island, a notorious island prison in the San Francisco Bay. Weiwei could not leave China to attend the opening but sent all the work for the installation, relying on others to properly install his work, using 12 million Lego pieces (15.1) to create the 176 tile pictures of political prisoners, creating a dialogue for how people define individual rights, liberty and justice, and personal responsibility. He added porcelain flowers and Chinese kites, (15.2) incorporating them throughout the prison. In one of the large rooms, an oversized, colorful dragon kite hung from the ceiling and in another room binders about the dissidents provided information along with postcards viewers could send.

    Ai Weiwei at Alcatraz, Trace
    15.1 Ai Weiwei at Alcatraz, Trace
    Ai Weiwei at Alcatraz, With Wind
    15.2 Ai Weiwei at Alcatraz, With Wind

    The art of Marchel Duchamp, who used utilitarian objects to create his artwork, influenced Weiwei early in his life. Forever Bicycles (15.3) is an installation Weiwei made from almost 1,300 bicycles. His concept was based on the bicycles mass-produced in his hometown, yet too expensive for those without economic resources. The structure of steel bicycles formed a tunnel for viewers to see the unending puzzle of interwoven parts against the sky. Trees (15.4) were sculptures Weiwei made from camphor and cedar tree branches and trunks he collected from the mountains in China. He assembled the parts to resemble real trees, a source for contemplation, and appreciation of nature.

    Forever Bicycles
    15.3 Forever Bicycles
    15.4 Trees

    Yayoi Kusama (born 1929) is a Japanese artist and writer who has worked with a variety of media. Her work is bold, psychedelic, repetitious, and full of pattern. Known around the world as the Princess of Polka Dots, Kusama reflects the polka dot motifs in her art. She is one of the best pop art artists and came to New York to study and work when she was young, returning to Japan and creating her exceptional and unusual art installations. She is considered one of Japan's greatest living artists.

    Ascension of Polka Dots on the Trees (15.5) and Pink Balls (15.6) are red/pink and white/black polka dots surrounding the trees, or an entire room filled with polka dots. Obsessive about her art and its vibrancy, color, and style are trademarks of Kusama. The art is a combination of minimalism, abstract, surrealism, conceptual, and just plain Kusama. Using found objects in the environment as her canvas, she fills the object with shining polka dots. Pumpkins have been part of her themes for a long time, whether creating rooms of pumpkins or single giant pumpkins, always covered with her motif of dots. The lone, massive Yellow Pumpkin (15.7) sculpture sits by the sea, decorated with lines of large and small dots.

    15.5 Polka Dots on the Trees
    15.5 Polka Dots on the Trees
    15.6 Pink Balls
    15.6 Pink Balls
     15.7 Yellow Pumpkin
    15.7 Yellow Pumpkin

    Kara Walker (born 1969) is an American artist with an M.F.A. from Rhode Island School of Design who explores the conflicts of race, sex, and gender with significant silhouetted figures that can be humorous while also demonstrating violence and suppression. She builds a panorama of cut out paper silhouettes installed against a white wall bringing the violence to life. Overhead projectors illuminate the figures and cause the viewers’ body to cast shadows onto the scene, adding depth and a ghostlike feeling. Blacklisted: The Unsettling Art of Kara Walker (15.8) was on of her shows exhibiting slavery in historical truths of violence, sexual assault, and subjugation as she portrays the myths of slavery from the Antebellum south.


    15.8 Blacklisted: The Unsettling Art of Kara Walker

    Dale Chihuly (born 1941) is an American glass sculptor who changed the way glass is blown, how it is shaped, and the unique effects of how the glass transforms. Chihuly started as an interior design major at the University of Washington but was introduced to glass making and switched to the Rhode Island School of Design. Constrained by the rules of the property of melted materials, Chihuly had to overcome the technical difficulties of glass blowing to create his large-scale colorful sculptures. He founded the Pilchuck Glass School in Washington, where he practiced experimenting with glass.

    Chihuly creates large installations made to interact with the environment (15.9), for instance, in the botanical garden, large spheres, and spikes of glass intermix with the flowers in complementary and contrasting colors. The boat of glass balls (15.10) floating on the lake reflect the colors, while other vibrant glass balls are floating around the boat as though they fell into the water. The Sun (15.11) is one of his original concepts in glassblowing, creating long, twisted pieces of glass and installing them on metal spikes building a large sculpture to hang or rise from the ground. The Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum is a vast permanent exhibition showcasing his work.

    Glass garden in Seattle
    15.9 Glass garden in Seattle
    The Boat of glass
    15.10 The Boat of glass
    The Sun
    15.11 The Sun

    Nam June Paik (1932-2006) was a Korean-American artist who worked with multiple types of media but was considered the founder of video art. Fleeing their native home during the Korean War, his family moved to Germany, and then Paik moved to New York to combine video and music with performance art. In one of his installations, he scattered televisions everywhere and used magnets that would distort or change the images and sound. In another installation, Paik laid several aquariums containing water and fish in a line swimming in front of monitors showing images of other fish. He is well known for taking television sets and making them into robots, Pre-Bell-Man (15.12), adding wire, metal, and parts from radios.

    Paik created a large installation entitled, Electronic Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, and Hawaii (15.13) currently installed in the Smithsonian. It is a statement about America's obsession with television, moving images and bright shiny objects. Paik is also credited with the term 'electronic superhighway,' a precursor to the coined term 'information superhighway.' For the installation Video Sculpture (15.14), Paik stacked video monitors and used neon lights around the screens, flashing and reflecting on the screens.

    15.12 Pre-Bell-Man
    15.12 Pre-Bell-Man
    Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, and Hawaii
    15.13 Superhighway: Continental U.S., Alaska, and Hawaii
    Video Sculpture
    15.14 Video

    Andy Goldsworthy (born 1956) is a British sculptor and environmentalist who creates land art in natural and urban settings. Goldsworthy studied fine art at Bradford College of Art and Preston Polytechnic. He uses found natural materials that are visible for a short period to construct a sculpture either outside or in a gallery (15.16). Using photography to document his work at different stages of life, he immortalizes his work in film. Goldsworthy uses materials like flowers, leaves, snow, twigs, icicles, rocks, and other found objects. Many believe him to be the founder of rock balancing seen in Cairn (15.17) a unique shape of rocks without mortar. He likes to use his bare hands and found tools to create with, instead of human-made tools. Some of his works are permanent sculptures standing the test of time and nature, including the Stone River (15.18) stacked along the dry creek bed; however, most installations succumb to decay.

    “I enjoy the freedom of just using my hands” – Goldsworthy

    15.16 Sculpture
    15.16 Sculpture
    15.17 Cairn
    Stone River
    15.18 Stone River

    El Anatsui (born 1944) is a Ghanaian sculptor who taught at the University of Nigeria and affiliated with the Nsukka group from the 1970s to revive the tradition of uli. Uli is a design drawn by the Igbo people of Nigeria and was becoming a lost art. It is a robust linear design without many perspectives and is asymmetrical. Initially, El Anatsui used clay and wood to make objects based on Ghanaian beliefs and subjects, cutting wood with chainsaws, he let the marks show from the chainsaw and then used an acetylene torch to blacken the piece.

    Man’s Cloth
    15.19 Man’s Cloth

    El Anatsui became interested in doing something with a large amount of recycled material available. Man’s Cloth (15.19)is a large sculpture resembling cloth and the installation material layers like Kente cloth (15.20). He used discarded items from bottle caps or folded and crumpled pieces of metal found at recycling stations, which he tied together with copper wire, giving the material the ability to fold and drape. His works can be significant and cover a wall and the luminosity of the metal and the gallery lights reflecting through the room, give the piece its own life. Peak (15.21) was made of found bottle tops and tins used for milk, debris littering the countryside, and filling the trash bins that El Anatsui recovered and used to form the sculpture. He wired them together loosely (15.22), so the pieces could create their shapes and folds.

    Man’s Cloth closeup
    15.20 Man’s Cloth closeup
    15.21 Peak
    15.21 Peak
    Peak closeup
    15.22 Peak closeup

    Mona Hatoum (born 1952) is a Palestinian who wanted to be an artist throughout her early years, even in the face of parental disapproval. She finally studied in Lebanon and London, now creating art to explore the dangers and issues of the world. Hot Spot (15.23) is a large globe depicting political unrest on the planet. The steel globe is illuminated with red lighting to magnify the problems any viewer perceives about global warming, humanitarian issues, wars, or people fleeing their homelands.

    Hot Spot
    15.23 Hot Spot

    Judy Chicago (born 1939) studied art at the university, and her original work followed the ideas of Minimalism before she incorporated feminist concepts into her work, and she helped start a collaborative movement to encourage and assist female artists. The Dinner Party (15.24) is one of the best known of her installations, a triangular table set for thirty-nine women from history. Chicago used motifs commemorating the lives of each woman, embellishing each table setting with events in the woman’s life. Names of 999 other women are written with gold on the floor beneath the table.

    The Dinner Party
    15.24 The Dinner Party close up

    Christo (born 1935) and Jeanne-Claude (1935-2009) are a husband and wife team who created large-scale installations; he was born in Bulgaria, and she was from Morocco. They worked together for over thirty-five years using materials to wrap or drape across large parts of the landscape or buildings around the world, based on themes of political or economic changes. They did not participate in the usual gallery or art markets; instead, they worked outside the system, drawing criticism. The Gates (15.25) was erected in New York City along the paths of Central Park. Although the planning and construction of the gates took a year, they installed 7,503 brightly colored saffron-colored gates in five days, achieved without any city money or sponsorship. Christo and Jeanne-Claude raised money to pay for the project from posters and T-shirts.

    15.26 Gates
    15.25 Gates
    15.27 Umbrellas (blue)
    15.26 Umbrellas (blue)
     15.28 Umbrellas (yellow)
    15.27 Umbrellas (yellow)

    Another project they designed and installed was The Umbrellas, the blue umbrellas (15.26) were mounted in Japan and the yellow ones (15.27) in California, all planned to be ready at the same time. Steel bases were planted into the ground to hold the poles and anchors before approximately 2,000 workers could insert the umbrellas. In Japan, over 1,300 blue umbrellas were fit tightly together in the smaller space; however, in California, the more than 1,700 yellow umbrellas were spread over the much larger space. The umbrella installations only remained in place for a few months; however, it was a major attraction for tourists, weddings, or family gatherings.

    Ruth Asawa (1926-2013) was born in California, her parents' Japanese immigrants, and during World War II, she and her family were detained in the internment camps. After the war, she started her education as a teacher before switching to art. At one point, she learned to weave baskets and started to use galvanized wire for weaving, which inspired her to become interested in lines and how a line can go in multiple directions. She worked with wire to make her three-dimensional woven structures (15.28, 15.29) meant to hang and generate shadows that shift in the light and change the space. Asawa was passionate about art education and helped establish programs for children as well a training and employment programs for artists.

    Wire Sculpture
    15.28 Wire Sculpture
    Wire sculpture reflection
    15.29 Wire sculpture reflection

    Esther Mahlangu (born 1935) was born in South Africa as part of the Ndebele people and began painting as a child. Her mother and grandmother were mural painters, an ordinary skill for the females in the region. Mahlangu paints on extensive scale backgrounds using patterns she saw in the clothing of the people, generally very brightly colored with geometric shapes. The carmaker BMW had artists such as Warhol and Hockney design a car each year to use as their Art Car. Mahlangu was the first female asked to design a car, and her BMW Art Car (15.30) was painted with her traditional geometric designs and colors. Many of her designs are found on corporate brands, the bold patterns outlined with black lines and bright colors. It is common for the people to paint their houses with colors, and she painted her house (15.31) following these concepts. Mahlangu has worked tirelessly to bring art education to children, directing a school she founded while continuing to support artists in her homeland. For her continuing dedication, she received an honorary doctorate from the University of Johannesburg.

    15.31 BMW Art Car
    15.30 BMW Art Car
    15.31 Homestead

    This page titled 15.2: Installation and Sculpture is shared under a CC BY 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Deborah Gustlin & Zoe Gustlin (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative) .