INSTALLATION ART by Nicholas de Oliveira


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 This ambitious survey of the works of over 200 installation artists lacks a guiding rudder through the sea of pictorial information it presents. British, Northern European, and American artists dominate in creations that range from the strangely ambiguous, as in Wim Delvoye's Untitled (1990), where an oil painting of a bejewelled cat presides over an array of miniature rocking chairs constructed of clothespegs, to the deafeningly obvious, as in Hansjorg Schafer's The Untouchables (1989), meant as a commentary on ``the social hierarchy of contemporary Britain.'' In this work, simple geometrical shapes (such as a pyramid) are formed by champagne glasses, tennis balls, china plates, and clothespegs again. The authors, British artists and art critics, do impose some conceptual order on the dizzying variety of media and intent in installation art, dividing the works into four chapters: ``Site,'' ``Media,'' ``Museum,'' and ``Architecture.'' But the book lacks a convincing analysis of formal themes that reappear in each section, such as the Warholian use of replication. Like Zen masters, many installation artists seem to hope to provide a liberating blow to perception, and many works succeed, albeit somewhat coercively, barraging a viewer with light, color, or noise. German Simon Ungers offers a more restrained effort. In Post and Beam (Umbau 1) (1991), the visitor stepped over tubes of cool white fluorescent light into an all-white gallery whose floor was refitted to duplicate the ceiling. In this calm yet disorienting space, the viewer was made to reformulate something as quotidian as the distinction between up and down. The book's reverse type appears to be making a token gesture towards the same effect. Unfortunately, the thin white letters on glossy black pages strain the eye, and the texts, while supplying a lot of valuable information, hardly provide the sort of incisive new perspectives that many of the artworks themselves at least aspire to. However, the book makes an important and useful reference point and a good start toward understanding an important facet of contemporary art.

Pub Date: May 19th, 1994
ISBN: 1-56098-347-7
Page count: 208pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1994