One of the major developments of recent art history, installation art came to prominence in the early 1990s as a mode of art production centered on the creation of an immersive physical experience. Looking back to the pioneering Happenings of the 1950s, as well as Minimalist and Post-Minimalist artists like Richard Serra, who highlighted bodily awareness through sculptural interventions, artists in the 1990s expanded the work of art into a multimedia environment.
In these works, interaction and exploration replace modernism’s ideal of distanced viewing, as audiences enter entire worlds constructed from painting, sculpture, sound, video, and other media. To varying degrees, the artists featured in Installations: Selections from the Guggenheim Collections transform the space of the museum into an open-ended zone where visitors can discover personal narratives, private mythologies, new social configurations, or cosmic revelations. Drawn from the global collection of the Guggenheim museums, this presentation also attests to the strength of the museums’ holdings in this vital field of contemporary art.
The four works in this presentation highlight different ways recent artists have used installation practices. The diverse components of Matthew Ritchie’s The Hierarchy Problem (2003) create an all-encompassing visual metaphor for the creation and history of the universe. Viewers can imagine invisible lines connecting the dark, curling branches of the various elements—a hint at the vast portion of the universe that lies beyond human comprehension. This sense of ongoing discovery is also present in David Altmejd’s The University 2 (2004), a large-scale model into which viewers peer, only to discover a cryptic iconography. Dead and decomposing werewolves sprout crystals and jewels, promising the possibility of rebirth amidst a dark vision of horror and death. A similar mood of dark sensuality pervades Javier Pérez’s Mask of Seduction (Máscara de seducción, 1997), an installation consisting of relics from a performance staged by the artist. Employing materials such as horse hair and silk, Pérez weaves a private mythology focusing on the tentative boundaries that distinguish the interior of the body from the world that surrounds it. Finally, Rirkrit Tiravanija’s Untitled 2002 (he promised) (2002) transforms the notion of artwork into a platform for interaction and improvisation that the public enters into and directly engages. A chrome and steel recreation of modernist architect Rudolf M. Schindler’s 1921–22 open-plan residence and studio, Tiravanija’s sculpture is activated by the audience’s experiences, and will be accompanied by a full program of events. Together these works express the manifold possibilities that installation offers as a mode of artistic expression.