Also described as environments, the term is used to describe mixed-media constructions or assemblages usually designed for a specific place and for a temporary period of time

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  • Cornelia Parker, 'Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View' 1991

    Cornelia Parker
    Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View 1991
    Mixed media
    unconfirmed: 4000 x 5000 x 5000 mm
    Presented by the Patrons of New Art (Special Purchase Fund) through the Tate Gallery Foundation 1995 Cornelia Parker

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  • Claes Oldenburg, 'Counter and Plates with Potato and Ham' 1961

    Claes Oldenburg
    Counter and Plates with Potato and Ham 1961
    Painted plaster
    object: 117 x 1073 x 578 mm
    Presented by E.J. Power through the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1970 Claes Oldenburg

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  • Rachel Whiteread, 'Untitled (Stairs)' 2001

    Rachel Whiteread
    Untitled (Stairs) 2001
    Mixed media
    object: 3750 x 220 x 5800 mm
    Purchased from funds provided by the Art Fund and Tate Members 2003 Rachel Whiteread

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Installation artworks often occupy an entire room or gallery space that the spectator invariably has to walk through in order to engage fully with the work of art. Some installations, however, are designed simply to be walked around and contemplated, or are so fragile that they can only be viewed from a doorway, or one end of a room. Installation art emerged from the earlier form of the environment.

One of the originators of environments was the American artist Allan Kaprow in works made from about 1957 onwards. In an undated interview published in 1965 Kaprow said of his first environment: ‘I just simply filled the whole gallery up …When you opened the door you found yourself in the midst of an entire environment…The materials were varied: sheets of plastic, crumpled up cellophane, tangles of Scotch tape, sections of slashed and daubed enamel and pieces of coloured cloth’. There were also lights hung within all this and ‘five tape machines spread around the space played electronic sounds which I had composed’.

Miscellaneous materials (mixed media), light and sound have remained fundamental to Installation art. From that time on the creation of installations became a major strand in modern art, increasingly from about 1990, and many artists have made them. In 1961 in New York Claes Oldenburg created an early environment, The Store, from which his Counter and Plates with Potato and Ham comes. One of the outstanding creators of installations using light is James Turrell.