The term site-specific refers to a work of art designed specifically for a particular location and that has an interrelationship with the location

Adam Chodzko, 'Better Scenery' 1999
Adam Chodzko
Better Scenery 1999
Colour photographs on paper
support, each: 507 x 760 mm
Purchased 2001© Adam Chodzko

Introduction to site-specific

As a site-specific work of art is designed for a specific location, if removed from that location it loses all or a substantial part of its meaning. The term site-specific is often used in relation to installation art, as in site-specific installation; and land art is site-specific almost by definition.

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  • Richard Long, 'Silence Circle Big Bend Texas' 1990
    Richard Long
    Silence Circle Big Bend Texas 1990
    Photograph and text on paper
    support: 830 x 1121 mm
    Purchased with assistance from the American Fund for the Tate Gallery, courtesy of Edwin C. Cohen and General Atlantic Partners 1991© Richard Long
  • Installation view of Olafur Eliassons The Weather Project 2003
    Olafur Eliasson
    The Weather Project 2003
    Installation view, Turbine Hall at Tate Modern
  • Rachel Whiteread Embankment
    Rachel Whiteread
  • Mark Wallinger State Britain 2006
    Mark Wallinger
    State Britain 2006
  • Doris Salcedo, 'Shibboleth I' 2007
    Doris Salcedo
    Shibboleth I 2007
    Pigment ink jet print on Hahnemühle Photo Rag paper
    image: 640 x 466 mm
    Presented by the artist, White Cube, London and Alexander and Bonin, New York 2008© Doris Salcedo
  • The Unilever Series: Ai Weiwei Sunflower Seeds 2010 the interior of the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern with Ai Weiwei's installation of sunflower seeds
    The Unilever Series: Ai Weiwei
    Sunflower Seeds 2010

Further reading

What happens when artists break gallery rules?
This blog post looks at architect Claude Parent’s transformation of Tate Liverpool’s Wolfson Gallery which involved inclines, sloping walkways and curved walls. 

Turbine Hall
Read about Tate Modern’s iconic Turbine Hall, which has housed serveral site-specific works through the The Unilever Series 2000–2012 and The Hyundai Commission 2015–2025.

Site-specific commissions at Tate

Explore our selection of interviews with artists who have been commissioned to make site-specific works at Tate.

Tate Britain: Duveen galleries

In the film below, Mark Wallinger talks about his dramatic re-creation of peace campaigner Brian Haw’s Parliament Square protest for his 2007 commission entitled State Britain. In 23 May 2006, following the passing by Parliament of the ‘Serious Organised Crime and Police Act’ prohibiting unauthorised demonstrations within a one kilometre radius of Parliament Square, the majority of Haw’s protest was removed.

The clinching factor in this Duveen commission was the discovery that the very edge of the circumference of the exclusion zone runs through the centre of Tate Britain.

Simon Starling: Phantom Ride

Installed in the Duveen galleries for the Tate Britain Commission 2013, Simon Starling created a film called Phantom Ride which through CGI, tells the story of the Duveen Galleries from its bomb damage in 1940 to every artwork which was ever installed in the space. 

Simon Starling Phantom Ride, Tate Britain Commission 2013, Duveen Galleries
Tate Britain Commission 2013: Simon Starling Phantom Ride Duveen Gallery, March 2013

Tate Modern: Turbine Hall

Doris Salcedo: Shibboleth

A permanent scar will always be in the Turbine Hall as a memory or commeration of all this life which we don’t recognise

Doris Salcedo’s Shibboleth was the first work to intervene directly in the fabric of the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern. Salcedo created a subterranean chasm which stretched through the entire space. After the commission, the work was sealed so that in a sense, the work will always remain. Watch Salcedo discuss the piece in our TateShots video below.

Miroslaw Balka: How it is

For the Unilever Series 2009,  Polish artist Miroslaw Balka created a giant grey steel structure with a vast dark chamber, which in construction reflects the surrounding architecture – almost as if the interior space of the Turbine Hall has been turned inside out.

Still image of The Unilever Series: Miroslaw Balka excerpt

Explore the installation and hear about How it is in this interactive website.

Tate Liverpool

Project Space: Kara Walker

Kara Walker, 'Grub for Sharks: A Concession to the Negro Populace' 2004
Kara Walker
Grub for Sharks: A Concession to the Negro Populace 2004
Cut paper
Overall display dimensions variable
Presented by the American Fund for the Tate Gallery 2009© Kara Walker
For the Liverpool exhibition I am interested in drawing out ambiguities relating to the Institution (Tate) and its relationship to the Dock and resultant trepidation regarding pleasing the surrounding Black populace, descendants of the colonialism, slavery, inheritors of big chips on large shoulders.

Read the gallery text for Project Space: Kara Walkera silhouette work inspired by J.M.W Turner’s Slavers Throwing overboard the Dead and the Dying – Typhon* Coming On, and the book Liverpool & Slavery: An Historical Account of the Liverpool-African Slave Trade.

Tate St Ives: Heron Mall

Adam Chodzko: Proxigean Tide

For this 2008 exhibition, Chodzko created the work Borrowed Cold Lodge in response to the Heron Mall space at Tate St Ives. He approached various groups in St Ives and West Penwith and asked to borrow items of cold-weather and protective outer clothing which was then placed in the space, turning the public space into a backstage area. Watch a TateShots interview about the work with the artist below.

Site-specific in detail

Lectures on site-specific

Watch this lecture with artist Maya Lin who has maintained a careful balance between art and architecture throughout her career, creating a remarkable body of work that encompasses large-scale site-specific installations, intimate studio artworks, architectural works and memorials.

Transforming Place: Site and Locality in Contemporary Art video recordings
Watch this symposium which – through the lens of contemporary art, design and architecture – addresses site specificity, place making, commissioning and the institutional models used to explore these issues.

Tate commissions in detail

Phyllida Barlow untitled: dock: 5hungblocks 2013
Phyllida Barlow untitled: dock: 5hungblocks 2013

Exhibition catalogue: Phyllida Barlow
Dig deeper into Phyllida Barlow’s 2014 Tate Britain commission dock with this resource which contains a curatoral essay, interviews and installment  photographs.

Tino Sehgal in Conversation with Chris Dercon and Jessica Morgan
Hear artist Tino Sehgal discuss his 2012 Turbine Hall commission, which inhabited the space with an assembly of participants whose choreographed actions use movement, sound, and conversation. 

Anya Gallaccio: Artist’s Talk
Watch artist Anya Gallaccio in conversation with critic Tim Marlow as they discuss Gallaccio’s 2002 commission for the Duveen galleries. The work responded to the history and architecture of the galleries, as well as the landscape tradition represented within Tate’s collection. 

Bruce Nauman: Sound waves
In this Tate Etc. article, Robert Storr interviews Bruce Nauman about how he approached his 2004 Turbine Hall commission Raw Materials.

Related glossary terms

Installation, environments, land art, public art