Given the prominence of politics this year, many of 2017’s top art installations are rooted in social issues and environmental awareness. These pieces aim to inform the public through strong visuals and striking subject matter, and often invite viewers to reach their own conclusions through contemplation.
Many pieces, like JR‘s immigration-inspired installation and Ai Weiwei‘s powerful piece on asylum seekers, question the current rules on migration. Some, including Lorenzo Quinn‘s site-specific Support sculpture and Captain Boomer Collective‘s hyperrealistic beached whale, comment on climate change. And others, like Greyworld‘s Garden of Light and Kristen Visbal‘s Fearless Girl, shine a spotlight on those who deserve recognition.
While hard-hitting issues clearly stole the show over the last 12 months, some artists—including Edoardo Tresoldi, Rebecca Louise Law, and Emmanuelle Moureaux—forewent this activist approach and instead opted for a more conceptual (and less politically-charged) practice.
Be sure to catch a glimpse of these amazing installations below.
Best of 2017: Top 10 Amazing Art Installations
Celebrated street artist JR is known for his large-scale, photographic installations. For his latest piece, the French artist placed a poster of a toddler along the border between Mexico and the United States. Installed on the southern side of the wall, the piece depicts the young child as he curiously peers over the obstruction.
The image of the innocent boy emphasizes the emotional impact of the United States’ immigration policy and humanizes those who are affected by it—a message directly in-line with JR’s altruistic approach to art. “I think there is no such thing as art trying to change the world,” JR explained to us in an exclusive interview. “But being an artist and creating art in tons of different contexts, no matter what the mood is and sometimes against the codes that stand around you, is a way of breaking society and changing the world—just by trying.”
In the spring, Garden of Light—a poignant and powerful collaboration between Marie Curie, a British charity that offers support to terminally ill individuals, and Greyworld, an artists’ collective—lit up London and launched the Great Daffodil Appeal with a field of illuminated flowers. Each of the touching exhibit’s 2,100 dazzling daffodils represented a selfless Marie Curie nurse and referenced the caregivers’ amazing ability to offer “light in the darkest hours.”
In addition to a visual spectacle, the exhibition also featured recordings of nurses reading moving letters they’ve received from families of patients and invited visitors to commemorate a lost loved on its memory wall.
Activist and artist Ai Weiwei is renowned for his powerful and politically-charged works of art. With an interest in current events, the Chinese artist has recently turned his attention to the refugee humanitarian crisis. This focus is evident in Law of the Journey, a powerful installation that depicts a rubber raft filled with refugees. Though the asylum-seekers are clad in lifejackets, many of them have not survived the perilous journey, as numerous bodies surround the overcrowded boat.
To Ai Weiwei, this image is all-too-familiar, as he himself is a refugee. Through his art, he hopes to bring attention to the heartbreaking issue, as he—like many people—believes that “in dealing with refugees, we’ve lost our very basic values.”
For the 57th International Art Biennale, artist Lorenzo Quinn created Support, a site-specific sculpture of a set of helping hands. Installed along the wall of the Ca’ Sagredo Hotel, the colossal hands appear to emerge from the water of the Grand Canal in order to “support” the seemingly sinking historic building. Through this piece, Quinn aims to highlight the destruction the “City of Water” could soon face as a result of climate change. “Venice is a floating art city that has inspired cultures for centuries,” the artist explains, “but to continue to do so it needs the support of our generation and future ones.”
Empowered by January’s worldwide Women’s March, many works of art featured a feminist focus in 2017, including the famed Fearless Girl. Commissioned by State Street Global Advisors, the site-specific sculpture was created by bronze artist Kristen Visbal. Strategically installed across from Wall Street’s well-known Charging Bull statue, the life-sized piece depicts a small girl defiantly challenging the charging animal.
A call-to-arms for equality in the workplace, Visbal hopes that Fearless Girl is a “piece of work all women of any age, shape, color or creed can relate to” and that it continues to serve as a much-needed reminder that “today’s working woman is here to stay and has taken her place in the nation’s financial district.”
With classical architecture as his muse and mesh as his medium-of-choice, Italian artist Edoardo Tresoldi exquisitely crafts old-meets-new works of art. For a recent royal event in Abu Dhabi, the artist collaborated with DesignLab Experience to create a one-of-a-kind immersive environment that filled the event’s 7,000-square-meter space. Though inspired by ancient architecture, the avant-garde aesthetic of the wire sculptures culminated in a highly contemporary installation.
For The Iris, London-based artist Rebecca Louise Law employed real flowers to explore and embrace the ephemerality of the environment. Created for NOW Gallery, the site-specific show featured 10,000 freshly-cut irises. Suspended from the ceiling using copper wire, the upside-down flora float above the gallery’s floor and transform the space into an interactive work of art.
While, at first, the flowers retain their shape, color, and smell, they will soon die. To Law, this is both a beautiful and necessary part of the process, as she continuously strives to create “artwork that can be observed without the pressure of time.”
Portugal-based collaborative team FAHR021.3 crafts immersive installations that creatively alter environments. To add a contemporary touch to Porto’s Amor de Perdição square, FAHR021.3 installed Eclipse, a metallic purple, 6-meter-tall sphere. Composed of slanted tubes, the massive orb—described by FAHR021.3 as “a game of perception and provocation in the city”—both playfully distributed light and invited passers-by to use it as a unique means to observe their surroundings.
Over the summer, a shocking sculpture of a dead sperm whale appeared on the otherwise beautiful banks of the River Seine in Paris. Created by Captain Boomer Collective, this 17-meter-long hyperrealistic whale has been “beached” in a series of European cities, including Valencia, Antwerp, and London.
Captain Boomer Collective hopes to raise environmental awareness by confronting an unsuspecting public with the grisly installation, described by the team as “a gigantic metaphor for the disruption of our ecological system.”
French architect and designer Emmanuelle Moureaux is known for her colossal and colorful paper installations. In 2017, she created Forest of Numbers, an interactive and immersive piece crafted from 60,000 paper cut-outs. Intended to represent the upcoming decade, the cut-outs featured the numbers 0 through 9 and were suspended from the ceiling in groups of 4, culminating in 10 layers, or “years.” Thus, as visitors walked around the exhibit, they were conceptually traveling through time.