Throughout 2019, artists around the world have been making their voices heard through striking art installations. Whether that means using illusions to transform public spaces or employing light to visually enhance the environment, each artist uses their work to great effect. Since 2013, we’ve been rounding up the top 10 art installations of the year and 2019 proved as difficult as ever to select the best site-specific works out of a strong pool of art.
Some artists like Vahit Tuna and Lorenzo Quinn used their art installations to highlight social concerns while others were drawn to explore topical issues of climate change and gun violence. Familiar names like Banksy and JR have made the list once again, the former for his surprise Gross Domestic Product pop-up shop that caused a sensation. But not all artists practice their work outdoors. Japanese art studio teamLab made the list for their breathtaking immersive installation that saw a room filled with thousands of Murano glass lamps.
Our top 10 list is filled with legendary contemporary artists like Jenny Holzer and Bruce Munro, both heralded for their site-specific installations. But alongside these big names, we also introduce up and comers like DAKU, the Indian artist who is making a name for himself with his shadow art. Check out who made the list of top art installations and then read on for a little background on the history of installation art before looking back over the past years’ great art.
Here are the top 10 art installations of 2019 from around the world.
Gross Domestic Product by Banksy
The world’s most famous—and most mysterious—street artist made waves once again with an unexpected project. When Banky’s Gross Domestic Product seemingly popped up overnight in London, the homewares store that visitors can view but not enter caused a sensation. Banksy used the storefront as a showroom to display items like mugs decorated with his iconic motifs and welcome mats stitched by refugees in a Greek detainment camp. Eventually, shoppers were allowed to register their interest for items via the official Gross Domestic Product website.
So what’s the meaning behind the installation? It’s actually quite practical. A greeting card company is attempting to seize legal control over the name Banksy. In order to protect himself, the street artist followed a judge’s recommendation to start his own line of branded merchandise. “I still encourage anyone to copy, borrow, steal and amend my art for amusement, academic research or activism. I just don’t want them to get sole custody of my name,” Banksy stated.
Forest of Resonating Lamps – One Stroke, Cherry Blossoms by teamLab
Japanese art and tech studio teamLab is known for its incredible, immersive installations that explore the relationship between humans and the world through art. Thanks to the teamLab Borderless digital art museum in Tokyo, visitors can explore their vision of light and color on a daily basis. One of the most striking installations in the museum is the Forest of Resonating Lamps.
The interactive installation consists of thousands of Murano glass lamps that follow the movements of visitors with the light they emit. Changing seasonally, the spring installation paid homage to Japan’s celebrated cherry blossoms. By weaving gradations of color together, teamLab aims to mimic the Japanese tradition Kasane no Irome—the layering of silks to build color.
VIGIL by Jenny Holzer
Jenny Holzer has a history of using her projected text art to make a stand about important issues. With VIGIL, she used her artistry to shed light on issues of gun control via words splayed across New York’s Rockefeller Center. The temporary installation used text from survivors of gun violence, as well as those who have lost loved ones from gunfire.
Presented by New York non-profit Creative Time, VIGIL comes at a time when concerns about gun violence in the United States are at an all-time high. “Jenny Holzer has been an innovator in the field of public art,” said Creative Time Executive Director Justine Ludwig. “It is an honor to work with her to realize this project, addressing one of the most pressing issues we have today as a nation. Her work amplifies the words of those directly affected and brings personal perspective to staggering statistics.”
Field of Light at Sensorio by Bruce Munro
Acclaimed British artist Bruce Munro has been creating his illuminated landscapes for over 15 years. His site-specific art aims to highlight the shared human experience through interconnected glowing orbs. With Field of Light at Sensorio, Monro accentuated the rolling landscape of California’s wine country with 60,000 solar-powered LED lights. As they spider out across 15 acres, they form Munro’s largest installation to date.
“I hope that the experience allows people to relax and enjoy the shared experience and to walk away with a feeling of inner peace and harmony . . . a gently illuminated landscape that is framed by a star studded sky,” Munro shared with My Modern Met in an exclusive interview. “I would encourage people to be inspired by nature because it truly holds all the answers!”
Field of Light at Sensorio has proved so popular that the installation will remain on view until June 30, 2020.
Building Bridges by Lorenzo Quinn
Two years after his widely praised Support installation, sculptor Lorenzo Quinn returned to Venice with Building Bridges. Stretching almost 50 feet high and 65 feet wide, six pairs of hands reached across one of the lagoon’s historic canals. Each pair either clasps or touches in a powerful sign of unity.
Created for the 2019 Venice Art Biennale, Building Bridges is based on a message of inclusion that is all too important in these divisive times. “Each pair of the sculpture’s hands celebrate one of six universal human values: Friendship, to build on the future together; Wisdom, to make mutually beneficial decisions; Help, to cement lasting relationships; Faith, to trust in your heart and self-worth; Hope, to persevere in worthwhile endeavors; and Love, the fundamental purpose for it all,” shared Quinn.
Lines (57° 59 ́N, 7° 16 ́W) by Pekka Niittyvirta and Timo Aho
In an effort to visually demonstrate the effects of rising sea levels, Finnish artists Pekka Niittyvirta and Timo Aho used beams of light to create Lines (57° 59 ́N, 7° 16 ́W). The duo worked out of the Taigh Chearsabhagh Arts Centre in Scotland and marked points along the landscape where sea levels could rise to in the near future. The results are a visually stunning, yet shocking, look at what the future might hold.
As the lasers slice across buildings, cutting them nearly in half, the struggle of seaside communities is made real. By thinking about human actions, the environment, and climate change, the artists have been able to demonstrate the imminent consequences of our actions.
“We believe that the topic we are talking about here is one of the most important challenges we are facing,” the artists told My Modern Met in an exclusive interview. “Art has the potential to convey scientific data, complex ideas, and concepts in a powerful way that words or graphs fall short of.”
Louvre Pyramid Illusion by JR
A familiar name on the list, street artist JR continually produces high-quality artwork. In 2019, for the 30th anniversary of the Louvre Pyramid, the French artist created a memorable—though ephemeral—tribute. With the help of 400 volunteers, he strategically placed 2,000 sheets of paper to create the illusion that the Pyramid was rising from a rock quarry.
Once JR posted the photograph of the finished piece to his Instagram, the area was swarmed with tourists and the fragile paper was quickly torn to shreds. While some were upset about the short duration of the installation, for JR it was all about the idea of presence and absence. In fact, JR’s response to the fervor via Twitter says it all: “The images, like life, are ephemeral. Once pasted, the art piece lives on its own. The sun dries the light glue and with every step, people tear pieces of the fragile paper. The process is all about [the] participation of volunteers, visitors, and souvenir catchers.”
Untitled by Vahit Tuna
By placing 440 pairs of black high heels along the facade of a building, Turkish artist Vahit Tuna is shedding light on the important issue of femicide. Each pair represents a woman killed by her partner in Turkey in 2018, making the installation a stirring and sad reminder of the work that needs to be done to combat domestic violence.
It’s impossible to ignore the imposing display, which ran for six months on a wall curated by the non-profit art platform Yanköşe. The use of high heels was inspired by the Turkish custom to hang the shoes of the deceased outside of their house. By transforming this funerary tradition, Tuna gives a wake-up call to the public.
Milan Design Week installation by Alex Chinneck
British artist Alex Chinneck peeled back layers of history with his installation in Italy during Milan Design Week. In what he called his most ambitious project yet, Chinneck “unzipped” the facade of a building in Milan and allowed a glowing blue light to shine from beneath the masonry.
The incredible illusion carries through to the interior of the building, where Chinneck inserted zippers in the walls and floors. In fact, to achieve the desired effect, he excavated and repoured concrete in different sections of the building. Unfortunately, the zipper’s shelf life was short-lived, as the temporary installation was finished after a few weeks.
Theory of Time by DAKU
Over the past few years, Indian artist DAKU has made a name for himself thanks to his striking installations that use light and shadow. By carefully studying the path of the sun, DAKU installs words that can only be viewed in their entirety at a precise moment in time. While he often creates these pieces on building facades, Theory of Time saw him filling an entire street in Panjim, Goa with text.
The text moves throughout the day, creating an evocative ebb and flow that mirrors the meaning of the phrases projected on the pavement. “Time is a great teacher” and “Time is an illusion” are just some of the sentences that make DAKU’s work an incredible merging site of the visual and metaphorical.