Site Specific Art Essay Introduction

Site-specific art is artwork created to exist in a certain place. Typically, the artist takes the location into account while planning and creating the artwork. Site-specific art is produced both by commercial artists, and independently, and can include some instances of work such as sculpture, stencil graffiti, rock balancing, and other art forms. Installations can be in urban areas, remote natural settings, or underwater.[1][2][3][4][5][6]


The term "Site-specific art" was promoted and refined by Californian artist Robert Irwin[7][8] but it was actually first used in the mid-1970s by young sculptors, such as Patricia Johanson, Dennis Oppenheim, and Athena Tacha, who had started executing public commissions for large urban sites.[citation needed] Site specific environmental art was first described as a movement by architectural critic Catherine Howett and art critic Lucy Lippard.[citation needed]. Its emergence was also influenced by the modernist objects as a reaction of artists to the situation in the world.[citation needed]

Modernist art objects were transportable, nomadic, could only exist in the museum space and were the objects of the market and commodification. Since 1960 the artists were trying to find a way out of this situation, and thus drew attention to the site and the context around this site . The work of art was created in the site and could only exist and in such circumstances - it can not be moved or changed. Site is a current location, which comprises a unique combination of physical elements: depth, length, weight, height, shape, walls, temperature.[9] Works of art began to emerge from the walls of the museum and galleries (Daniel Buren, Within and Beyond the Frame, John Weber Gallery, New York, 1973), were created specifically for the museum and galleries (Michael Asher, untitled installation at Claire Copley Gallery, Los Angeles, 1974, Hans Haacke, Condensation Cube, 1963–65, Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Hartford Wash: Washing Tracks, Maintenance Outside, Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, 1973), thus criticizing the museum as an institution that sets the rules for artists and viewers.[9]

Jean-Max Albert, created Sculptures Bachelard in Parc de la Villette related to the site, or Carlotta’s Smile, a trellis construction related to Ar. Co,’s architecture Lisbon, and to a choreography in collaboration with Michala Marcus and Carlos Zingaro, 1979.[10]


Outdoor site-specific artworks often include landscaping combined with permanently sited sculptural elements; it is sometimes linked with environmental art. Outdoor site-specific artworks can also include danceperformances created especially for the site. More broadly, the term is sometimes used for any work that is more or less permanently attached to a particular location. In this sense, a building with interesting architecture could also be considered a piece of site-specific art.

In Geneva, Switzerland, two Contemporary Art Funds of the city have been looking to integrate art into the architecture and the public space since 1980[11]. The Neons Parallax project initiated in 2007 was conceived specifically for the Plaine de Plainpalais, located in the heart of the city. The challenge of the artists invited was to transpose commercial advertising signs of the harbour into artistic messages.[12]. The project has received the Swiss Prix Visarte 2017.

Site-specific performance art, site-specific visual art and interventions are commissioned for the annual Infecting the City Festival in Cape Town, South Africa. The site-specific nature of the work allows artists to interrogate the contemporary and historic reality of the Central Business District and create work that allows the city's users to engage and interact with public spaces in new and memorable ways[13].


  • Expodrome, oeuvre de Dominique Gonzales Foerster pour Neons Parallax,2008.

  • View of an installation from Strandbad Seedorf, Switzerland, 2015.

  • Olafur Eliasson's Waterfalls under the Brooklyn Bridge, 2008.

  • Site specific dance by Blue Lapis Light at the Texas State History Museum in Austin, Texas, 2010.

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External links[edit]

Jean-Max Albert, Carlotta's Smile, a trellis construction with a choreography, in collaboration with Michala Marcus and Carlos Zingaro, Lisbon, 1979

Art/Site: An Introduction to Art as Site-Response

Art/Site is a means to exploring site-specific / site-responsive practice in contemporary art. This project brings together practitioners in different disciplines to explore how site resonates with artistic endeavour and the effects (if any) that art has on the locality spatially and psychologically.

Art/Site explores the artistic, social and cultural issues surrounding the "reclamation" of public space through art. The city becomes a zone of experimentation and perspective shift, encouraging the artist and the audience to see the landscape and objects within it in a new way. Questions about time, impermanence, memory, artifice and locality arise, providing raw materials for the artist and points of access for the audience.

History is not so much about facts as about perceptions of the world around us, and a sense that we belong to something that has existed before we did. That is why these forgotten places have the ability to hold such resonance.

Work site-responsively, the artist concerned with the experience of being in those spaces, in the inter-relationship of the past and present, imprints of history and current activity, the physical feel and texture of the space and with bringing those experiences out to the public. The work has the ability to make the audience think about where they are, to reintegrate the lost fragmented forgotten place back into their consciousness.

In 'Junkspace', Hilary Powell posits the idea of "recycling" junk or abandoned spaces, a "temporary transformation of meaning", citing Walter Benjamin's concept of art as redemptive. She contrasts "public art" as critiqued by Koolhaas, with site-responsive "interventions" into the derelict urban landscape. Powell sees the art event as a "moment of rupture" in the narrative of development and capitalist progress. Powell goes on to discuss her project fleeting a site-responsive mixed media intervention into a squatted lido (swimming pool). Fleeting raises many questions about use and intended use of space: the lido was not "disused" but it was used transgressively, by the squatters, as living space. Powell notes how historical research into the public health movement of the 1930s when the London lidos were built informs the outcome of her work, and highlights the ongoing controversy of "what is public service" raised by the very existence of the art event.

Powell asks, by way of conclusion, given the interest of artist, developer and local community in the use of public space, "how can [these] site[s] be best "put to use"?

Turning more specifically to the relationship between art, culture and history, historian Niko Rollmann looks at the way art was used to "reconsecrate" an important symbolic historical and political space. In 'Wrapping the Reichstag' Rollmann describes the fraught history of the building and its role in the fragile democracy of Germany, and the mentality in post-war Germany which made the wrapping such a shocking but necessary event . The Christos' (Bulgarian artist Christo and Jeanne-Claude) wrapping of the Reichstag in 1995 was a sensitive, joyful art-action which drew attention to a crucially important, but hitherto marginalized and decrepit space. As Brian O'Docherty has said of the Christos' projects:

Their projects are one of the very few successful attempts to press the rhetoric of much 20th century art to a conclusion… In doing so they measure the distance between art's aspirations and society's permissions… Far from being folly, the Christos' projects are gigantic parables: subversive, beautiful, didactic."1

In ''On Interconnectivity', Françoise Dupré discusses the idea of community and collective space as a site for art and describes how she shifts her practice between "approved" sites for art (galleries, museums, recognised art spaces) and "marginalised" sites (schools, community resources) and how she refuses to accept these demarcations. She discusses her work in emplacements a UK-St Petersburg art exchange that happened in 2000 and 2002, "between social and cultural zones."

Dupre challenges the idea of "art" and "non art" and argues convincingly that "sites of learning" are important art sites, creating dialogues and exchanges with and between communities – communities of artists as well as the wider community of which artists are a part – in local and international contexts.

Moving away from the physical site, landscape architect and artist Kelty Miyoshi McKinnon introduces the idea of "the site" as fluid. Her current works including the one discussed in 'Apocalyptic Pollinations, Ivy League', deal with the perceived 'threat' of the natural world (a 'threat' which goes back to the Puritans.

For example in Cotton Mather's essay The Wonders of the Invisible World he states that the natural world is "the Devil's territory"). The "threat" of water or "alien" plants "erupting" beyond their delimited boundaries is counter-pointed to current administration rhetoric about illegal immigrants and asylum seekers.

['Ivy League' is an Internet project that moves fluidly between real and virtual space. The work is about containment and restriction and about defying the boundaries. Focusing on the plant "English Ivy" – contentious as it has a tendency to spread and can grow in difficult conditions – the website uses the plant as a metaphor, but also offers a "portable pocket garden kit" which allows /exhorts the recipient to "wander the city" scattering the invasive plant's seeds in the nooks and crannies of the city's buildings and pavements: combining subversion with psychogeography.

These essays, together with discussions of specific works by different artists, give an introduction to current practices in site-responsive art. The range of practices, ideologies and aims serve to show that the movement of art out of culturally-demarcated space and into the fabric of human life, is unstoppable.


1 O'Doherty, B. Inside The White Cube : The Ideology of the Gallery Space. San Francisco: The Lapis Press. 1986 pp.104-105.



Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License. GMcIver 2004


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