The Project

James Turrell, Three gems (2005), de Young Museum, San Francisco [Copyright: Elisa Caldarola]
Many works of art today consist of objects whose relationships with the settings in which they are installed are important for an appropriate experience of them as art. Like Katharina Fritsch’s Cock – a giant sculpture representing a blue cockerel installed in 2013 in Trafalgar Square, where it is surrounded by statues of important men – many works in traditional art forms (such as sculpture, painting, music) are currently produced with attention to their status as installed objects: they are what is usually called ‘site-specific art’.

Moreover, a new family of works, usually categorized as ‘installation art’, has emerged since the late 50s. These employ not only traditional art media but also familiar objects (tires, cardboards, chairs, etc.), installed in certain spaces. Ai Weiwei, for instance, installed 886 wooden stools at the 2013 Venice Biennale.

Installed artworks are also central to the practice of curatorship. It is usual for curators, and not just installation artists, to undertake the actual installation of objects in exhibition spaces, paying attention to e.g. the spatial relationships between objects, spaces, and viewers, and the viewpoint from which they wish to present the objects.

Given the relative newness of reflections on installation practices in art, a global account of art installation, i.e. of art objects in specific situations, has not yet been put forward. Bringing analytic philosophy into dialogue with theories of contemporary art and curatorship, my project will provide the first comprehensive philosophical theory of art installation, understanding it as a phenomenon at the centre of three distinct, but related, domains: site-specific art, installation art, and installation as curatorial endeavour.

Research objectives

(1) Defining site-specific art: I will undertake a systematic study of art-theoretical and philosophical accounts of site-specific art and collect testimonies of artists, established and emerging. I will then scrutinize the information thus collected through an analytical lens, in order to provide a clear definition of the category ‘site-specific art’. My working hypothesis is that ‘site-specific art’ refers to an art genre (among other things), to which works in different art forms can belong (compare it, for instance, with the art genre ‘comedy’, to which works in different art forms can belong: comic movies, comic strips, comic theatre works, etc.).

(2) Defining installation art: Basing, on the one hand, on art theoretical accounts of site-specific art and installation art and, on the other hand, on philosophical debates concerning the understanding of art genres, the distinction between art genres and art forms, and the individuation of art media, I will distinguish between the genre of site-specific art and the category of installation art. My working hypothesis is that installation art is an art form, with a distinctive (although not unique) medium, at the centre of a distinctive appreciative practice.

(3) Investigating the aesthetic experience of site-specific and installation art: First, basing on research in the metaphysics of art, I will investigate the metaphysics of the aesthetic properties of site-specific art and installation art. Then, I will take stance within the debate concerning the kind of experience afforded by works of installation art when they are appreciated as art: does the perceptual experience afforded by works of installation art differ significantly from the kind of perceptual experience – aesthetic experience – afforded by more traditional works of art?

(4) Investigating the role of installation in curatorial activities: Engaging with current art-theoretical literature on the understanding of curatorship and exhibition-making, examining case-studies, interviewing curators, and basing on previous work conducted in the context of the present research programme, I will examine how the activities of curators and installation artists overlap, and how they can be distinguished from each other.


On the one hand, I shall adopt the standard methodology of analytic philosophy of art, interpreting texts, analysing arguments, and developing new insights supported by rigorous arguments; on the other hand, I shall interview artists and curators, to investigate under-researched art practices, supplementing the analysis of the limited literature with that of first-hand testimonies. I shall address metaphysical questions about the constitution and the authorship of art installation works, and questions about their ontological status, their aesthetic properties, and the kind of appreciative experience they afford.

Title of the research project: A Philosophy of Art Installation

Principal Investigator: Elisa Caldarola, PhD

Host Institution: Dipartimento FISPPA, Università degli Studi di Padova, Italy

Duration of the research project: 2 years (April 2018 – March 2020)

Budget: 140.000 €

Funding scheme: Stars Grants – Supporting Talent in Research 2017