The work of art and the space around it exist in a relationship of close interdependence: this essay looks at this symbiotic relationship by means of an extensive and detailed account of the major avant-garde installational and environmental experiments right up to the present. It traces the evolution of the art system and the itinerary that led to the post-modern paradox whereby the placing of any artefact in a particular context is, on its own, enough for it to be transformed into an artistic device.
It is the chronicle of a relationship in constant tension, the one between text and context, between content and container. And testing it, bringing about the evolution, not only of art, but also of the characteristics of the exhibition spaces, are always and above all the most avant-garde artists. Their investigations are structured within a dense dialogue with real space, which is gradually involved in a constitutive way in the creation of the works. The first stage is to overcome the conventional limits of the pedestal and the frame: the painting, unadorned, comes into the world to receive fragments of reality within its enclosure.
It cites the emblematic case of Fontana, who in the post-war years invaded the surrounding area to give life to the first works created using space and light alone. It moves on to the creation of installations that have a great impact on the environment – often site-specific with process artists, exponents of arte povera, conceptualists and land art among others. And finally reaches an awareness, nowadays totally taken for granted, that the work of art should find its raison d’être in relation to the setting and to the interplay between them.
The discussion is both clear and systematic, also documenting the most paradigmatic exhibitions and international shows including the most recent ones. But nor does the author ignore the importance of the curators, now omnipresent figures due to their ability (real or presumed) to stage shows that are seen as creative productions in their own right, subordinating the space of the work of art to the space managed by them.