Inflatable Art

Art Exhibit at ALMA

Feature image: Art exhibit at ALMA via ESO.org

Inflatable Art

Inflatable art is one medium where the boundaries between the fine arts and the general public are thin; the art holds infinite possibilities for expression while making it accessible to a wider audience. Inflatable art also holds discussions about the intersection of technology and sustainability. Regardless of their location, they exist for people of all backgrounds to immerse themselves in the artist’s message, an opportunity not always readily available for all people. 

History/prominent examples

Inflatable art brings an element of public engagement to otherwise disconnected spaces, encouraging and urging the community to engage with and immerse themselves in the artist’s messages. Yayoi Kusama's "Dots Obsession" (2000-present) might be one of the most recognizable examples of inflatable art today. These installations often feature everything from inflatable tentacle-like in polka-dot patterns, transforming spaces and creating immersive environments and immersive, sometimes liminal spaces decorated with the exploration of her identity as a person.

Yayoi Kusama via BBC
Yayoi Kusama via BBC

Jeremy Deller is a London-based artist known for his thought-provoking inflatable works in the 2010s. He is the artist responsible for the inflatable Stonehenge called “sacrilege” in 2012. The installation turned Stonehenge into a bouncy house, causing families to connect and enjoy the outdoors while challenging what it means to have a heritage and history. The work was commissioned for the Glasgow International Festival of Art. Stonehenge is no stranger to it, as this is just one of many examples of the ancient wonder of the world.

Choi Jeong Hwa pushes the boundaries of fine art and fanfare by manipulating more than just the inflatable shells of a work. The South Korean artist participates in global art festivals to raise money and awareness for marine sustainability initiatives. Hwa focuses on transforming spaces and perspectives by blurring the boundaries of fine art and pop culture. His inflatable installation echoes Deller’s visions in that it believes it should be accessible and remain connected to the people. For example, “Breathing Flower” (2013) was one of his more famous inflatable works because the air was just as medium as the inflatable. The work moved, or “breathed,” by releasing and adding air, symbolizing life, vitality, and unity. 

The Art of Dreaming in Azrieli Sharona by Shir Lamdan
The Art of Dreaming in Azrieli Sharona by Shir Lamdan 

Inflated Advocacy and Mockery of the Art Industry

One space that uses inflatable art as an advocacy is the environmental movement. For example, Paul Villinski created inflatable installations depicting different flight patterns using recycled materials, so his work was easily moved from place to place while ensuring the messages he wanted to send remained accessible for all. This also touches on the conversation of overconsumption and over-consumerism in environmentalism and sustainability - the amount of waste produced by the art industry and the carbon emissions needed to keep it running.

The Art of Dreaming in Azrieli Sharona by Pilpeled
The Art of Dreaming in Azrieli Sharona by Pilpeled

While some use the medium for creative expression, others use it for mockery. For example, Paul McCarthy poked fun at Jeff Koons’s balloon dog sculptures with an inflatable installation at Frieze New York’s second year in 2013. He did this as a commentary on the “inflation” of Koons’ works in the art market while touching on their inauthenticity. This could tie into the advocacy/activism section as well. However, the work existed as merely performative, a demonstration reminiscent of ideas otherwise elevated already in showrooms and galleries.

Inside The Queen
Inside The Queen's Lantern via Wikimedia

Inflatable Fashion

One of the most common trends with inflatable art in high fashion is its incorporation into outerwear pieces. Moncler 5 Collection Graig Green is known for captivating lines with limitless forms. The lines include everything from inflatable puffer jackets and outerwear pieces that brought elements of functionality to the avant-garde runways and tent-like contraptions hanging at the shoulders of the model. The high-fashion pieces have sleeping bag-like extensions on the sides and backpack-shaped balloons on the back. The models deliver balloon-like silhouettes when walking down the runway, the inflated extensions catching the wind almost like a sail. This collection is a great example of how high fashion uses inflatable installations to facilitate conversations about the oversaturation of the fashion industry and beauty standards on models.

Inflatable Dress, Diana Engs Fairytale Fashion
Inflatable Dress, Diana Engs Fairytale Fashion via Observer
Gareth Pugh inflatable look, Spring-Summer 2007
Gareth Pugh inflatable look, Spring-Summer 2007 via Wikimedia

Some collections use inflatable pieces as details rather than the main focus. Maison Margiela’s Spring 2017 collection was not fully about inflatable works. They made inflatable impressions by blending figure-manipulating properties with cohesive, curated outerwear. However, it incorporated smaller inflatable components into the shoulders of sleeves and within skirts. While Margiela’s line used the medium as a tool to incorporate into the line instead of focusing on the medium itself, it still generated lots of buzz for its challenging of “conventional” fashion ideas.

Geva Duck
Geva Duck via Wikimedia

Inflating art means connecting people. It means to push the boundaries of expression to their absolute limit, even when commenting on inflated value in art fairs and auction houses. Its influence extends beyond the halls of art fairs, making its mark on the bright lights of the runway. Regardless of how these artists used inflatables, they each made it their own. In doing so, they connected the masses. After all, art without joy, community, and thought-provoking conversation is just a bunch of inflated price tags.


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