Many artists use durable materials of the best quality to ensure their works have a long lifespan. Others use organic substances that will decay over time – and as the most important temporary works show, impermanence itself becomes a collaborator or a medium.
When unveiled, some of the artwork mentioned below was laughed at, and others were hailed by critics and the public alike. Whatever the response at the time, the impact they made is evident years, even decades, later.
Minimum Monument – Néle Azevedo
Sculptor Néle Azevedo has taken her Minimum Monument Project from Brazil to Cuba, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Portugal. She began the project in 2001.
The artist makes hundreds, if not thousands, of miniature human figures by hand for each installation, which takes place in a public space. Although the entire works melt within half an hour, they always attract scores of viewers. Azevedo refers to her installations as monuments, and she has said their fluidity reflects the fluidity of the times in which we live. She also has said her works are a global warming warning.
Apple – Yoko Ono
Exhibited at Indica Gallery, London, in 1966 and at MoMA, New York City, in 2015, Yoko Ono’s Apple is a Granny Smith apple on a stand made of acrylic. The second showing used a fresh apple.
Ono identified three core elements of the work. Firstly, it offers the excitement of seeing a piece of fruit decompose. It’s probably not as exciting as playing the newest casino slots games. Secondly, it poses the challenging question of whether the fruit should be replaced, or whether one should simply remember the beauty of the apple after it is gone.
7000 Eichen and Fettstuhl – Joseph Beuys
In 1982, Documenta 7 invited Joseph Beuys to contribute to the art exhibition. The artist was known for creating temporary works of art, and he did not disappoint.
For 7000 Oaks, he placed a pile of stones in the shape of an arrow, and he planted an oak tree at its tip. Beuys declared that no one was to take any of the basalt stones unless they planted an oak tree in the place to which they took the stone. His call for public participation worked, and 7000 oak trees were planted in Kassel. The artist said he wanted the project to make a lasting change to social and urban environments.
Beuys’ installation Fettstuhl, or Fat Chair, was on show between 1964 and 1985. It featured a chunk of lard on a wooden chair in a display case with a thermometer.
A Thousand Years – Damian Hirst
Morbidly fascinating, a Thousand Years is a meditation on the cycle of life and death. It was created by Damian Hirst in 1990.
It consists of a vitrine in two parts. In one side, he has a large white die with a single dot on each face. In the other side, he placed the decaying head of a cow, fly maggots, and an electronic insect killer. The maggots feasted on rotting flesh, became flies, and eventually were killed by the bug zapper.