Since the beginning of the 20th century, it is impossible to ignore that art has been changing drastically. It is impossible to overlook the fact that art has moved away from the conventions set by the renaissance back in the 14th century, and has changed from non-ephemeral, to an Ephemeral state. Throughout the 20th century, art has been progressively moving away from pictorial representations, sculpture, and visual observation, giving birth to an Avant-garde era. During this period, different artists tried to expand their understanding of art, and thus begun a search for new directions that could challenge the meaning of art at the time. Such challenge introduced extreme alterations to the world of art. These alterations pushed the boundaries of many artistic aspects, such as the definition and use of the art object, the artistic subject, and the role played by the spectator. Artists such as Ana Mendieta, Allan Kaprow and Mierle Laderman, are some of the many artists responsible for the introduction of styles and movements that challenged the aspects mentioned above. This paper explains how such movements and styles challenge definition of western art, that led to the discovery of ephemeral art. Even though ephemeral art could only be experienced during the time it is being made, the impact it had over western art was remarkable, this type of art gives a special and unique aesthetic beauty to the work, and it has indeed changed the way western art was depicted and experienced since the renaissance back in the 14th century.
Throughout history, it has been clear that the "art object" is referred to the piece produced by the artist. Since the renaissance, paintings and sculptures were a perfect example of the art object, a piece that would require visual contemplation and would be available whenever wished by the spectator. However, different artists challenged this aspect at the beginning of the 20th century. Artists such as Ana Mendieta, began to experiment with the way in which the art object was depicted, and as a result turned art into ephemeral and broke the limitations set to the art object. Mendieta mainly presents such challenge on her "Silueta" series, in which she uses her own naked body to mark her silhouette on the ground, which then is destroyed by nature itself. Mendieta's works such as "First Silueta" or "Glass on Body", illustrate how Mendieta uses her own naked body as the art object, such objectification of her body changes the way in which art objects have been depicted on the past by giving the artist (subject), the title of the object. Moreover, the fact that Mendieta organized these happenings only once, and that the silhouettes created by the artists were then destroyed by nature or in one way dematerialized, gave these works a time-based duration. Although Mendieta created ephemeral works, which can only be appreciated while they last, one could give these works a label of uniqueness which helps to understand that Medieta's works don't fall under the category of durable artwork that cannot be maintained in a museum, completely changing the depiction of art as a static object.
As the avant-garde epoch advanced, many artists persisted with experimentation of new ways of expression in which they continued to challenge different aspects of western art. The artistic subject was introduced as the artist himself from the beginning of art history. However, different artists during the 20th century questioned the role and responsibilities played by the artistic subject, these artists began to challenge the relationship between the artistic subject and the art object. Such challenge was introduced by many artists and mainly challenged by feminist art, showing innovative ways of depicting the subject on the actual work, other than being the creator of the piece, which changed the normal use and understanding of such. Mariele Lederman Ukele's "Manifesto for Maintenance", is a perfect example of such movement, Ukele was inspired by her own experience of maintaining her household, and offered 17 different performances that took place in public spaces. These performances consisted of activities such as, scrubbing the streets, cooking and inviting people to eat. By performing in public in such way, Ukele incorporates the artistic subject (herself) into the actual object (artwork), which changes the way in which the art community understands the concept, making the artist part of the artwork and completely changing the original relationship between the viewing subject and the art object. Furthermore, the fact that Ukele also presents this piece for a short period of time proves that such movement and work of art are ephemeral, a concept that started to become popular within the art community throughout this time. As mentioned above, such concept gave the artwork the ability to dematerialize, leaving behind nothing but a sense of uniqueness and aesthetical beauty, which could only be appreciated during the time it was being exposed but expanded options and limitations being confronted by the art community since the beginning of time.
In addition to the art object and the artistic subject, the spectator also plays an important role on the meaning of western art. Even though for hundreds of years the spectator had nothing to do with the creation and composition of western art, during the 20th century this convection took a drastic turn. As different artists continued to challenge different aspects of art, the spectator was one of the most drastically challenged by such, the spectator would now take place of the subject and the object, he or she would become part of the artwork making the work ephemeral. Allan Kaprow was one of the artists that succeeded at challenging this aspect of art, Kaprow staged eighteen happenings in which the audience were placed in three rooms, lit with colored lights and divided by plastic walls, the audience were also given different instructions on their movements completing his work. By doing this, Kaprow breaks the conceptual boundary between the public and the object. He places the spectators inside the artwork, something that had never been tried before but extremely effective. The spectator was invited to reflect on the obvious shocking aspects of western art, and the separation between art and daily life. Since the spectator was now part of the artwork, most of these happenings would last a short period of time, giving the 20th century art an ephemeral characteristic, and also giving the spectator the title of the subject since it is he or she that contributes in creating the artwork. Such experimentation by Kaprow would begin to expand the potential of expression that western art possessed, and the power of the artistic subject and spectator over the art object.
During the 20th century, it is obvious that different artists were stepping out of the boundaries that were set to them by the art world itself. Artists were desperately trying to find ways to change the way in which the world experienced art, the piece of the puzzle that contained the real meaning of art and aesthetics needed to be found. Artists such as Ana Mendieta, Mariele Lederman Ukele, and Allan Kaprow, are a perfect example of the type of artist that challenged western art. Their work pushed the boundaries of aspects such as the art object, the artistic subject, and the spectator of art. The artistic subject and spectator were placed inside the art object and became part of the art object itself, giving western art an expanded field. The violation of conventional groups of artistic creation and the breakdown of boundaries introduced by the renaissance, led artists to the development of ephemeral works of art. Ephemeral art has the characteristic of decaying, getting destroyed and lasting short periods of time. However, such characteristic raises questions about the durability and ownership of the art object, since it is not possible for the object to reside inside a gallery, and it can only be treasured on images. The example set to the art community by artists of the 20th century, opens the door to endless possibilities of expression, combine the material form of art objects with the importance of time and space, and at the same time address and challenge conventions of artistic production. Such contribution has gotten the art world closer to the piece of the puzzle needed to answer the frequently asked question, "But why is it art?".