Throughout this decade Arakawa continued to address both the physical and conceptual relationship of the viewer to a painting. Just as the paintings had become physically expansive at the end of the 70s they now became monumental, some almost twelve feet high and three or four panels wide, across which directional arrows reminiscent of wind currents twisted over street maps and texts. Shifting in scale to smaller sized canvases in the mid 80s he introduced a heavy white frame to emphasize a surface that incorporated marks for measuring and containing, text became inverted and partially obscured by layers of paint further focusing on the act of perceiving. Later re-engaging with the physical body, Arakawa’s introduced photographic floor panels as part of the work which the view was invite to stand upon in order to view large-scale multi paneled canvas’s including two room-sized installations of paintings with a sloping, moving walkway that meant the viewer was in continual motion installed as part of his retrospective in Japan.

In Europe Arakawa had solo museum exhibitions at Stadtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munichand in 1981 and Padiglione d'Arte Contemporanea, Milan in 1984. In 1991 his retrospective Constructing the Perceiver – Arakawa: Experimental Works opened at the National Museum of Art in Tokyo 1991, before touring in 1992 to The National Museum of Art, Kyoto and The Matsuzukaya Art Museum, Nagoya. He was awarded the Chevalier des Arts et Lettres by the French Government in 1986, a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship for 1987-88 and the Belgian Critic’s Prize for 1988-89.

In 1990 Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York staged Arakawa and Madeline Gins’ exhibition Building Sensoriums 1973-1990 that gave further visibility to the philosophies they had developed together since the Mechanism of Meaning and marked Arakawa’s shift in focus to exploring approaches to architecture and achieving permanent built structures.