Contemporary Art: Exploring Today's Creative Landscape
What is Contemporary Art?
In its most basic sense, contemporary art refers to art—namely, painting, sculpture, photography, installation, performance, and video art—produced today. Though seemingly simple, the details surrounding this definition are often a bit fuzzy, as different individuals' interpretations of “today” may widely and wildly vary. Therefore, the exact starting point of the genre is still debated; however, many art historians consider the late 1960s or early 1970s (the end of modern art, or modernism) to be an adequate estimate.
Major Contemporary Art Movements and Artists
Given its “art of today” definition, you may be surprised to hear that contemporary art has a relatively long history. To trace its evolution, let's take a look at the major movements and important artists that compose its history.
Intended as a reaction to preceding modern art movements, contemporary art is thought to have begun on the heels of Pop Art. In post-war Britain and America, Pop Art was pioneered by artists like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. It is defined by an interest in portraying mass culture and reimagining commercial products as accessible art. While the movement lasted roughly from the 1950s through the early 1970s, it was reborn as Neo-Pop Art in the 1980s thanks to artists like Jeff Koons.
Much like artists working in the Pop Art style sought to artistically reproduce objects, those involved with Photorealism—a concurrent movement—aimed to create hyperrealistic drawings and paintings. Photorealists often worked from photographs, which enabled them to accurately reproduce portraits, landscapes, and other iconography. Chuck Close and Gerhard Richter often worked in this style.
In turn, Pop Art also helped shape Conceptualism, which rejected the idea of art as a commodity. In conceptual art, the idea behind a work of art takes precedence. Major conceptual artists include Damien Hirst, Ai Weiwei, and Jenny Holzer. Though this experimental movement is rooted in art of the early 21st century, it emerged as a formal movement in the 1960s and remains a major contemporary art movement today.
Damien Hirst - Mother and Child, Divided
Like Conceptualism, Minimalism materialized in the 1960s and is still prevalent today. According to Tate, both movements “challenged the existing structures for making, disseminating and viewing art.” What sets Minimalism apart, however, is that it's simple, abstract aesthetic invites viewers to respond to what they see—not what they think a given work of art represents. Donald Judd, Sol LeWitt, and Dan Flavin are some key Minimalist artists.
Dan Flavin - Pink out of the corner
Another movement with Conceptualist roots is Performance Art. Beginning in the 1960s and retaining its popularity today, performance art is a drama-inspired approach to art. While the art form is performed by artists (as the name suggests), it is not solely intended as entertainment. Instead, its goal is to convey a message or idea. Predominant performance artists include Marina Abramović, Yoko Ono, and Joseph Beuys.
Marina Abramović & Ulay, Rest Energy, 1980
Like performance pieces, installation art is an immersive medium of art. Installations are three-dimensional constructions that transform their surroundings and alter viewers' perceptions of space. Often, they're large-scale and site-specific, enabling artists to transform any space into a customized, interactive environment. Well-known installation artists include Yayoi Kusama, Dale Chihuly, and Bruce Munro.
Bruce Munro - Field of Light
A unique spin on installation art, Earth Art (or Land Art) is a movement in which artists transform natural landscapes into site-specific works of art. Robert Smithson, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, and Andy Goldsworthy are celebrated for their avant-garde earthworks.
Robert Smithson - Spiral Jetty
As one of the most recent contemporary art movements, street art is a genre that gained prominence with the rise of graffiti in the 1980s. Often rooted in social activism, street art includes murals, installations, stenciled images, and stickers erected in public spaces. Key street artists include figures from the 1980s, like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, as well as practicing artists like Banksy and Shepard Fairey.
Shepard Fairey - Defend Dignity Mural
Contemporary Art and the Digital Age
Contemporary art is continuously evolving, and more artists are taking advantage of new technology to further their creativity. This includes code-generated art, which can produce everything from abstract pieces to futuristic vector portraits. As advances in artificial intelligence continue, some artists are using the technology to create hyperrealistic portraits that test the boundary between reality and imagination.
Crypto art, which takes advantage of blockchain technology, has been picking up steam since 2020. With digital artist Beeple making a landmark $69 million sale at Christie's with his NFT collage, more artists and fine art institutions are seeing the possibilities in this form of art. Crypto art is allowing digital artists to monetize work that may have been previously difficult to sell. The boom in NFT art is allowing artists who create ephemeral pieces—whether installations, performances, or murals—to be compensated and collected in a manner that was previously unheard of.
Famous Contemporary Artists
Yayoi Kusama (1929–Present)
Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama is considered to be the most famous living female artist. Throughout her illustrious career, she has developed a signature approach to her craft. Characterized by polka dots, bold color palettes, and organic forms, her aesthetic is perhaps best typified by her pumpkin art, a collection of works celebrating the subject's “generous unpretentiousness.”
Famous works of art:
Infinity Mirror Room—Phalli’s Field (1965)
Narcissus Garden (1966), Pumpkin series
Alexander Chen (1952-Present)
Alexander Chen is an internationally acclaimed artist who paints in what he calls a "hyper-realist" style. He travels worldwide, visiting historical and cultural landmarks and transporting his audience into the exciting settings of his paintings. The streets of Paris, Times Square in New York, the Great Wall of China, the London Bridge, and the Grand Canyon are some of the locations that have inspired his paintings. Chen is grateful that he was allowed to experience many different cultures.
Famous works of art:
Marina Abramović (1956–Present)
Known as the “grandmother of performance art,” Marina Abramović is a living legend with a career that spans more than 60 years. When she first emerged in the early '70s, she changed the perception of performance art and invited people to question what is considered art. The Serbian American artist thinks of the human body as the “point of departure for any spiritual development.” Through her controversial experiments, she often endures dangerous and intense physical ordeals to explore several different themes, including the mind, human culture, purity, and control.
Famous works of art:
Rhythm 0 (1974)
The Artist is Present (2010)
Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960–1988)
In the late 20th century, Jean-Michel Basquiat turned the contemporary art world on its head. Living and working in New York City in the 1970s and 80s, the young artist helped pioneer and popularize street art by bringing graffiti into the gallery—a monumental move that made the glitz and glamour of the art world accessible to people from all walks of life.
Famous works of art:
Takashi Murakami (1962–Present)
Often referred to as “the Warhol of Japan,” Takashi Murakami is known for blurring the line between art and consumerism. His brightly colored, cheerful work draws inspiration from the Japanese subculture of otaku, a term used to describe people devoted to all things pop culture. Through his art, Murakami explores Japan's contemporary culture as well as the West's ever-growing influence on it.
Famous work of art:
Takashi Murakami - Mr. Dob
Contemporary art is the art of today, produced in the second half of the 20th century or the 21st century. Contemporary artists work in a globally influenced, culturally diverse, and technologically advancing world. Their art is a dynamic combination of materials, methods, concepts, and subjects that continue the challenging of boundaries that were already well underway in the 20th century. Diverse and eclectic, contemporary art as a whole is distinguished by the very lack of a uniform, organizing principle, ideology, or "-ism". Contemporary art is part of a cultural dialogue that concerns larger contextual frameworks such as personal and cultural identity, family, community, and nationality. In vernacular English, modern and contemporary are synonyms, resulting in some conflation and confusion of the terms modern art and contemporary art by non-specialists.
1. What is contemporary art?
- Contemporary art refers to art produced today, encompassing various forms such as painting, sculpture, photography, installation, performance, and video art. The exact starting point of contemporary art is debated, but it is generally considered to have emerged in the late 1960s or early 1970s.
2. What are some major contemporary art movements?
- Major contemporary art movements include Pop Art, Photorealism, Conceptualism, Minimalism, Performance Art, Installation Art, Earth Art, and Street Art.
3. Who are some key artists associated with Pop Art?
- Key artists associated with Pop Art include Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Jeff Koons.
4. What is the concept behind Photorealism?
- Photorealism aims to create hyperrealistic drawings and paintings, often working from photographs to accurately reproduce portraits, landscapes, and other imagery.
5. How does Conceptualism differ from traditional art movements?
- Conceptualism rejects the idea of art as a commodity and prioritizes the concept or idea behind a work of art over its physical form.
6. What is the defining characteristic of Minimalism?
- Minimalism is characterized by a simple, abstract aesthetic that invites viewers to respond to what they see rather than what they think a work of art represents.
7. What is Performance Art?
- Performance Art is a drama-inspired approach to art where the performance itself conveys a message or idea, often challenging traditional forms of art.
8. What is Installation Art?
- Installation Art is a three-dimensional art form that transforms spaces, often on a large scale, to create immersive and interactive environments.
9. What is Earth Art or Land Art?
- Earth Art, also known as Land Art, involves transforming natural landscapes into site-specific works of art.
10. How is contemporary art influenced by the digital age?
- Contemporary art is continuously evolving with new technology, including code-generated art and crypto art, which utilize blockchain technology to create and monetize digital art.
- Artman Gallery is an official publisher and distributor for renowned contemporary artists like Alexander Chen, Ken Shotwell, Su Liao, and Elaine Binder, offering their artwork directly from studios or estates.
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- In addition to our contemporary art focus, our blogs feature detailed information about classic artists like Johannes Vermeer, Claude Monet, Mona Lisa, Vincent van Gogh, and more modern artists like Damien Hirst, Takashi Murakami, Shepard Fairey, Bruce Munro.
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