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Contemporary art

Contemporary art is the art of today, produced in the second half of the 20th century or in 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 was already well underway in the 20th century. Diverse and eclectic, contemporary art as a whole is distinguished by the very lack of a uniform, organising 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.

In other disciplines, this adjectival is unique: modern literature and contemporary literature denote different meanings. Much more clearly, the concept of modern music is usually reserved for modern popular music (from the mass consumption music industry); while that of contemporary music is made for that of academic music of the 20th century – although it is also common to find publications and institutions that assimilate both denominations and that speak of ‘modern and contemporary art’.

In addition to the artistic practice itself, contemporary art includes areas such as art criticism and theory, art education with its educational institutions and art schools, curatorship, contemporary art publications, the media and media, the public and private collecting, galleries and fairs that make up the contemporary art market, the contemporary art production industry and the places where contemporary works of art are exhibited, preserved and documented.

The terms contemporary art are used to avoid the term modern art or avant-garde. In everyday language, modern stands for “contemporary, according to contemporary taste, modern” and can therefore be considered a synonym for contemporary. In technical terms, in the context of art and cultural history, the concept of modernity is more or less firmly associated with an epoch of art history that is not yet closed but is already historical. Especially in connection with the emergence of the term postmodernism, see also postmodern architecture, modern here is no longer considered contemporary or contemporary.

The terms contemporary art, are not linked to any concept, artistic style, technique, form or belonging to an artistic current, movement or group. Contemporary art can be painting, but it can also be in a form that has only become established in recent years and decades, such as video art, performance, conceptual art or abstract metal sculpture.

The terms contemporary art can not only target the individual work of art, but also a cultural and economic system of art production that is difficult to delimit, which partly overlaps with the art business and partly orientates itself towards the art market. Many museums and regular art exhibitions see themselves today as locations for relevant contemporary art. The most important exhibition for contemporary art is the documenta exhibition in Kassel, which takes place every five years. The exhibition organizers of documenta in 2007 in connection with the terms contemporary art and current art emphasized that “current” does not mean that the works were created yesterday. They must be significant for us today. ”

Some define contemporary art as art produced within “our lifetime,” recognising that lifetimes and life spans vary. However, there is a recognition that this generic definition is subject to specialized limitations.

The classification of “contemporary art” as a special type of art, rather than a general adjectival phrase, goes back to the beginnings of Modernism in the English-speaking world. In London, the Contemporary Art Society was founded in 1910 by the critic Roger Fry and others, as a private society for buying works of art to place in public museums. A number of other institutions using the term were founded in the 1930s, such as in 1938 the Contemporary Art Society of Adelaide, Australia, and an increasing number after 1945. Many, like the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston changed their names from ones using “Modern art” in this period, as Modernism became defined as a historical art movement, and much “modern” art ceased to be “contemporary”. The definition of what is contemporary is naturally always on the move, anchored in the present with a start date that moves forward, and the works the Contemporary Art Society bought in 1910 could no longer be described as contemporary.

Particular points that have been seen as marking a change in art styles include the end of World War II and the 1960s. There has perhaps been a lack of natural break points since the 1960s, and definitions of what constitutes “contemporary art” in the 2010s vary, and are mostly imprecise. Art from the past 20 years is very likely to be included, and definitions often include art going back to about 1970; “the art of the late 20th and early 21st century”; “the art of the late 20th cent. and early 21st cent., both an outgrowth and a rejection of modern art”; “Strictly speaking, the term “contemporary art” refers to art made and produced by artists living today”; “Art from the 1960s or 70s up until this very minute”; and sometimes further, especially in museum contexts, as museums which form a permanent collection of contemporary art inevitably find this aging. Many use the formulation “Modern and Contemporary Art”, which avoids this problem. Smaller commercial galleries, magazines and other sources may use stricter definitions, perhaps restricting the “contemporary” to work from 2000 onwards. Artists who are still productive after a long career, and ongoing art movements, may present a particular issue; galleries and critics are often reluctant to divide their work between the contemporary and non-contemporary.

Sociologist Nathalie Heinich draws a distinction between modern and contemporary art, describing them as two different paradigms which partially overlap historically. She found that while “modern art” challenges the conventions of representation, “contemporary art” challenges the very notion of an artwork. She regards Duchamp’s Fountain (which was made in the 1910s in the midst of the triumph of modern art) as the starting point of contemporary art, which gained momentum after World War II with Gutai’s performances, Yves Klein’s monochromes and Rauschenberg’s Erased de Kooning Drawing.

The notion of “contemporaneity” is first of all a historic notion. According to this approach, the contemporary period would start from 1945, with the end of the Second World War and, for convenience, most studies deal with the period which begins in 1945 and goes up to today.

“Contemporaneity” also means “simultaneity”. Contemporary is what is in the same period. The “contemporary” would therefore be the way that is done today. Applied to art, this notion has an aesthetic specificity which can become controversial, since the actors do not have the distance necessary to effectively appreciate the works. The designation “contemporary art” must therefore not only be taken chronologically, since all contemporary productions do not belong to the contemporary approach, nor do they claim to be such.

New references make it possible to define what the contemporary method is. One of the first is the transgression against the previous era; thus the notion of “contemporary art” would like to assert its independence not only in relation to the notion of so-called “classical” arts, in relation to “fine arts” and to its categories (painting, sculpture, etc.), but also in relation to the concept in a “modern” way. The contemporary way therefore has in itself exclusions. It is part of the continuation of “modern art” and would like to put an end to it.

In addition, the expression “contemporary manner” is used today for artists still alive and active or still able to be, which in this case would place the origin of the contemporary method in the 1960s, with pop art, conceptual art, Fluxus, happenings or video art. It is with these artistic currents that the period of modern art and the theory of Clement Greenberg, which defined it as the search for the specificity of technique, would end.

In this constant search for a definition of contemporaneity, art criticism and institutions play an important role. Thus are generally excluded from the contemporary “labeled” approach art forms whose issues do not reflect the trends promoted by “contemporary” criticism.

From a geographic point of view, starting from the major media places, mainly Western (Paris, London, New York), and with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, then the rise of China to this same At that time, the planet of contemporary art became global, Africa and Latin America not escaping this progression.

One of the difficulties many people have in approaching contemporary artwork is its diversity—diversity of material, form, subject matter, and even time periods. It is “distinguished by the very lack of a uniform organizing principle, ideology, or -ism” that we so often see in other, and oftentimes more familiar, art periods and movements. Broadly speaking, we see Modernism as looking at modernist principles—the focus of the work is self-referential, investigating its own materials (investigations of line, shape, color, form). Likewise, Impressionism looks at our perception of a moment through light and color as opposed to attempts at stark realism (Realism, too, is an artistic movement).

Contemporary art, on the other hand, does not have one, single objective or point of view. Its view instead is unclear, perhaps reflective of the world today. It can be, therefore, contradictory, confusing, and open-ended. There are, however, a number of common themes that have appeared in contemporary works. While these are not exhaustive, notable themes include: identity politics, the body, globalization and migration, technology, contemporary society and culture, time and memory, and institutional and political critique. Post-modern, post-structuralist, feminist, and Marxist theories have played important roles in the development of contemporary theories of art.


The emergence of photography has influenced many artists from the xix th century, such as Degas and helped give birth to modern art. Art no longer only has the important function of faithfully representing reality, photography is better able to do so, art can now try other forms, break the canons of beauty, and offer new experiments and conceptual ideas.

Contemporary art has basis for the experiments of modern art (early xx th century), and in particular the desire to take art out of traditional and institutional places. In this sense, art is gradually losing its representative functionality. Contemporary creation remains a mirror for a reality bathed in conflicts and the seizures of power that these attacks on rationality cause. Art reflects the crises of society and remains the place of expression of values. The relationships between art and history are neither assessed qualitatively nor quantitatively, but they lead to a more institutional conception of art: collectors, head offices, galleries, museums, etc. to open up to a wider audience. However, the actors of modern art in their desire to express their artistic opinion outside institutional frameworks to address the public, remain linked to institutions; their approach was to oppose an ideology (Heartfield towards Nazism) or on the contrary to participate in the propagation of a political thought.

Despite the end of the ideologies imposed in modern art, current artists are taking up this heritage on their own by expressing their deep commitment to institutions. In particular, when their sensitivity is disturbed.

Today, contemporary art is undergoing the decline of modern ideologies (in the 1960s, then from 1990 with the fall of communism). It is based on new behaviors: stylistic renewal, artistic mixing, diverse origins, technological arts (access to the mathematical power of computers and ergonomics of software), mode of approach to reality. Technologies have always brought tools to art. Today, the artist uses it as a media tool, and invents new ones. It is based on historical culture, listed; reads, visits, understands, searches, specializes, focuses on the subject and goes beyond what has been done. He sometimes takes a stand, wants to be demonstrative or shocking, in any case he seeks media coverage.

From the “fine arts” to the plastic arts
Contemporary art is based on the experiments of modern art, and regularly claims the breach opened by Marcel Duchamp, and others who had freed the practice of art from the classical constraints of representation.

Postmodernist thought has formulated most of the problems inherent in contemporary art, freed from ideological currents (communism and capitalism), without, however, preventing committed artists from criticizing political or ideological abuses.

In France, the creation of the faculties of plastic arts constitutes a basis for contesting the academic teaching of the fine arts; subjects formerly foreign to the field of art education, sociology, ethnology, aesthetics and others, guide artistic research in tune with its recent developments.

The formal search for Beauty is followed by new aesthetic research paths, the most radical of which, conceptual art, minimalism, performance, body art, permanently modify the meaning and perception of art, which sometimes turns into first hermetic view to the uninitiated.

Certain currents, such as the new realists, free figuration and the trans-avant-garde, as well as certain snipers, however, did not leave the traditional mediums, while radically modifying their creative approaches.

The breakdown of the types of medium (painting is often abandoned in favor of installations, performances or others) and the content of the works profoundly modifies the networks of art mediation; In addition to new galleries, there are new exhibition contexts and the appearance of new dissemination media.

In Paris, the Salon Comparaisons, at the Museum of Modern Art in the city of Paris, was, in 1954, the meeting point for all the exhibitors of these trends, confronted, in the same space, with figurative and abstract painters of painting on easel.

Contemporary art in the era of globalization
From the 1980s, the arts with a strong “technological” component appeared, with video art, communication aesthetics, computer art and then, subsequently, digital art, bio-art., etc. The list is not exhaustive and follows very closely the progress of industrial research.

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In the 1990s, Western contemporary art granted its “label” to many artists from so-called “developing” countries, almost absent in the past. The paradigms of globalization and the loss of classic space-time references have valued personal approaches, or biographical, sociological, even religious components are valued within the work process.

Communication linked to the Internet plays an increasingly important role in the reception and mediation of contemporary art, upstream of the exhibitions themselves, which increasingly integrate state mediation structures. It gives way to “ Contemporary Art Consultants”, who advise free of charge on future values. The changes that have occurred in the most developed countries (in particular the growing share of the tertiary sector) have created an increasingly generalized need for art, which does not make the task of artists, crisis obliges, easier however.

Contemporary art, often obscure and provocative in the eyes of the general public, is often considered as the emanation of an official art. It is, however, much more accepted and widespread today than before; a surge of works of unequal quality makes it confusing and most often requires a personal investment on the part of the public (see Modern theories of art).

Listed on the internet, works of contemporary art are also a potential financial windfall, which do not exclude fashion effects at the expense of truly original works.

Between medium and mediation
In addition to the classic mediums (oil painting, pastel, sanguine, bronze, marble, etc.), contemporary art is particularly fond of new mediums, even “non-mediums”. In particular, the ephemeral or “in progress” vocation of many works questions the very notion of medium, which often becomes a simple vector of mediation rather than a stable support. This is in line with the transformation of the information media started in the 1980s, which are gradually dematerializing in favor of a logic of “relationship”:

“Tangible” Mediums
Mirrors (Art & Language Mirror Piece)
Waste (A breakfast by Daniel Spoerri), various materials (concrete, earth, sand, etc.)
Feces (Crap Artist of Piero Manzoni), urine, blood
Polystyrene, polyurethane, silicone, plastic, etc. (Caesar’s expansions)
Miscellaneous objects more or less transformed or degraded (accumulations of Arman and Gérard Deschamps)

“Intangible” Mediums
Environment (especially for Land art, James Turrell light)
Situations hic et nunc (Collective of sociological art)
Current projects (work in progress by Roman Opałka)
Press experience (Space Media Fred Forest)

“Technological” mediums
Microfilms (Art & Language)
Fax (Hans Haacke)
Computer software (Art & Language The Cybernetic Art Work that Nobody broke)
Mechanical systems (Stelarc)
Living genes (bio-art)

Certain mediums, such as photography – which becomes “visual artist” (Joel-Peter Witkin) – cinema – which becomes “experimental” (Cremaster series by Matthew Barney) – have acquired the status of art in their own right (in the same way than painting, sculpture or music), and today constitute autonomous categories.

The notion of multimedia art, widely questioned today, questions the status of works from installations, often mixed performances, as they appeared in the 1950s.

The functioning of the art world is dependent on art institutions, ranging from major museums to private galleries, non-profit spaces, art schools and publishers, and the practices of individual artists, curators, writers, collectors, and philanthropists. A major division in the art world is between the for-profit and non-profit sectors, although in recent years the boundaries between for-profit private and non-profit public institutions have become increasingly blurred. Most well-known contemporary art is exhibited by professional artists at commercial contemporary art galleries, by private collectors, art auctions, corporations, publicly funded arts organizations, contemporary art museums or by artists themselves in artist-run spaces. Contemporary artists are supported by grants, awards, and prizes as well as by direct sales of their work. Career artists train at art school or emerge from other fields.

There are close relationships between publicly funded contemporary art organizations and the commercial sector. For instance, in 2005 the book Understanding International Art Markets and Management reported that in Britain a handful of dealers represented the artists featured in leading publicly funded contemporary art museums. Commercial organizations include galleries and art fairs.

Corporations have also integrated themselves into the contemporary art world, exhibiting contemporary art within their premises, organizing and sponsoring contemporary art awards, and building up extensive corporate collections. Corporate advertisers frequently use the prestige associated with contemporary art and coolhunting to draw the attention of consumers to luxury goods.

The institutions of art have been criticized for regulating what is designated as contemporary art. Outsider art, for instance, is literally contemporary art, in that it is produced in the present day. However, one critic has argued it is not considered so because the artists are self-taught and are thus assumed to be working outside of an art historical context. Craft activities, such as textile design, are also excluded from the realm of contemporary art, despite large audiences for exhibitions. Art critic Peter Timms has said that attention is drawn to the way that craft objects must subscribe to particular values in order to be admitted to the realm of contemporary art. “A ceramic object that is intended as a subversive comment on the nature of beauty is more likely to fit the definition of contemporary art than one that is simply beautiful.”

At any one time a particular place or group of artists can have a strong influence on subsequent contemporary art. For instance, The Ferus Gallery was a commercial gallery in Los Angeles and re-invigorated the Californian contemporary art scene in the late fifties and the sixties.

Public attitudes
Contemporary art can sometimes seem at odds with a public that does not feel that art and its institutions share its values. In Britain, in the 1990s, contemporary art became a part of popular culture, with artists becoming stars, but this did not lead to a hoped-for “cultural utopia”. Some critics like Julian Spalding and Donald Kuspit have suggested that skepticism, even rejection, is a legitimate and reasonable response to much contemporary art. Brian Ashbee in an essay called “Art Bollocks” criticizes “much installation art, photography, conceptual art, video and other practices generally called post-modern” as being too dependent on verbal explanations in the form of theoretical discourse. However, the acceptance of non traditional art in museums has increased due to changing perspectives on what constitutes an art piece.

A common concern since the early part of the 20th century has been the question of what constitutes art. In the contemporary period (1950 to now), the concept of avant-garde may come into play in determining what art is noticed by galleries, museums, and collectors.

The concerns of contemporary art come in for criticism too. Andrea Rosen has said that some contemporary painters “have absolutely no idea of what it means to be a contemporary artist” and that they “are in it for all the wrong reasons.”

Criticism of the concept
The globalization process, however, questions the concept of a uniform contemporary. “‘Contemporary Art'” is a collective picture of postmodernism. According to linguistic logic, this combination of words claims to encompass a – more or less – global contemporary community. In reality, it acts as a concept of value with an admission function: it determines what is art and what is not. Because of this difference, the artistic quality of contemporary art that does not fit into the established concept of ‘contemporary art’ is denied.

The five extracts below summarize the essence of the criticisms formulated with regard to so-called “contemporary” art:

the pamphleteer vision of Jean Monneret, who sees in it essentially a state art supported by irresponsible civil servants squandering taxpayers’ money;
the analysis of Philippe Lejeune, who goes to the end of the dialectic of the proponents of contemporary art by demonstrating their negation of the idea of Beauty;
Fred Forest who took action to defend convictions close to those of Jean Monneret by attacking the state before administrative courts;
The plastic artist Daniel Buren notes the bankruptcy of thought in contemporary art of an empty art;
Franck Lepage quotes, during one of his gesticulated lectures, the book Who leads the dance? The CIA and the Cultural Cold War (Who Paid the Piper ?: CIA and the Cultural Cold War) by Frances Stonor Saunders who describes how in the context of the Cold War the CIA funded organizations such as the Congress for Cultural Freedom to promote contemporary art in Western Europe, to present it as American art and to deprive it of social and political meaning.

Jean Monneret
In the catalog raisonné of the Salon des Indépendants de 1999, the president of the Salon, Jean Monneret, launched a violent pamphlet against the agreed definition of contemporary art, after having long criticized the officials who govern the teaching of the visual arts and the choice works purchased by the State and local authorities:

” Contemporary art ? All living artists are part of contemporary art. It is the artists who make art. All the artists. Freely!
However, the state wants the public to believe that there is only one art worthy of interest, so-called “contemporary” art, that is to say state art. As if the installation, the performance or the uncultivated art – as long as the legend which accompanies it is logorrhea – are, in themselves, the historical, linear, indisputable continuation of the artistic tradition. It is true that in so-called “contemporary” art, the less there is to see, the more there is to say! In a contemporary art exhibition, a ventilation duct, emergency equipment or the tiling of the sanitary facilities often merge with the works presented. The question then is, where is the work? The harmony between the container and the content is perfect.
In reality, the art ofhistoric salons. Democracy would require the state, concerned about taxpayers’ money, to account for contemporary reality in all its diversity, without exclusion… ”

Philippe Lejeune
In Taylor’s moral report of July 2006, review of the foundation of Baron Taylor, the vice-president, the painter and journalist Philippe Lejeune, distinguishes the notion of fine arts from that of contemporary art..

“ We, we practice an art called“ painting ”, this activity was once considered to be part of the Fine Arts. Concerned about modernity, above all wanting to get rid of an imperative as heavy to bear as beauty, the quarrel between the old and the modern that we live consists quite simply in removing the reference to beauty. No longer able to further alter the traditional values of art after the experiences of half of the last century, they decided, always with the same apparent label, to supply a totally different commodity. They were honest, let’s face it, to change their name. Contemporary salons are no longer painting salons, they are contemporary art salons.

Contemporary art exhibits in places where “painting” was exhibited, which naturally creates confusion. But rather than defining a new form of art, we apply the rules of another discipline to it, such as a player, tired of bridge, adapting the rules of belote… Contemporary art refuses all rules, except that of the ‘exclusion. You know that a famous slogan was to ban all prohibitions. Contemporary art lives only on ukase. Anything except the representation.

Contemporary art calls itself conceptual, that is to say that, starting from a concept, we manage to provide a sensation.
The Fine Arts have a completely different goal, have a very different program. Starting from the proven, they confront it with collective memory to arrive precisely at an idea, that is to say an element that can be compared. ”

Fred Forest
After his trial against the MNAM (center Georges-Pompidou), Fred Forest writes on the back cover of his book Functioning and dysfunctions of contemporary art (L’Harmattan, Paris, 2000):

“This book tends to reveal the limits and contradictions of a system that can no longer continue in the current elite form for the benefit of a handful of privileged people, always the same, who benefit from complacency and the public windfall. Fight of the earthen pot against the iron pot, it is the description by the menu of my lawsuit until the Council of State against the center Georges-Pompidou, and through him, against the public institutions of the contemporary art for their refusal of transparency on acquisitions and their failure to comply with the law of 78 on public accounting. Beyond art, the approach undertaken here is above all a citizen approach asking the real question of the use of public funds, and that of culture in a democracy. ”

Daniel Buren
In September 2011, Daniel Buren in the review L’Œil noted, during a long interview, the incapacity, confusion and bankruptcy of the expression “contemporary art”:

“In general, I would say that the overwhelming health that is attributed to him – biennials around the world, fairs at all turning points and crowded auction rooms – are somewhat paradoxical aspects of an area which, in terms of thought, is on the verge of bankruptcy. It is no longer a moment in history, but day-to-day fashion. “Contemporary” is a completely meaningless term, but it is one of the most powerful finds ever found in order to annihilate in the bud all that an artist could present in the slightest new and disturbing. ”