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Contemporary Art

Contemporary art is challenging to define precisely as it can refer to a variety of things, but simply put contemporary art is defined as art created after World War II. This distinction is used to easily distinguish contemporary art from classical art that was created before the 20th century. Each decade seems to be known for a memorable style of art. The ’50s and ’60s produced a number of masters of abstract expressionism, and in the ’80s, graffiti art become more prominent.

There are several types of contemporary art. New York Figurative Expressionism was popular in the ’50s, Lyrical Abstraction in the ’60s and ’70s was characterized by loose paint handling. Pop and neo-pop art are also sub-genres of contemporary art that became famous towards the end of the 20th century. More recently, altermodern art aims to contextualize art in today’s society as a reaction against consumerism and standardization.

Because contemporary art is so broad, the famous artists that work within the genre are very different from one another. A few famous contemporary artists include: Andy Warhol was a pioneer in the pop art movement, making brightly colored prints of people like Marilyn Monroe and everyday items, such as Campbell’s soup cans.

Jean-Michel Basquiat began his career as a graffiti artist in New York City and moved into creating Neo-expressionist paintings that contained several elements like words, diagrams, letters, logos, pictograms, numerals, map symbols, and more. Christo and Jeanne-Claude are married contemporary artists that specialized in environmental works of art, like The Gates that were installed in Central Park in 2005.

Damien Hirst has the distinction of being one of the most profitable artists of his time…and one of the most unusual. One of his most famous works, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, was a shark in formaldehyde in a large aquarium. One of his most expensive pieces is For the Love of God, a human skull recreated in platinum and adorned with 8,601 diamonds. Jeff Koons constructs banal objects, such as balloon animals or tulips, and crafts them in stainless steel and shiny surfaces.

Contemporary art is art produced at the present period in time. Contemporary art includes, and develops from, Postmodern art, which is itself a successor to Modern art. In vernacular English, “modern” and “contemporary” are synonyms, resulting in some conflation of the terms “modern art” and “contemporary art” by non-specialists.

Some define contemporary art as art produced within “our lifetime,” recognizing 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,[3] 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, and sometimes further, especially in museum contexts, as museums which form a permanent collection of contemporary art inevitably find this ageing. 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.

North Central Art Gallery

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