Contemporary art

Contemporary art

Contemporary art can be defined variously as art produced at this present point in time or art produced since World War II. The definition of the word contemporary would support the first view, but museums of contemporary art commonly define their collections as consisting of art produced since World War II.

Throughout the 20th century and into the 21st century, with the advent of Modern and the advent of Postmodern art forms, distinctions between what is generally regarded as the fine arts and the low arts have started to fade,[1] as contemporary high art continues to challenge these concepts by mixing with popular culture.[2]



Viewers of Jonas Burgert's work at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver, Colorado.

Contemporary art is exhibited by commercial contemporary art galleries, private collectors, 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.

There are close relationships between publicly funded contemporary art organisations and the commercial sector. For instance, in Britain a handful of dealers represent the artists featured in leading publicly funded contemporary art museums.[3]

Individual collectors can wield considerable influence. Charles Saatchi dominated the contemporary art market in Britain during the 1980s and the 1990s; the subtitle of the 1999 book Young British Artists: The Saatchi Decade uses of the name of the private collector to define an entire decade of contemporary art production.[4]

Corporations have attempted to integrate themselves into the contemporary art world: exhibiting contemporary art within their premises, organising and sponsoring contemporary art awards and building up extensive collections of corporate art.[5]

The institutions of art have been criticised 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, it is not considered so because the artists are self-taught and are assumed to be working outside of an art historical context.[6] Craft activities, such as textile design, are also excluded from the realm of contemporary art, despite large audiences for exhibitions.[7] Attention is drawn to the way that craft objects must subscribe to particular values in order to be admitted. "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."[8]

At any one time a particular place or group of artists can have a strong influence on globally produced contemporary art; for instance New York artists in the 1980s.[9]

Public attitudes

Contemporary art can sometimes seem at odds with a public that does not feel that art and its institutions share its values.[10] 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".[11] Some critics like Julian Spalding and Donald Kuspit have suggested that skepticism, even rejection, is a legitimate and reasonable response to much contemporary art.[12]


A common concern since the early part of the 20th century is the question of what constitutes art. This concern can be seen running through the "modern". "postmodern" and now "conceptual" periods. The concept of avant-garde[13] may come into play in determining what art is taken notice of by galleries, museums, and collectors. Serious art is ultimately exceedingly difficult to distinguish definitively from art that falls short of that designation.


Some competitions, awards and prizes in contemporary art are


This table lists art movements by decade. It should not be assumed to be conclusive.







See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ Ideas About Art, Desmond, Kathleen K. [1] John Wiley & Sons, 2011, p.148
  2. ^ International postmodernism: theory and literary practice, Bertens, Hans [2], Routledge, 1997, p.236
  3. ^ Derrick Chong in Iain Robertson, Understanding International Art Markets And Management, Routledge, 2005, p95. ISBN 0415339561
  4. ^ Chin-Tao Wu, Privatising Culture: Corporate Art Intervention Since the 1980s, Verso, 2002, p300. ISBN 1859844723
  5. ^ Chin-Tao Wu, Privatising Culture: Corporate Art Intervention Since the 1980s, Verso, 2002, p14. ISBN 1859844723
  6. ^ Gary Alan Fine, Everyday Genius: Self-Taught Art and the Culture of Authenticity, University of Chicago Press, 2004, pp42-43. ISBN 0226249506
  7. ^ Peter Dormer, The Culture of Craft: Status and Future, Manchester University Press, 1996, p175. ISBN 0719046181
  8. ^ Peter Timms, What's Wrong with Contemporary Art?, UNSW Press, 2004, p17. ISBN 0868404071
  9. ^ George E. Marcus and Fred R. Myers, The Traffic in Culture: Refiguring Art and Anthropology, University of California Press, 1995, p257. ISBN 0520088476
  10. ^ Mary Jane Jacob and Michael Brenson, Conversations at the Castle: Changing Audiences and Contemporary Art, MIT Press, 1998, p30. ISBN 026210072X
  11. ^ Julian Stallabrass, High Art Lite: British Art in the 1990s, Verso, 1999, pp1-2. ISBN 1859847218
  12. ^ Spalding, Julian, The Eclipse of Art: Tackling the Crisis in Art Today, Prestel Publishing, 2003. ISBN 3-7913-2881-6
  13. ^ Fred Orton & Griselda Pollock, Avant-Gardes and Partisans Reviewed. Manchester University, 1996. ISBN 0-7190-4399-9
  14. ^

Further reading

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