Contemporary Art

Contemporary Art

Contemporary art is commonly used to describe art that pertains to the current era, often characterised by its innovative or avant-garde qualities.

At its core, ‘contemporary art’ includes various art forms like painting, sculpture, photography, installation, performance, and video art created in the current timeframe. However, pinpointing its precise beginning can be somewhat vague, as people's interpretations of ‘today’ vary significantly. So, the exact inception of this genre remains a subject of debate. Nevertheless, many art historians find the late 1960s or early 1970s (marking the conclusion of modern art or modernism) to be a reasonable approximation.

Contemporary Art — Definition, Artists, and Examples

What is the definition of contemporary art?

Contemporary art refers to art created in the late 20th century to the present day. It often reflects modern-day society and is characterized by its innovative or avant-garde qualities. Contemporary art may engage with current political, social, and cultural issues, and can encompass a variety of mediums and styles. It differs from modern art, which predates it and covers art from the late 19th century to the mid-20th century. The term is commonly used to describe art that pertains to the current era, reflecting the concerns and interests of the contemporary art world.

Contemporary artist Andy Warhol, 1958

What is the difference between modern and contemporary art?

Modern art covers art produced during the period from the 1860s to the 1970s, emphasizing new types of art such as Impressionism, Cubism, and Surrealism. On the other hand, contemporary art refers to the art produced from the 1970s to the present day, focusing on current or recent events and ideas, often reflecting a wide range of styles, mediums, and themes. The distinction between modern and contemporary art mainly rests on the time period and the thematic focus of the artworks.

Modern artist, Pablo Picasso Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907

Major Contemporary Art Movements

Abstract Expressionism

Originating in the 1940s and 1950s in New York, Abstract Expressionism is characterized by artworks that emphasize free, spontaneous, and personal emotional expression. Contemporary art artists utilize non-traditional painting techniques and avoid clear and concise visual references, often involving gestural brush strokes or mark-making, and the impression of spontaneity.

Contemporary artist, Lee Krasner

Pop Art

Pop Art emerged in the mid-20th century, predominantly in the United States and United Kingdom. It draws inspiration from popular and commercial culture, such as advertising, comic books, and everyday consumer products. Iconic figures like New York-based artists Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein are associated with the movement, recognized for their works that challenge the boundaries between high and low contemporary art.

Andy Warhol Marilyn

Minimalism

Flourishing in the 1960s and 1970s, Minimalism in contemporary art is characterized by simplicity and an emphasis on the viewer’s perception rather than the creator's expression. Artists create works with a minimal number of colours, shapes, and lines, aiming to avoid metaphorical associations, symbolism, and suggestions of spiritual transcendence.

Lines of one Inch in four Directions and four Colours, and all Combinations (Set of 16), Sol Lewitt, 1971

Conceptual Art

Conceptual art, prevailing in the 1960s, accentuates the idea or concept behind the work over its aesthetic or material value. For conceptual artists in the contemporary art realm, the idea of making the art takes precedence, and the final product, if there is one, is often a byproduct that may or may not be integral to understanding the work.

Performance Art

Performance Art involves live, theatrical presentations that may incorporate various media such as music, dance, or painting, as well as non-traditional media. It focuses on the actions of contemporary art artists themselves to communicate with the audience directly through their body, rather than through a produced object.

The Lovers: The Great Wall Walk (still), Marina Abramovic, 1988/2008

Street Art

Street Art is visual contemporary art made in public locations, usually unsanctioned and executed outside of the traditional art venues. Contemporary art often conveys social and political messages and can be found in various forms such as graffiti, stickers, video projections, and street installations.

Giants, Rio de Janeiro, JR, 2016

Digital Art

Digital Art encompasses artworks created with the aid of computers or other electronic devices. It includes various sub-genres like digital painting, 3D modelling, and virtual reality, often exploring the intersection of technology, culture, and aesthetics in contemporary art.

Feminist Art

Feminist Art emerged in the 1960s and 1970s, seeking to counteract the historical neglect of women artists and challenge the gender biases in contemporary art institutions. The movement uses art to address issues related to gender equality, representation and celebrates the experiences and expressions of women.

Postmodern Art

Postmodern Contemporary Art is characterized by its rejection of the grand narratives and ideologies of modernism. Emerging in the mid to late 20th century, it often employs pastiche, parody, and irony, blurring the boundaries between high and low forms of art, and questioning artistic authority and originality.

Barbara Kruger, Untitled, 1981

Neo-Expressionism

Neo-Expressionism, prominent in the late 20th century, is characterized by intense subjectivity and rough handling of materials. Contemporary art artists often utilize vivid colours, emotive techniques, and confrontational subjects to communicate strong emotional or expressive content.

Number 5 (Van Gogh Self-Portrait Musee d'Orsay, Vincent), Julian Schnabel

Famous Contemporary Artists

Jean-Michel Basquiat

Jean-Michel Basquiat catapulted from the graffiti-filled streets of 1980s New York to the high-stakes art world, creating works with themes of race, identity, and social discord. His expressive and impactful art navigates between street art and elite galleries, challenging values and systems within both art and broader society. Despite his brief career, Basquiat's indelible mark influences and provokes contemporary art and social commentary to this day.

With Strings Two, Jean Michel Basquiat, 1983

Yayoi Kusama

Known for her captivating and immersive installations, Yayoi Kusama is a Japanese contemporary art artist who explores concepts of infinity, self-image, and sexual obsession through her work. Her signature polka dots and infinity rooms have become symbols of her exploration into mental illness and obsession, drawing audiences into her unique perceptual world.

Ai Weiwei

Chinese contemporary art artist and activist Ai Weiwei creates work that challenges the political systems and confronts issues of human rights, democracy, and freedom of speech. His contemporary art spans various mediums, including sculpture, installation, and photography, often blurring the boundaries between art and activism.

Jenny Holzer

An American neo-conceptual artist, Jenny Holzer is best known for her text-based public art projects. Holzer's contemporary art work speaks to the political and social issues of the day, utilizing varied media like LED signs, projections, and other outdoor displays to engage the public in critical thought.

Kehinde Wiley

Kehinde Wiley is renowned for his large-scale paintings that reinterpret traditional European portraiture, inserting black figures into historical scenarios and settings, thereby exploring the politics of representation and power in contemporary art.

Three Girls in the Woods, Kehinde Wiley, 2018

William Kentridge

South African artist William Kentridge works in various mediums, including drawing, animation, film, and sculpture, to explore themes of time, history, and social memory, often reflecting on the apartheid era in South Africa through contemporary art.

William Kentridge

Marina Abramović

Recognized as the "grandmother of performance art", Marina Abramović explores the relationship between artist and audience, the limits of the body, and the possibilities of the mind in contemporary art. Her performances often subject her body to danger, testing the boundaries of physical and mental endurance.

Jay-Z and Marina Abramovic, Picasso Baby, 2013

Takashi Murakami

Merging Japanese pop culture references with the country’s rich traditional art heritage, Takashi Murakami has developed a signature "Superflat" aesthetic that blurs the boundaries between high and low art. His works often feature animated imagery and colourful graphics, challenging established dichotomies within the contemporary art world.

Takashi Murakami for Japan times, 2023

Barbara Kruger

An American conceptual artist, Barbara Kruger is known for her layered photographs, featuring striking imagery often overlaid with white-on-red text. Her contemporary artwork addresses issues of power, identity, consumerism, and sexuality, prompting viewers to question the power dynamics and ideological struggles of contemporary society.

Untitled (Your Body is a Battleground), Barbara Kruger, 1989

David Hockney

English painter, draughtsman, printmaker, stage designer, and photographer David Hockney is considered one of the most influential British artists of the 20th century. His contemporary artwork offers a fresh perspective on the everyday through his vibrant colour palette and innovative use of technology.

Mulholland Drive: The Road to the Studio, David Hockney, 1980

Anish Kapoor

Known for his large-scale installations and sculptures, Anish Kapoor explores themes of void, colour, and materiality in contemporary art. His works often engage viewers through their immersive and contemplative qualities, inviting them to explore their perceptions of form and space.

Cai Guo-Qiang

Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang is best known for his innovative use of gunpowder and fireworks to create ephemeral events and drawings in contemporary art, exploring themes of destruction, renewal, and the fleeting nature of time.

Tigers with Arrows, 2005

FAQs

What is the meaning of contemporary art?

Contemporary art refers to art created in the present or recent past, reflecting current ideas, societal issues, and diverse perspectives, utilizing various media and techniques.

What are the characteristics of contemporary art?

Characteristics of contemporary art include a diverse range of media and materials, conceptual approaches, exploration of social and political issues, rejection of traditional boundaries, and often an engagement with globalism and multiculturalism.

What is the main point of contemporary art?

The main point of contemporary art is to explore, express, and engage with modern-day issues, ideas, and concepts, often challenging traditional notions of art and culture.

What defines a contemporary art artist?

A contemporary art artist creates art that reflects, responds to, or engages with the present time, often utilizing new methodologies and addressing current social, political, and cultural issues.

What are the key concepts of contemporary art?

Key concepts include identity, conflict, technology, time, space, and reality, often expressed through a conceptual and experimental approach that engages audiences in new and innovative ways.

42 results found for "Contemporary Art"

video

El Anatsui

Pioneering Ghanaian artist El Anatsui makes monumental, ever-changing sculptures out of bottle caps and rubbish. His sublime artworks have made him an international sensation and earned him a Golden Lion for lifetime achievement at the 56th Venice Biennale.

El Anatsui
video

Carrie Mae Weems

American artist Carrie Mae Weems changed the game for image-making in contemporary art. Her intimate photos of family, friends and historical events have opened doors for the next generation of artists.

Carrie Mae Weems
video

Emanoel Araújo

Emanoel Araújo has many legacies. In this Artist’s Artist, we take a look at some of his greatest works of art and curation.

Emanoel Araújo
essay

The art of tarot: meet the artists shaping the future of divination

The humble yet powerful tarot card has inspired artists for centuries. Today, tarot is more popular than ever, so we take a look at its long history and the creatives celebrating it now. Along the way, we speak to two of our favourite artists and tarot creators, Claire Yurika Davis and Marcella Kroll.

The art of tarot: meet the artists shaping the future of divination
essay

Bridging the gap: how 50 years of hip-hop has changed the artworld

This is the story all about how hip-hop and art have propelled each other to global domination. From graffiti on the streets of the Bronx to record breaking auction results, hip-hop giants continue to make waves in the artworld.

Bridging the gap: how 50 years of hip-hop has changed the artworld
article

Norman Rosenthal on Anish Kapoor: Out of the Dark

Norman Rosenthal, guiding force behind the artist's first silkscreen print, reflects on his relationship with artworks by Anish Kapoor – shiny, dirty and sublime – since they first crossed paths in 1978.

Norman Rosenthal on Anish Kapoor: Out of the Dark
guide

What is Generative Art?

Humans have been experimenting with generative art for centuries, but Web 3.0 technology such as NFTs and smart contracts has unlocked new possibilities. Here’s what you need to know about the movement that’s shaking up the art world.

What is Generative Art?
essay

Is racism the price we pay for representation?

Tschabalala Self’s sculpture was vandalised by racists who painted her skin white – symbolically erasing exactly what it was intended to represent.

Is racism the price we pay for representation?
video

Barry McGee

This iconic artist has been doing graffiti for over 40 years. World-class museums and galleries revere his work, but he’s never stopped tagging the streets.

Barry McGee
article

The Changing Face of African Art.

Raphael Dapaah is the founder of Dapaah Gallery – an art agency and consultancy specialising in art from Africa and the global diaspora. This Black History Month we sat down with him for an open conversation about his journey into the art world, and the triumphs and challenges facing Black artists today.

The Changing Face of African Art.
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Devan Shimoyama in Pittsburgh

From the Warhol Museum to Croatian murals, Devan Shimoyama shows us why Pittsburgh deserves a spot on any American art pilgrimage.

Devan Shimoyama in Pittsburgh
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Hyangmok Baik in Seoul

Hyangmok Baik takes us to places that have shaped his vision of paradise.

Hyangmok Baik in Seoul
video

Ayako Rokkaku: Painting in Public

A distinctive live painting event by Ayako Rokkaku in London, showcasing her spontaneous artistic process, and offering a timed print edition of the crafted artwork to attendees.

Ayako Rokkaku: Painting in Public
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Ayako Rokkaku, live

On November 23, Ayako Rokkaku painted for 8 hours in London. Rewatch the livestream from start to finish.

Ayako Rokkaku, live
video

Communities: En Iwamura & Shigaraki Village

The first instalment of a new series telling the stories of artist communities worldwide.

Communities: En Iwamura & Shigaraki Village
article

The Founders by José Parlá

Read a text written by José Parlá to accompany the timed release of our our latest collaboration, The Founders.

The Founders by José Parlá
article

Work on Paper Week August '21

Our first Work on Paper Week presents an unmatched opportunity to access works by Roby Dwi Antono, Sarah Lee, Alexis Ralaivao and Antonia Showering.

Work on Paper Week August '21
article

Our story about Paul Insect

Paul is a really special artist and we are really happy with how our relationship has grown. This is our account of how it all started.

Our story about Paul Insect
interview

Interview with Kevin Francis Gray

Ahead of our collaboration with Kevin, The Breakdown Work Studies, we caught up to talk about art, and the legacy of 2020.

Interview with Kevin Francis Gray
interview

Interview with Philip Hoffman

We caught up with Philip Hoffman to talk about his extensive knowledge about international art market and collector interests.

Interview with Philip Hoffman
interview

Interview with Nicolas Berggruen

Growing up as the son of Heinz Berggruen - a prominent German art collector, friend to Pablo Picasso, lover to Frida Kahlo - art has unmistakably been a part and a privilege of Nicolas Berggruen’s vita.

Interview with Nicolas Berggruen
interview

Interview with Alain Servais

We had the pleasure of speaking with Alain Servais – a notorious and well-known collector who lives and resides in Brussels, Belgium.

Interview with Alain Servais
interview

Interview with Matt Langton

We caught up with Matt Langton from Philips auction house to talk about changes in the art world.

Interview with Matt Langton
interview

Interview with Giovanni Springmeier

Largely made up of contemporary art, the Springmeier’s home provides a welcoming and lively surrounding for the public to experience the vast array of vibrant artworks.

Interview with Giovanni Springmeier
interview

Interview with Marta Gnyp

We had a pleasure of talking to Marta Gnyp, Dutch art historian with a business background who regularly contributes to theoretical investigations of the art world.

Interview with Marta Gnyp
interview

Interview with Michael Kinsbergen

Michael started collecting contemporary art in 1998 as a way of escaping the structure and rhythm of his daily work. We speak to him about his journey through the art world.

Interview with Michael Kinsbergen
Artist

Minhee Kim

Minhee Kim (she/her) was born 1991 in South Korea, where she continues to live and work.

Minhee Kim
Artist

Alexis Ralaivao

Alexis Ralaivao was born in Rennes, France, in 1991, where he continues to live and work.

Alexis Ralaivao
Artist

Zhang Huan

Zhang Huan was born in 1965 in Anyang, China, and is now based in Shanghai.

Zhang Huan
Artist

Jules de Balincourt

Jules de Balincourt was born in 1972 in Paris, France, and now lives and works in New York, USA.

Jules de Balincourt
Artist

Margo Wolowiec

Margo Wolowiec was born in 1985 in Detroit, Michigan, USA, where she continues to live and work.

Margo Wolowiec
Artist

Robert Nava

Robert Nava was born in 1985 in East Chicago, USA, and now lives and works in New York.

Robert Nava
Artist

Jenny Brosinski

Jenny Brosinski was born in 1984 in Celle, Germany, and now lives and works in Berlin.

Jenny Brosinski
Artist

Joakim Ojanen

Joakim Ojanen was born in 1985 in Sweden, where he continues to live and work.

Joakim Ojanen
Artist

Donna Huanca

Donna Huanca was born in 1980 in Chicago, USA, and now lives and works in Berlin, Germany.

Donna Huanca
Artist

Yue Minjun

Yue Minjun was born in 1962 in Daqing, China and now lives and works in Beijing.

Yue Minjun
Artist

Cai Guo-Qiang

Cai Guo-Qiang was born in 1957 in Quanzhou, China, and has been based in New York since 1995.

Cai Guo-Qiang
Artist

Javier Calleja

Javier Calleja was born in 1971 in Malaga, Spain, where he continues to live and work.

Javier Calleja
Artist

James Jean

James Jean was born in 1979 in Taipei, Taiwan, and moved to New Jersey, USA with his family at a young age. He now lives and works in Los Angeles.

James Jean
Print

Hibiscus

Yue Minjun is a leading figure in Chinese contemporary art pushing the limits of satire with his hysterical portraits laden with stark social commentary.

Hibiscus
Print

Hibiscus (Hand-finished)

Yue Minjun is a leading figure in Chinese contemporary art pushing the limits of satire with his hysterical portraits laden with stark social commentary.

Hibiscus (Hand-finished)

Avant artists related to “Contemporary Art”


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Parra's studio, with Parra at the centre, his back to the camera as he works on the large painting takes centre stage, showing a faceless blue woman in a striped dress, painted in red, purple, blue and teal. The studio is full of brightly coloured paints, with a large window on the right and a patterned rug across the floor under the painting.