contemporary art, the art of the late 20th cent. and early 21st cent., both an outgrowth and a rejection of modern art. As the force and vigor of abstract expressionism diminished, new artistic movements and styles arose during the 1960s and 70s to challenge and displace modernism in painting, sculpture, and other media. Improvisational and Dada-like styles employed in the early 1960s and thereafter by Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns had widespread influence, as did the styles of many other artists. The most significant of the often loosely defined movements of early contemporary art included pop art, characterized by commonplace imagery placed in new aesthetic contexts, as in the work of such figures as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein; the optical shimmerings of the international op art movement in the paintings of Bridget Riley, Richard Anusziewicz, and others; the cool abstract images of color-field painting in the work of artists such as Ellsworth Kelly and Frank Stella (with his shaped-canvas innovations); the lofty intellectual intentions and stark abstraction of conceptual art by Sol LeWitt and others; the hard-edged hyperreality of photorealism in works by Richard Estes and others; the spontaneity and multimedia components of happenings; and the monumentality and environmental consciousness of land art by artists such as Robert Smithson. One of the most long-lived of these movements was the abstract development known as minimalism, which emphasized the least discernible variation of technique in painting, sculpture, and other media.Taken together, these many approaches to art represented a wholesale rejection of the tenets of modernism—e.g., its optical formalism, high seriousness, utopianism, social detachment, invocation of the subconscious, and elitism—and marked the beginning of a new era in art. In their many manifestations, these movements and those styles that followed have come to be grouped under the umbrella term of postmodernism. For the most part, this art is one of pluralism and eclecticism. In fact, the very lack of a uniform organizing principle or ideology is one of the most important hallmarks of postmodern art. Nonetheless, within the enormous diversity certain tendencies, trends, and movements can be discerned.
One of the products of the almost universal dismissal of modernism by contemporary artists has been the developme…
…s stuffed goat to Joseph Beuys’ globs of fat to the smeared body fluids of various contemporary artists. Moreover, a wide variety of spaces and places, both private and public, have become arenas for the frequently ephemeral work of many contemporary artists.
Later 20th-cent. and early 21st-cent. sculpture has assumed a central position in contemporary art and has followed the patterns of the various postmodern art movements, for example, the three-dimensional pop icons of Claes Oldenburg, Koons’s purposely banal, often erotic figures, and the minimalist constructions of such artists as Carl Andre, Donald Judd, and Robert Morris. Other important trends in contemporary sculpture include an increasing use of mixed media and the creation of works that draw their meaning and impact from their architectural context and also emphasize the role of the spectator. This is as significant in the room-centered examples of installation art as it is in such large public works as Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Bibliography See Papadakis, Farrow, and Hodges, ed., New Art: An International Survey (1991); E. Lucie-Smith, Art Today (1995); J. Cerrito, ed., Contemporary Artists (4th ed. 1996).