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Q: Contemporary art ( Answered,   5 Comments )
Subject: Contemporary art
Category: Arts and Entertainment
Asked by: myz-ga
List Price: $2.00
Posted: 17 Mar 2005 03:27 PST
Expires: 16 Apr 2005 04:27 PDT
Question ID: 496026
What is contemporary art
Subject: Re: Contemporary art
Answered By: scribe-ga on 28 Mar 2005 13:23 PST
Hello myz,

I think there is a useful distinction to be made between the term
"contemporary" and "modern" as they are applied to art. And maybe the
easiest way to explain it is to look at two New York City art museums.

The Whitney Biennial at the Whitney Museum of American Art is an
exhibition/survey of "contemporary" artists from around the country,
who are deemed to be currently doing unusually interesting work by the
curators of the show. Most of the names in the show are NOT familiar
to the typical museum-goer or art-lover, as you will see when you
visit this site:

On the other hand, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York has
long been considered to be the high temple of the greats of "modern"

As MoMA has defined "modern" ever since its founding in the 1930s,
modern art is art that beginning with the French impressionists and
extending through successive periods of experimentation and
innovation--surrealism, dada, the New York School, expressionism,
etc.--has radically changed the way art presents and interprets the
world, and indeed has redefined the very term ?art.?  The history of
modern art is the history of the experimental, and of the gradual (but
by no means universal) acceptance of art that was once considered to
be outrageous or anti-art as great art.
So the difference between ?contemporary? art and ?modern? might be
thought of in the following way.

Modern art is art that by consensus of critics, museums and collectors
has become part of art history, specifically the modern period from
the late 1800s to the late 1900s. It can be art by artists who are
still producing art--someone like the American painter Mark Rothko,
for example. Or it can be?and usually is?-art by artists who are no
longer living or no longer making art. Contemporary art is art being
currently produced that has not yet achieved that kind of status and
recognition but that may very well do so some day.

It is interesting to look at the ?mission? page of the MoMA site
(click on About MoMa). It says, in part, that MoMa recognizes that ??
modern and contemporary art originated in the exploration of the
ideals and interests generated in the new artistic traditions that
began in the late nineteenth century and continue today.?

In fact, the greatly enlarged MoMA has galleries dedicated to less
well-known contemporary artists, and its affiliate, P.S.1, shows only
contemporary art.  This somewhat new emphasis on contemporary art
could be MoMA's response to critics who have reproached MoMA for being
too conservative. Or it could be a bid to make sure that ?modern art?
remains an ongoing story (and not one that ended sometime in the
1980s, say), and that from among contemporary artists will emerge new
greats who will join the pantheon of modern art. But some would say
that the modern period is finished. And we are deeply into its
successor age: Post-Modernism. And that those contemporary artists who
DO become part of the history of art will enter it not under the
chapter called modern but rather in the succeeding chapter called

I guess, then, that the short version of my answer is: contemporary
art is art of any kind or style being produced by currently working
artists and which may (or may not) some day be accorded recognition as
"great" art (or in MoMA terms: modern art).

I hope this elucidates the matter some?
Subject: Re: Contemporary art
From: myoarin-ga on 17 Mar 2005 09:39 PST
"Contemorary art" is just that:  Contemporary = "of the present time"

Art ...?  well, these days (contemporary) art seems to be whatever
anyone wants to clain is art, could be paintings and sculptures,
photography, "happenings", Christo's "Gates" in NYC a couple of weeks
ago.  Music is a form of art - composing and playing it - and
literature also, but usually specified as contemporary music or

My humble impression is that contemporary art, as the definition of a
period, includes earlier works until a new expression arises to define
the earlier period of what had been still included in "contemporary." 
Only when the art - in whichever form - has moved on to new ways, can
it be recognized that what was before has become a style or period
separate from what is now contemporary.

This may tempt contradiction, but then you'll get a better answer.
Subject: Re: Contemporary art
From: myoarin-ga on 18 Mar 2005 06:47 PST
Hi myz-ga,
Defining art ?
I just have to pass on this translation of a text from a German
cartoon series that was in today?s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. 
The woman is about to go to a gallery opening:
?He doesn?t just throw the garbage around the gallery like they used
to do.  He photographs it!  In the third world!  And not that of the
lower class -  luxury garbage!  They have that there too!  That is
pretty focused!  Then he reconstructs it in the gallery, based on the
photos!  With tropical wood!  That provides the whole arts and crafts
aspect, and then he sets off the second stage of the globalization
Subject: Re: Contemporary art
From: dispatx-ga on 26 Mar 2005 12:12 PST
Contemporary Art can of course be defined in reductionist terms : as a
combination of the meanings of both contemporary and art. Without
taking that route, let us think instead in terms of the questions that
artists apply themselves to when creating what we know of as art. Some
years ago, it was necessary for questions to address themselves to the
idea of proportion, and so we end up with the image of Da Vinci's
perfect man. Subsequent questions concerning perspective and so on are
well documented in what we would be unlikely these days to refer to as
contemporary or 'modern' art.

A working definition, then, would be that contemporary art is that
which asks itself new questions, or which attempts to answer old
questions in previously untried ways. Damien Hirst, for example, took
questions about mortality and indeed about art itself and produced a
cow in formaldehyde. Naturally, non-artists then attempted to attack
it as if it were not art at all - had it been simply a cow pickled in
formaldehyde, it would be a specimen, rather than art. A later Hirst
work presented simply that - specimens. However, again the layout was
meticulous, and the placing of the object in a museum led to its
reification as 'art'.

There is plenty of opportunity to continue in this way, pontificating
about contemporary art movements. If I understand your question
correctly, however, it is almost as if you are looking for examples.
At, for example, we strive to present a wide variety
of art which is created using ideas and forms which are contemporary,
rather than rehashing earlier forms of art and asking ourselves the
same questions time and again.

I hope this helps.
Subject: Re: Contemporary art
From: dispatx-ga on 28 Mar 2005 04:18 PST
that was - sorry!
Subject: Re: Contemporary art
From: myoarin-ga on 28 Mar 2005 08:43 PST
I wish I could throw words around like that!  
I saw that exhibit in London  - elephant droppings and all -  and
stick with my comment.  But you are in the business, and maybe another
definition of contemporary art is things that sell but have know other
identifiable use.
But no offense intended.  :)

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