ARTH408 Contemporary Art

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                                  ARTH408: Contemporary Art

                                           Purpose of Course


In common conversation, we often use the phrase “contemporary art” to refer to current artistic
production—the art being produced today. However, in the art history field, the phrase denotes a specific
period of art and artistic practice starting in the 1960s and continuing today. It is characterized by a break
from the modernist artistic canon and a desire to move away from the dominant Western cultural model,
looking for inspiration in everyday and popular culture. More specifically, many contemporary artworks
reject traditional modernistic artistic media (such as painting or sculpture) in favor of a more collaborative,
ephemeral, and multimedia approach that further blurs the boundaries between high and mass culture. In
its subject matter, this art also tends to reflect a shift away from purely aesthetic issues to more socially
oriented concerns. Finally, it is important to note that contemporary art should not be seen as a
progression of different artistic styles but as series of different cultural, social, and political inquiries that
occupied contemporary art practice over the course of the past 50 years or so. We will examine these
important aesthetic and cultural changes within their historical and social context as we progress through
this course. This course will survey contemporary art, starting with the 1960s and concluding in 2010.
While the focus is on Western art and culture, we will also explore a selection of contemporary art and
artistic practices around the globe, which have become increasingly influential in the definition of
contemporary art today. Each of the units will examine a set of specific aesthetic and social issues and
look at the different strategies contemporary artists proposed and used in their work. By the end of this
course, you should be able to recognize and interpret most important aspects of contemporary art and
contemporary visual culture while better understanding some of the cultural and social aspects of our daily
life in today’s global world.

How well does the textbook meet course objectives? (Rate 1 to 5)
Learning Outcomes:
 Identify significant works of contemporary art and visual culture.
 Describe the difference between modernist and contemporary works of art.
 Explain the geographical shift of artistic centers from Europe (Paris) to the United States (New York), and
 then in the 21st century to a global spreading (Asia and Africa).
 Define and discuss the development of contemporary art as a series of different cultural, social, and
 political inquiries over the past 50 years.
 Identify and discuss multiple and vital relationships between contemporary art and such broader social
 and cultural issues as ideology, gender, race, or ethnicity.
 Describe and explain a relationship between different contemporary art strategies, such as performance
 or installation, and their immediate social and cultural context.
 Discuss how important contemporary artworks relate to their social and historical contexts.
 Define contemporary art as a continuing, international artistic project.
 Identify and define the importance of contemporary art and contemporary visual culture in today’s
 increasingly globalized world.
                                                                                                      Totals



Course Overview
Unit 1: Modernism in the Sixties
 In this unit, we will start by exploring the New York art scene and looking at why a majority of artists and
 the general public came to feel distanced from modernism in the 1960s, perceiving it as a reductive
 artistic style completely removed from life. In order to understand this change, we will examine broadly
 the context by looking into the way the Cold War’s ideological battle had come to use modernist art as a
 propaganda tool, why the term “white cube” was related to the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and
 what was happening with the art market at that time. In the second part, we will continue by exploring
 the modernist canon in the 1960s by looking at the work of the American art critic Clement Greenberg
 and his definition of formalism (Greenbergian formalism). We will continue by analyzing post-painterly
 abstraction, one of the movements Greenberg advocated in the 1960s, concluding with the work of Helen
 Frankenthaler, an artist associated with this movement.

Unit 1: Learning Outcomes
Upon successful completion of this unit, the student will be able to:
   Discuss the ways in which Cold War politics influenced art and culture.
   Discuss the role and global influence of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
   Identify and discuss the role of the art market.
   Explain the reasons why modernism became difficult and remote for many.
   Identify the works of Clement Greenberg and his definition of formalism.
   Explain the main characteristics of the modernist canon in the 1960s.
   Discuss the way Greenberg’s ideas defined post-painterly abstraction.
   Identify and discuss the work of the main representatives of post-painterly abstraction.
                                                                                                    Average

Unit Blueprint



1.1 Context: History, Museum, and Art Market
1.1.1 History: Art as a Propaganda Tool
1.1.2 The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) – New York
1.1.3 Leo Castelli and the Global Market for Art.
1.2 Modernist Art Canon in the 1960s: Critic, Movement, and Artist
1.2.1 Art Critic: Clement Greenberg’s Formalism (Greenbergian Formalism)
1.2.2 Art Movement: Post-Painterly Abstraction
1.2.3 Artist: Helen Frankenthaler and Post-Painterly Abstraction
                                                                                                    Average
Unit 2: Contesting Modernism: Art Beyond Painting and Sculpture
 In this unit, we will focus on a series of mostly international and collective art practices that would trigger
 a powerful contestation of modernist canon and challenge of its most important principles as
 encapsulated by Greenberg’s writings and growing pressure of the art market. It was not an accident
 that most of the artists were very young, bringing a sense of intensity and irreverence to the artistic
 practice. We will start this unit by examining the ideas of the Parisian collective known as the Situationist
 International (Situationists), whose work addressed the nature and function of art and culture in
 contemporary society, thus moving away from purely artistic issues.
 We will continue by looking at the work of another international group of artists who called themselves
 “Fluxus” (Flux). We will study their strategies and examine the ways in which they challenged the
 modernist canon and the formalist definition of art as a visual “object” (i.e., painting or sculpture),
 introducing pluralism of expression involving music, performance, and design. We will continue our
 examination with a series of experimental artistic practices associated with Lucy Lippard’s influential
 publication Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object from 1966 to 1972, where she presented a
 documentation of “so-called conceptual or information or idea art with mentions of such vaguely
 designated areas as minimal, anti-form, systems, earth, or process art,” summarizing some of the most
 important artistic explorations at that time.

Unit 2 Learning Outcomes
Upon successful completion of this unit, the student will be able to:
   Describe the way contemporary artists began to contest modernism in the 1960s.
   Describe the role and importance of historical and social context for the development of contemporary art.
   Identify and discuss the work and main concepts of the Situationist International.
   Explain the main actions and identify main representatives of the Fluxus group.
   Describe the reasons for the emergence of the dematerialization of the art object.
   Identify main characteristics and examples of dematerialized artworks.
   Identify the similarities and differences between different forms of such dematerialized artwork as
   earthwork, Arte Povera, and conceptual art.
   Describe and discuss the way contemporary artistic practice became international in its scope.
   Explain and discuss Lucy Lippard’s art criticism and in what way it was and is different from
   Greenberg’s critical position.
                                                                                                    Average

Unit Blueprint



2.1 The Situationists (Situationist International)
2.1.1 Who Were the Situationists and What Exactly They Were Interested In?
2.1.2 Situationist Art Tactics
2.1.3 Situationist Artworks 2.1.3.1 Asger Jorn and Guy Debord: Mémoires
2.1.3.1 Asger Jorn and Guy Debord: Mémoires
2.1.3.2 Asger Jorn and Modified (Disfigured) Paintings
2.2 Fluxus
2.2.1 What Was Fluxus All About?
2.2.2 Fluxus Artists
2.2.2.1 Nam June Paik
2.2.2.2 Yoko Ono
2.2.2.3 Joseph Beuys: We Are the Revolution
2.3 Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object from 1966 to 1972
2.3.1 Lucy Lippard: Art Critic as an Activist
2.3.2 Other Dematerialized Artworks
2.3.2.1 Hanne Darboven
2.3.2.2 Daniel Buren
2.3.2.3 Robert Smithson
2.3.2.4 Giovanni Anselmo
2.3.2.5 John Baldessari
2.3.2.6 Cildo Meireles
                                                                                                    Average
Unit 3: Expanding Fields and Contesting Stereotypes
 Following the women’s liberation movement (second-wave feminism) coming on the heels of the civil
 rights movement and many other liberation and antiwar movements across the globe, many
 contemporary artists engaged more openly with social issues. In this unit, we will discuss and examine
 the ways in which contemporary artists associated with feminism used their art as a tool to protest
 cultural myths and stereotypes. Some of these works challenged preconceived notions of femininity
 and/or race; the others were focusing on what artists perceived to be isolation and disconnectedness in
 contemporary world. However, all of them were interested in creating a thought-provoking situation that
 challenged the viewer. Finally, we will explore how the use of loosely structured, theater-like
 events—collectively called “performance art”—offered an opportunity to create an interactive, socially
 responsive work of art, thus making it, in the 1970s, a preferred form of expression for feminists—and not
 only just them.

Unit 3 Learning Outcomes
Upon successful completion of this unit, the student will be able to:
   Explain the relationship between different social movements and contemporary artistic practice.
   Describe and discuss the role and importance of feminist interventions.
   Identify and explain the main works that represent feminist input.
   Explain the reasons for the emergence of performance art.Describe and discuss the main
   characteristics of performance art.
   Identify the major performance works.
   Explore differences and similarities between body art, happening, action, and performance art.
                                                                                                  Average

Unit Blueprint



3.1 Feminist Intervention
3.1.1 Betye Saar
3.1.2 Judy Chicago
3.1.3 Louise Bourgeois
3.1.4 Eva Hesse
3.1.5 Martha Rosler
3.1.6 Mary Kelly and Post-Partum Document
3.1.7 Ana Mendieta
3.2 Performance Art
3.2.1 Chris Burden
3.2.2 Carolee Schneemann
3.2.3 Vito Acconci
                                                                                                  Average
Unit 4: Postmodernist Rhetoric: Return to Painting and Object or Further Questioning?
 With an increasing presence of technology and shifting global borders—promising and threatening—the
 1980s were complex period in the history of the 20th century, which for many in the West announced the
 arrival of the postmodern, where many aspects of Modern art and theory—such as the idea of linear
 progression together with the concepts of originality and authenticity—were obsolete. However, for
 many cultural theoreticians and artists alike working at that time, this fascination with the alleged end of
 modernism only proved its ongoing pertinence. As a result, a vivid debate ensued—often referred to as
 a “postmodernist rhetoric” in order to emphasize its polemical character. This debate divided the art
 world roughly into two camps: On one hand were the artists who engaged in irreverent and often ironical
 appropriation of past artistic styles, bringing back the dominance of painting and sculpture, and on the
 other hand were those who used new media and photography to question some of the basic
 assumptions of modernist orthodoxy, such as the issues of originality and authenticity. In this unit, we
 will examine both camps, hoping to get a clearer understanding of the main characteristics of this debate.

Unit 4 Learning Outcomes
Upon successful completion of this unit, the student will be able to:
   Explain the reasons for the emergence of the postmodernist rhetoric.
   Discuss the way in which postmodernist rhetoric influenced contemporary art in the 1980s.
   Identify neo-expressionist works.
   Explain the return of pictorial abstraction and realist painting.
   Describe and discuss main artworks that use and include objects.
   Discuss the way originality and authenticity became one of the important issues for artists working in
   the 1980s.
   List the most important artists and artworks associated with the emergence of postmodernist debate.
                                                                                                    Average

Unit Blueprint



4.1 Postmodernism (Po-Mo)
4.2 Return of the Painting
4.2.1 Neo-Expressionism
4.2.1.1 Julian Schnabel
4.2.1.2 Anselm Kiefer
4.2.1.3 Georg Baselitz
4.2.2 Russian Irony: The Most Wanted Paintings
4.3 Return of the Object
4.3.1 Jeff Koons
4.3.2 Ashley Bickerton
4.3.3 Allan McCollum
4.4 Critique of Originality and Authenticity
4.4.1 Sherrie Levine
4.4.2 Cindy Sherman
4.4.3 Barbara Kruger
                                                                                                    Average
Unit 5: Art and the Public Sphere
 The term “public sphere” is used to describe different public spaces, not necessarily physical spaces,
 where people can congregate freely to discuss and form their opinions. Art museums, galleries, cities,
 and city plazas but also the media are some examples of the public sphere. In the late 1980s, many
 artists became increasingly concerned with the commercialization of the public sphere, which they felt
 threatened the arts and impeded people to think freely andmake their own decisions. As a result, a
 number of artists examined the role of museums and the way they represented or plainly misrepresented
 the public interest they were supposed to serve. This type of artistic practice is called “the institutional
 critique.” Other artists addressed the perils of gentrification and the way city centers or entire cities lost
 their public when people were forcibly evacuated or simply could not afford the rent anymore, creating a
 series of works that is often identified as “public art.” Most importantly, all these developments took place
 against the backdrop of the so-called “culture wars” in America, when a set of events and exhibitions,
 such as the Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition or Richard Serra’s public sculpture Tilted Arc, resulted in a
 heated debate and a very hostile environment for the arts, threatening their survival and forever changing
 the art world.

Unit 5 Learning Outcomes
Upon successful completion of this unit, the student will be able to:
   Explain the reasons for the emergence of culture wars.
   Describe and discuss the controversy surrounding Tilted Arc.
   Define the main characteristics of Robert Mapplethorpe’s work and the way it became used in culture wars.
   Identify and discuss the role of public art.
   Identify major works of public art.
   Explain and discuss a relationship between the gentrification of big cities and the involvement of
   contemporary artists.
   Describe the way museums, museum collections, and museological operations influenced and
   informed contemporary artistic practice.
   Define and discuss institutional critique.
   Identify major contemporary artists whose work is representative of institutional critique.
                                                                                                    Average

Unit Blueprint



5.1 Culture Wars
5.1.1 Richard Serra and Tilted Arc (1981–1989)
5.1.2 Robert Mapplethorpe and The Perfect Moment (1988–1989)
5.2 Public Art: The City for People and Creative Consumption
5.2.1 Jenny Holzer
5.2.2 Krzystof Wodiczko
5.2.3 Alfredo Jaar
5.3 Art and the Museum: The Institutional Critique
5.3.1 Hans Haacke
5.3.2 Andrea Fraser
5.3.3 Fred Wilson
                                                                                                      Average
Unit 6: Narrating Identity
 1989 was a watershed year. For many, the fall of the Berlin Wall symbolized the end of the Cold War and
 a final victory of capitalism, which had global consequences and created a big change in the way we live
 and think about ourselves. Therefore, in the 1990s, contemporary artists increasingly moved away from
 big social issues and turned their focus to questions of identity, memory, and sexuality. Working as
 anthropologists would do, the artists explored what it means to be a man or a woman in a global world
 today: What is the role of memory and sexuality in construction of identity? Furthermore, what does race
 mean in today’s postcolonial world? Finally, what does it mean to be a human in a world saturated by
 technology?       In this unit, we will explore a number of artworks built around such questions.
 Importantly, most of these artists were addressing the issue of identity by creating so-called “installation”
 work—or works of art that engage the entire space of a gallery or exhibition, forcing the viewer to
 respond with his or her whole body. Some artists create an installation by making different objects, such
 as sculptures, and the others would use old toys, stuffed animals, and similar objects. The installation is
 for many contemporary artists an important feature because it communicates with the viewer in a more
 direct way and as such is more conducible in telling stories or narrating identities.

Unit 6 Learning Outcomes
Upon successful completion of this unit, the student will be able to:
   Discuss the ways contemporary art changed in the 1990s—at the end of the 20th century.
   Explain the ways issues of identity shaped contemporary artistic practice.
   Identify and discuss major works of contemporary art that deal with the issues of identity.
   Describe and discuss the ways sexuality, race, or memory became a critical tool for contemporary
   artists in exploring and challenging our social and cultural positioning.
   Explore and discuss the role of installation.
   Identify the similarities and differences between performance and installation.
                                                                                                Average

Unit Blueprint



6.1 Identity and Memory
6.1.1 Mike Kelley
6.1.2 Paul McCarthy
6.1.3 Annette Messager
6.1.4 Kiki Smith
6.1.5 Robert Gober
6.2. Race and Identity
6.2.1. Carrie Mae Weems
6.2.2 Kara Walker
6.2.3 Glenn Ligon
6.2.4 Yinka Shonibare
6.3 Identity and Technology
6.3.1 Orlan
6.3.2 Stelarc
6.3.3 Mona Hatoum
6.4 Identity and Sexuality
6.4.1 Nan Goldin
6.4.2 Larry Clark
6.4.3 Rineke Dijkstra
                                                                                                   Average
Unit 7: Contemporary Art in the Global World
 The 21st century ushered the world of art into the global arena, where there is no single specific art
 center or one specific art technique to speak about. However, there are some pressing issues that are
 common and that most artists around the world are sharing, and this is what we will examine in this final
 unit.

Unit 7 Learning Outcomes
Upon successful completion of this unit, the student will be able to:
   Identify the reasons and issues associated with the global art world today.
   Describe main characteristics of contemporary artistic practice today.
   Define and discuss the way contemporary art addresses consumerism.
   Explain the ways the role of performance art today is different from the one in the 1970s.
   Describe and discuss the way non-Western artists address political issues today.
   Identify what is the importance of contemporary art and artistic practice in the global world.Discuss the
   role of humor and imagination in contemporary artistic practice today.
                                                                                                     Average

Unit Blueprint



7.1 Contemporary Art, Artists, and the Global World: An Introduction.
7.2 Power of Humor
7.2.1 The Yes Men
7.2.2 Reverend Billy (Bill Talen)
7.3 Power of Imagination
7.3.1 Gabriel Orozco
7.3.2 Doris Salcedo
7.3.3 William Kentridge

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