Contemporary Art : Complete guide

Contemporary Art : Complete guide

Contemporary art: complete guide

Contemporary art is the artistic period in which we find ourselves today. It began around 1945, mid-20th century, and continues today. Contemporary art followed modern art (1870-1950) which included Impressionism with its emblematic figures such as Édouard Manet.

How to begin the contemporary art ?

Contemporary art was initiated by pop art which marks a break with modern art productions. The difference between these two periods is not so clear in the sense that each country has its own way of speaking about one or the other. But in France, the rupture between modern art and contemporary art lies in the fact that modern art created controversies for the period, modern art was new, different, not always accepted. Whereas, on the other hand, contemporary art is perfectly in line with its time.



Contemporary art, the basis

Contemporary art was intended to counter the overly academic ways of modern art. The practice of art is freed from any rule.Plastic art which takes place in French faculties allowing to test new materials, new ways of composing a work, new media. 

Contemporary art amounts to questioning the place of art in society. As Marcel Duchamp and his Ready-made do so well, everything is art and everyone can become an artist. Thus, thanks to the open-mindedness that contemporary art brings, new artistic movements are taking place.

Artistic movement of Contemporary Art.

The list of artistic movements included in contemporary art is not exhaustive. This is become of the fact that new movements are created every day. 

Conceptual art 

Conceptual art is a movement that is difficult to date, but it can be placed approximately between 1965 and 1977.

Tis movement accords a little weight to the realization of a work and even less to its aesthetics.

The work does not need to be finished to make work, because it is the idea of the work that takes precedence over its realization.

Essential works of conceptual art:
Marcel duchamp

The origins of conceptual art comes from the «Ready-made » by Marcel Duchamp with his work named « La Fontaine », a spilled urinal. 

« L’art est défini non par les propriétés esthétiques des objets ou des œuvres, mais seulement par le concept ou l’idée de l’art.» 

In English: “Art is defined not by the aesthetic properties of objects or pieces of art, but only by the concept or idea of art.”


One and Three Chairs: Joseph Kosuth, 1965
One and Three Chairs: Joseph Kosuth, 1965.

This work is a marker of conceptual art, because it shows three possible representations of the same object: the chair. The importance is, therefore, not the realization or the way to show, but the very idea of showing a chair.


Minimalism is a movement that began in 1960 in the United States. As the name suggests, the goal is to create as little as possible. This movement was created to form an opposition to pop art, a figurative movement loaded by its colors and repetitions. Minimalism embodies the timeless Maxim by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, representative of the Bauhaus, «less is more» The least does the most.

The Essential Works of Minimalism
Richard Serra, an American artist sculptor realizes : Torqued Ellipse IV Weatherproof steel, 1998.

Richard Serra, an American artist sculptor realizes :
Torqued Ellipse IV Weatherproof steel,


Red Circle on Black, Jirō Yoshihara, 1965

Red Circle on Black, Jirō Yoshihara, 1965


Ifafa II, Frank Stella, 1967

Ifafa II, Frank Stella, 1967 


Artistic performance

 Performance is an artistic representation located, dated, and ephemeral. The work of art becomes a performance as soon as it is presented live. The final realization is not the art piece, but the action that is carried out become the art. An important role is played between the artist and the public, because without the public, performance would not exist. That’s why, the barrier between theatre and performance is thin. Sometimes, only the artist’s basis can make a difference. The work that is Performance uses many mediums and places to act. We will see what performances have marked their time.

Essentials Performances

The Artist is Present
«The Artist is Present » is a performance by Yugoslav artist Marina Abramović. Her goal is to explore the complex relationships between an artist and the public. Performance of May 2021 at the Museum of Modern Art.
The “Shoot” performance by Chris Burden
The “Shoot” performance by Chris Burden in 1971.  This work of art is a work engaged in a context of war. In America, during the Vietnam War, Chris Burden asked his friend to shoot him. Hit in the right-hand, he wants to demystify the crime to make it more real.
The works of the Japanese collective Gutaï. The collective aims to use the body as an instrument to create a performance. This is the case, for example, when Saburō Murakami crossed the paper screens during the second exhibition “Gutaï” presented in Tokyo in 1956.

Body art 

 Body art is a movement which appeared in the 1950s. This art will use the body to talk about sensations and create immersive works. Corporeal art, named body art as well, will allow artists to question pain, sex, enjoyment, but also to highlight the body within an ephemeral artistic representation.

The essential actors of body art

Loïe fuller is one of the protagonists of corporeal art. In the early 1900s, she used her body to create a work halfway between performance and theatre. Her body will become the scenography as well as the dialogues of her work. She will call her first scenography Serpentine Dance.

Loïe Fuller
Loïe Fuller

Gina Pane is a representative people of body art. She uses her body in the purpose that the wound becomes her symbol. She calls this part of her work «the Partitions», which are inspired by the religious iconography and the life of the saints.

Gina Pane

Modern medium, contemporary approach

Some contemporary actors have chosen to keep classical techniques and know-how closer to modern art than to contemporary art. Nevertheless, their thought and their non-academic approach, place them as artists belonging to the contemporary art movement.

New Realism 

The new realism appeared in 1960 in a statement given by artists with a common artistic language. These artists are: Yves Klein, Arman, François Dufrêne, Raymond Hains, Martial Raysse, Pierre Restany, Daniel Spoerri, Jean Tinguely, Jacques de la Villeglé; to which are added César, Mimmo Rotella, then Niki de Saint Phalle and Gérard Deschamps in 1961.

Together, they will appropriate the real and make «a poetic recycling of the real» as Pierre Restany said. For this reason, several artistic movements will be inscribed in the new realism. A specific movements to each artist.

The major actors in the new realism

César, Ricard, «Compression » 1962
César, Ricard, «Compression » 1962
Daniel Spoerri, Hungarian meal, trap board, 1963  Assembly Metal, glass, porcelain, fabric on chipboard painted  103 x 205 x 33 cm
Daniel Spoerri, Hungarian meal, trap board, 1963
Assembly Metal, glass, porcelain, fabric on chipboard painted
103 x 205 x 33 cm
Martial Raysse, Suddenly last summer, 1963 Assembly: acrylic painted photography and objects  100 x 225 cm
Martial Raysse, Suddenly last summer, 1963
Assembly: acrylic painted photography and objects
100 x 225 cm


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