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Art History: What is Contemporary Art?

Performance Art

Another movement with Conceptualist roots is performance art. Beginning in the 1960s and retaining its popularity today, performance art is a drama-inspired approach to art. While the art form is performed by artists (as the name suggests), it is not solely intended as entertainment. Instead, its goal is to convey a message or idea. Predominant performance artists include Marina Abramović, Yoko Ono, and Joseph Beuys.

Marina Abramović, ‘The Artist is Present’ (2010)

Yoko Ono, ‘Cut Piece,’ (1965)

Joseph Beuys, ‘Healing the Western Mind Part I’ (1974)

Installation Art

Like performance pieces, installation art is an immersive medium of art. Installations are three-dimensional constructions that transform their surroundings and alter viewers' perceptions of space. Often, they're site-specific and large-scale. Well-known installation artists include Yayoi Kusama and Dale Chihuly.

What is Contemporary Art Definition Yayoi Kusama

Yayoi Kusama, Exhibition View of ‘Gleaming Lights of the Souls’ (2008)
Photo: Louisiana Museum of Modern Art

What is Contemporary Art Definition Chihuly

Dale Chihuly, Exhibition Views of ‘Chihuly at the de Young’ (2008)
Photo: Diane Farris Gallery

Earth Art

A unique spin on installation art, Earth Art (or Land Art) is a movement in which artists transform natural landscapes into site-specific works of art. Robert Smithson, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, and Andy Goldsworthy are celebrated for their avant-garde earthworks.

What is Contemporary Art Definition Dan Flavin

By Sculpture: Robert Smithson 1938-1973 (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.) [Public domain or CC BY-SA 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

What is Contemporary Art Definition Dan Flavin

By The original uploader was Wolfgobbler at English Wikipedia [FAL], via Wikimedia Commons

Street Art

As one of the most recent contemporary art movements, street art is a genre that gained prominence with the rise of graffiti in the 1980s. Often rooted in social activism, street art includes murals, installations, stenciled images, and stickers erected in public spaces. Key street artists include figures from the 1980s, like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, as well as practicing artists like Banksy and Shepard Fairey.

What's Next for Contemporary Art?

While some of the artists we've looked at are either no longer alive or unable to practice, many contemporary greats, including (but not limited to) Damien Hirst, Ai Wei Wei, Marina Abramović, Yayoi Kusama, and Jeff Koons, continue to create avant-garde works of painting, sculpture, installation, and performance art.

In addition to these famous figures, many up-and-coming contemporary artists are stunning the world with their original approach to art. In addition to putting their own twists on conventional forms like painting, sculpture, and installation, they've also popularized unexpected forms of art, like embroidery, origami, and tattoos.

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