Contemporary Art

Contemporary art includes more than fifty types of art that have surfaced since the end of World War II. An important shift in the art world occurred when New York City replaced Paris as the center of the art world. In the 1950s, artists like Jackson Pollock led the movement toward abstraction with Abstract Expressionism. By the 1960s, Andy Warhol and other artists broke away from traditional art to commercial art, making considerable sums with Pop Art.

In the New York art scene in the 1960s and 1970s, there was also a split between artists ascribing to Formalism and Anti-Formalism. Formalism focuses on formal achievements of visual art, including the design elements of direction, size, texture, line, shape, color, and value. Anti-Formalism debunks the importance of design elements and introduces new forms of art such as installations, videos, and performance art.

Understanding contemporary art requires the study of many “isms” in six decades of art. The common denominator is that artistic talent must be recognized formally by the art world. Some contemporary artists reflect the influence of Modernism, including Impressionism, Surrealism, and Cubism, and others break away with Post-Modernism, including no connections to past art movements.

Lyrical Abstraction, with features of abstraction, movement, emotion, and design, moved away from Minimalism and Conceptual Art, abandoning geometry and hard lines. Dan Christensen offers a good example of Lyrical Abstraction. Born in 1942 in Cozad, Nebraska, Christensen completed art training at the Kansas City Art Institute. He painted for over forty years and died in 2007. In Remembering Dan Christensen – Forty Years of Painting, a summer 2009 exhibition at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, artist Ronnie Landfield describes Christensen: “Like Henri Matisse and Jackson Pollock, two artists who Christensen greatly admired, his work embraced change and movement.”

Landfield notes that before moving to New York, Christensen painted figurative works. In PR (1967), you can see the shift to abstraction. Christensen’s PR uses synthetic polymer paint on canvas to create powerful spirals of rainbow colors on a white background. The work moves through a lyrical pattern of spirals in bright colors, uniting colorful lines in an emotional way. The observer also sees traces of Abstract Expressionism and Pollock’s style. In Ray (1998), witness how Christensen’s style evolves over thirty years. This acrylic painting uses large circles in black and white. They seem to spin forth from the picture. Color changes the mood of Ray with the rainbow paint spatters at the bottom.

While contemporary art represents formal recognition by collectors, museums, galleries, art schools, and public organizations, artists have produced many art forms under this classification. In the post-Information Age, you can decide if newer media like digital and video works are true forms of contemporary art.