Contemporary Art: New Ways of Seeing
The term contemporary art refers to those works produced after World War II up until the current time. It is often used to distinguish works from other time periods, but does not indicate a certain genre or movement. In fact there are several genres under what can be considered as contemporary art, and as such, is not limited to one particular kind. In fact this is one of the hallmarks of contemporary art: that it is beyond any form of classification except for the fact that it was made during a specific time. However, contemporary art can be characterized by its close relationship with anthropology. Modern artists are not just artists but ethnographers as well, which explains the profusion of indigenous works in contemporary art. Contemporary art is more indicative of social realities within the context of specific human cultures. (Perkins & Morphy, 50)
In a sense, contemporary art may be considered as the breaking free from the standards set forth by the European masters who have dominated the art scene for hundreds of years, and where artists are free to explore more varied ways of expressing their personal interpretations of art. This perhaps account for the large variety of contemporary art and its refusal to be pigeonholed to a specific movement or genre. Because of this freedom, non-western artists are gaining worldwide acclaim for their art that portrays of local or native cultures. As far as art critics and aficionados are concerned, they must learn to “step outside traditional art-historical frameworks” in order to fully appreciate what contemporary art has to offer. (Kocur & Leung, 216) Contemporary art asks its audience to look outside the box even as it endeavors to break free from all types of labels and boundaries. As such, this paper intends to look at contemporary art through the artists that have made a name for themselves. These contemporary artists are qualified as such because their works have been featured in contemporary art exhibitions of global importance, have been exhibited in major modern or contemporary art museums and institutes all over the world, or have won a major award in their particular field.
Among the most notable contemporary artists is Mona Hatoum. She is a celebrated performance artist of Lebanese ancestry. When Hatoum was 23 years old, she moved to London where she received training in her craft. Hatoum gained artistic acclaim in 1980’s with her compelling pieces noted for its sculptural and artistic value. Always the innovator, Hatoum constantly looked for ways to raise the bar as far as her art is concerned. She shifted from ‘live’ or real-life pieces to focus on more mechanical works, incorporating modern technological elements such as light, sound, and video to produce an unparalleled work of art that is pleases the eye as well as stimulates the mind. Among Hatoum’s most acclaimed work is called Light at the End (2002). The sculptural piece consists of a metal frame with electric elements running vertically inside the iron frame. What makes the piece so fascinating is the inspired use of light to evoke different types of emotions. At first sight, the spectacle of light draws the viewers in, enticing them to come closer. The light then changes its nature when seen up close. The warm light that was so inviting from a distance now seems menacing and perilous. Hatoum’s Light at the End explores the theme of duplicity; that the same thing can appear differently at different perspectives.
Another contemporary artist is Trenton Doyle Hancock. He was born in Oklahoma but was raised in Texas. Hancock made a name for himself for his drawings, paintings, and prints. His work is actually a continuing narrative, with each individual piece forming an element in the story of the Mounds, a mythical creature that is half-animal, half-plant. With each piece, Hancock tackles a particular aspect of the Mounds’ lives, conveying events and rites of passages, through which we are given a glimpse of the Mounds world. Hancock has been hailed for using traditional art in ways that are groundbreaking and liberating. Hancock’s decision to create new characters and stories elevates the art form to something that is truly modern and progressive. For his work, Trenton Doyle Hancock has been given several awards and has earned the distinction for being the youngest artist in history to be featured in the 2000 and 2002 Whitney Biennial exhibitions.
Arthur Omar is a multi-media contemporary artist. He creates film, photography, music, drawing, poetry, etc. Omar is a Brazilian artist and is also known for his writings on the nature of images and the visual world, as well as the creative process that goes into the creation of an image. Omar is a widely accomplished artist as proven by the several retrospectives that have been done on his works. In 2001, Omar received a national award for his exhibitions: The Splendor of Opposites exhibition. This exhibition features a collection of landscape photographs with the Amazon as the main subject. Omar presents the Amazon in modern ways, manipulating space and light, to present the Amazon in ways that we have never seen before. Another notable exhibition, Journey to Afghanistan, features photographs of the war zone between Kabul and Banyan. By using innovative perspectives and compositions, Omar adds greater depth and emphasis to an already tragic place.
Nina Katchadourian is yet another acclaimed multi-media artist whose work is carried across a range of media. These forms include music, video, photography, installations and sculptural works and public projects. Katchadourian is born in California but grew up in Finland. She is a New York-based artist and has been widely exhibited in New York and in global art arena. Katchadourian’s All Forms of Attraction has been nominated for the best monographic exhibition category by the Association of International Art Critics.
Indeed by the works of these artists, we see that contemporary art is all about celebrating the many ways of seeing the world. Contemporary art is magnificent in its breadth and scope and is impressive in its refusal to be tied down to certain labels or definitions. By its very nature, contemporary art is mutable and constantly changing, and as such, cannot be fully defined and classified. Art has gone beyond the classical forms, to include modern technological advances in video, photography, sound, and other modern media. However, more than the form, contemporary art deserves acknowledgement because of its desire to embrace all art and artists of all types, staying true to the ideals of art as universal and sans any type of bounderies.
Perkins, Morgan and Howard Morphy. The Anthropology of Art: A Reader. Blackwell Publishing. 2006.
Kocur, Zoya and Simon Leung. Theory in Contemporary Art Since 1985. Blackwell Publishing. 2005.