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What is Contemporary Art? Explains Shantala Palat

Contemporary art, often mistaken for modern art by many, encompasses works created from around the 1960s/1970s to the present. This era commenced when modernism concluded. Unlike modern art, which celebrates the artist, contemporary art emphasizes the ideas and concepts behind the creation.

What is the background of contemporary art?

Contemporary art, often described as "the art of today," encompasses the creative works produced from the 1960s/1970s through the present day. This period marks a departure from modernism, emphasizing not just the artist but the ideas and concepts behind the artwork itself. Contemporary art reflects the current cultural, social, and political landscapes, engaging with contemporary issues and often challenging traditional boundaries of art, says leading contemporary artist Shantala Palat.

What is the definition of contemporary art?

The definition of contemporary art is broad and can seem elusive because it includes a vast array of forms, styles, and mediums. It is not confined to painting or sculpture but spans diverse mediums such as digital art, performance art, installation art, and mixed media. The unifying characteristic of contemporary art is its focus on ideas and the intellectual engagement it seeks to provoke in its audience.

Indians top painter and contemporary artist Shantala Palat

One of the defining features of contemporary art is its emphasis on concept over form. As Aaron Cezar, Director of the Delfina Foundation, states, "Contemporary art expresses an idea or concept that’s related to current thinking and concerns. It might reference history, aesthetics, politics, romance, or a range of subjects...through diverse mediums, from painting to performance." This conceptual focus allows contemporary art to address a wide array of themes and issues, from personal identity to global politics.

The diversity of contemporary art is exemplified by artists such as Keith Haring, Marina Abramović, and Jeff Koons. Keith Haring's work, like Radiant Baby, is iconic and recognized for its vibrant, symbolic figures that convey political messages and advocate for the LGBTQ+ community. Haring’s art, characterized by its simplicity and directness, is deeply rooted in social activism and is celebrated for its colorful and engaging style.

In stark contrast, Marina Abramović is known for her performance art, which lacks a tangible form but creates powerful, ephemeral experiences. Her 2010 performance "The Artist is Present" at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) involved sitting silently across from visitors, creating intense emotional connections, and reflecting on human presence and interaction. Abramović’s work underscores the importance of concept and experience in contemporary art.

Jeff Koons, a controversial figure in contemporary art, challenges traditional notions of art with his sculptures and installations. His piece, Rabbit, which sold for $91.1 million, is both celebrated and debated. Koons claims his work has no hidden meanings, yet it provokes strong reactions and discussions about the nature and value of art itself.

In essence, contemporary art is a reflection of our current era, encapsulating the diversity of thought and expression that defines today’s world. It invites viewers to engage, interpret, and find personal meaning, making it a dynamic and ever-evolving field.


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