What is Contemporary Art?

The Contemporary Museum of Honolulu exclusively featured contemporary art, but what exactly does contemporary art encompass? At its most basic, contemporary art refers to art made in the modern day, but modern art and contemporary art are two distinct styles. Essentially, contemporary art can be most closely defined as art produced in the late 20th and early 21st Centuries that is part of a larger cultural dialogue that encompasses contextual frameworks that include issues such as personal and cultural identity, community, family, and nationality.

Aside from time period, contemporary art has a loose set of defined features that characterize it. Many works of contemporary art focus on culturally relevant themes, and they often challenge the notion of artwork itself. Contemporary art often does not have a single, unified objective or point of view. It also typically addresses themes such as globalization, the body, technology, and identity politics. Contemporary art can be made from a variety of mediums, and today’s contemporary art often involves technological media.

Major Artists and Movements

Because it encompasses such as diverse array of works, contemporary art can be difficult to define in a vacuum, so it is more easily understood when examining major movements and artists.

Pop Art
One of the first major contemporary art movements was Pop Art. Popularized by artists like Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, this movement portrayed mass culture as a reaction to modern art movements.

Photorealism aimed to create hyper-realistic drawings and paintings. Though this art form is often criticized as mainly a way for artists to show off their skills, it portrayed its subjects in the most realistic manner possible.

Minimalism is one of the most prevalent forms of contemporary art in the 2010s. Minimalist artists like Sol LeWitt and Dan Flavin use minimalism to challenge existing constraints for making and viewing art, using abstracting to invite viewers to create their own meaning.

Conceptualism was a reaction against the notion of art as a commodity, and it was pioneered by artists such as Damien Hirst, Ai Wei Wei, and Jenny Holzer. This experimental movement comprises a major portion of contemporary art today.

Performance Art
This dramatically inspired approach to art intends to convey a message or idea to viewers. Performance artists like Yoko Ono create their art live in front of their audience in order to solicit a particular reaction.

Art Installations
Similarly, art installations immerse viewers in art and alter their perceptions of space. Famous installation artists include Dale Chihuly and Yayoi Kusama.