Course Syllabus for "ARTH408: Contemporary Art".

In common conversation, we often use the phrase “contemporary art” to refer to current artistic production—the art being produced today.  However, in the art history field, the phrase denotes a specific period of art and artistic practice starting in the 1960s and continuing today.  It is characterized by a break from the modernist artistic canon and a desire to move away from the dominant Western cultural model, looking for inspiration in everyday and popular culture.  More specifically, many contemporary artworks reject traditional modernistic artistic media (such as painting or sculpture) in favor of a more collaborative, ephemeral, and multimedia approach that further blurs the boundaries between high and mass culture.  In its subject matter, this art also tends to reflect a shift away from purely aesthetic issues to more socially oriented concerns.  Finally, it is important to note that contemporary art should not be seen as a progression of different artistic styles but as series of different cultural, social, and political inquiries that occupied contemporary art practice over the course of the past 50 years or so.  We will examine these important aesthetic and cultural changes within their historical and social context as we progress through this course. This course will survey contemporary art, starting with the 1960s and concluding in 2010.  While the focus is on Western art and culture, we will also explore a selection of contemporary art and artistic practices around the globe, which have become increasingly influential in the definition of contemporary art today.  Each of the units will examine a set of specific aesthetic and social issues and look at the different strategies contemporary artists proposed and used in their work.  By the end of this course, you should be able to recognize and interpret most important aspects of contemporary art and contemporary visual culture while better understanding some of the cultural and social aspects of our daily life in today’s global world.

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of this course, the student will be able to:

Course Requirements

In order to take this course, you must:

√    Have access to a computer.

√    Have continuous broadband Internet access.

√    Have the ability/permission to install plug-ins or software (e.g., Adobe Reader or Flash).

√    Have the ability to download and save files and documents to a computer.

√    Have the ability to open Microsoft files and documents (.doc, .ppt, .xls, etc.).

√    Have competency in the English language.

√    Have read the Saylor Student Handbook.

√    Have completed all courses listed in the Core Program of the art history discipline (ARTH101 through ARTH301).

Course Information

Welcome to ARTH408.  Below, please find some general information on this course and its requirements.

Primary Resources: Tate Gallery: papers, glossary, and video recordings of interviews with artists; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMoMA): lectures and interactive exhibits; Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) New York: exhibits and collections; UbuWeb: texts, biographies, and films; Smithsonian Institution: Archives of American Art.

Requirements for Completion: In order to complete this course, you will need to work through each unit and all its assigned materials.  Pay special attention to Units 1 and 2, which lay the groundwork for understanding the more advanced, exploratory material presented in the latter units.  You will also need to complete:

• Unit 1: Two writing activities

• Unit 2: Writing activity and museum visit

• Unit 3: Writing activity and museum visit

• Unit 4: Writing activity and museum visit

• Unit 5: Writing activity and museum visit

• Unit 6: Writing activity and museum visit

• Unit 7: Writing activity and museum visit

• The final exam

Note that you will only receive an official grade on your final exam.  However, in order to adequately prepare for this exam, you will need to work through the assignments.  In order to pass this course, you will need to earn a 70% or higher on the final exam.  Your score on the exam will be tabulated as soon as you complete it.  If you do not pass the exam, you may take it again.

Time Commitment: This course should take you approximately 138 hours to complete.  Each unit includes a time advisory that lists the amount of time you are expected to spend on each subunit.  These should help you plan your time accordingly.  It may be useful to take a look at these time advisories and determine how much time you have over the next few weeks to complete each unit and then set goals for yourself.  For example, Unit 1 should take you approximately 14 hours.  Perhaps you can sit down with your calendar and decide to complete subunit 1.1 (4 hours) on Monday night; subunit 1.2 (5 hours) on Tuesday night; etc.

Tips/Suggestions: As noted in the “Course Requirements,” all courses listed in the Core Program of the art history discipline are prerequisites for this course.  In particular, you should be familiar with ARTH301 (especially Units 2, 5, 6, and 8).  In addition,  please revisit ARTH209 (especially Unit 7).

As you read, take careful notes on a separate sheet of paper.  Mark down any important features, dates, and/or elements that stand out to you.  It will be useful to use this cheat sheet as a review prior to completing the final exam.

After you complete this course, you might find these resources helpful as complementary material to the materials you read in this course:

Thomas Crow.  The Rise of the Sixties: American and European Art in the Era of Dissent.  New York: Yale University Press (2005).  Note: This is a very good and succinct introduction to art and society in the 1960s.

Brandon Taylor.  Contemporary Art: Art Since 1970.  London: Prentice Hall (2004).  Note: This is a review of the development of contemporary art from 1970 through 2000 within its social context.

Hal Foster, Rosalind Krauss, Yve-Alain Bois, and Benjamin H. D. Buchloh. Art Since 1900: Modernism, Antimodernism, Postmodernism.  New York: Thames & Hudson (2004).  Note: This is a very detailed analysis of art since 1945, with reproductions, a chronology, a glossary, and a round table discussion on contemporary art.

Cristin Stilles and Peter Selz (editors).  Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art: A Sourcebook of Artists’ Writings.  Berkeley: University of California Press (1996).  Note: This is a compilation of artists’ writings—divided chronologically and thematically.  Each section is prefaced with a detailed and relevant introduction.

Course Overview

  • 1.2 Modernist Art Canon in the 1960s: Critic, Movement, and Artist  
  • 1.2.1 Art Critic: Clement Greenberg’s Formalism (Greenbergian Formalism)  
  • 1.2.2 Art Movement: Post-Painterly Abstraction  
  • 1.2.3 Artist: Helen Frankenthaler and Post-Painterly Abstraction  
  • Unit 2: Contesting Modernism: Art Beyond Painting and Sculpture  

    In this unit, we will focus on a series of mostly international and collective art practices that would trigger a powerful contestation of modernist canon and challenge of its most important principles as encapsulated by Greenberg’s writings and growing pressure of the art market.  It was not an accident that most of the artists were very young, bringing a sense of intensity and irreverence to the artistic practice. We will start this unit by examining the ideas of the Parisian collective known as the Situationist International (Situationists), whose work addressed the nature and function of art and culture in contemporary society, thus moving away from purely artistic issues. 
    We will continue by looking at the work of another international group of artists who called themselves “Fluxus” (Flux).  We will study their strategies and examine the ways in which they challenged the modernist canon and the formalist definition of art as a visual “object” (i.e., painting or sculpture), introducing pluralism of expression involving music, performance, and design.  We will continue our examination with a series of experimental artistic practices associated with Lucy Lippard’s influential publication Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object from 1966 to 1972, where she presented a documentation of “so-called conceptual or information or idea art with mentions of such vaguely designated areas as minimal, anti-form, systems, earth, or process art,” summarizing some of the most important artistic explorations at that time.

    Unit 2 Time Advisory
    This unit will take you approximately 21 hours to complete.

    ☐    Subunit 2.1: 5 hours

    ☐    Subunit 2.2: 5 hours

    ☐    Subunit 2.3: 5 hours

    ☐    Museum Visit: 3 hours

    ☐    Writing Assignment: 3 hours
    Unit2 Learning Outcomes
    Upon successful completion of this unit, the student will be able to:

    • Describe the way contemporary artists began to contest modernism in the 1960s.

    • Describe the role and importance of historical and social context for the development of contemporary art.

    • Identify and discuss the work and main concepts of the Situationist International.

    • Explain the main actions and identify main representatives of the Fluxus group.

    • Describe the reasons for the emergence of the dematerialization of the art object.

    • Identify main characteristics and examples of dematerialized artworks.

    • Identify the similarities and differences between different forms of such dematerialized artwork as earthwork, Arte Povera, and conceptual art.

    • Describe and discuss the way contemporary artistic practice became international in its scope.

    • Explain and discuss Lucy Lippard’s art criticism and in what way it was and is different from Greenberg’s critical position.

  • 2.1 The Situationists (Situationist International)  
  • 2.1.1 Who Were the Situationists and What Exactly They Were Interested In?  
  • 2.1.2 Situationist Art Tactics  
  • 2.1.3 Situationist Artworks  
  • Asger Jorn and Guy Debord: Mémoires  
  • Asger Jorn and Modified (Disfigured) Paintings  
  • 2.2 Fluxus  
  • 2.2.1 What Was Fluxus All About?  
  • 2.2.2 Fluxus Artists  
  • Nam June Paik  
  • Yoko Ono  
  • Joseph Beuys: We Are the Revolution  
  • 2.3 Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object from 1966 to 1972  
  • 2.3.1 Lucy Lippard: Art Critic as an Activist  
  • 2.3.2 Other Dematerialized Artworks  
  • Hanne Darboven  
  • Daniel Buren  
  • Robert Smithson  
  • Giovanni Anselmo  
  • John Baldessari  
  • Cildo Meireles  
  • Unit 3: Expanding Fields and Contesting Stereotypes  

    Following the women’s liberation movement (second-wave feminism) coming on the heels of the civil rights movement and many other liberation and antiwar movements across the globe, many contemporary artists engaged more openly with social issues. In this unit, we will discuss and examine the ways in which contemporary artists associated with feminism used their art as a tool to protest cultural myths and stereotypes. Some of these works challenged preconceived notions of femininity and/or race; the others were focusing on what artists perceived to be isolation and disconnectedness in contemporary world. However, all of them were interested in creating a thought-provoking situation that challenged the viewer. Finally, we will explore how the use of loosely structured, theater-like events—collectively called “performance art”—offered an opportunity to create an interactive, socially responsive work of art, thus making it, in the 1970s, a preferred form of expression for feminists—and not only just them.

    Unit 3 Time Advisory
    This unit will take you approximately 18 hours to complete.

    ☐    Subunit 3.1: 5 hours
    ☐    Subunit 3.2: 5 hours
    ☐    Museum Visit: 3 hours
    ☐    Writing Assignment: 5 hours
    Unit3 Learning Outcomes
    Upon successful completion of this unit, the student will be able to:

    • Explain the relationship between different social movements and contemporary artistic practice.

    • Describe and discuss the role and importance of feminist interventions.

    • Identify and explain the main works that represent feminist input.

    • Explain the reasons for the emergence of performance art.

    • Describe and discuss the main characteristics of performance art.

    • Identify the major performance works.

    • Explore differences and similarities between body art, happening, action, and performance art.

  • 3.1 Feminist Intervention  
  • 3.1.1 Betye Saar  
  • 3.1.2 Judy Chicago  
  • 3.1.3 Louise Bourgeois  
  • 3.1.4 Eva Hesse  
  • 3.1.5 Martha Rosler  
  • 3.1.6 Mary Kelly and Post-Partum Document  
  • 3.1.7 Ana Mendieta  
  • 3.2 Performance Art  
  • 3.2.1 Chris Burden  
  • 3.2.2 Carolee Schneemann  
  • 3.2.3 Vito Acconci  
  • Unit 4: Postmodernist Rhetoric: Return to Painting and Object or Further Questioning?  

    With an increasing presence of technology and shifting global borders—promising and threatening—the 1980s were complex period in the history of the 20th century, which for many in the West announced the arrival of the postmodern, where many aspects of Modern art and theory—such as the idea of linear progression together with the concepts of originality and authenticity—were obsolete.  However, for many cultural theoreticians and artists alike working at that time, this fascination with the alleged end of modernism only proved its ongoing pertinence.  As a result, a vivid debate ensued—often referred to as a “postmodernist rhetoric” in order to emphasize its polemical character. 
    This debate divided the art world roughly into two camps: On one hand were the artists who engaged in irreverent and often ironical appropriation of past artistic styles, bringing back the dominance of painting and sculpture, and on the other hand were those who used new media and photography to question some of the basic assumptions of modernist orthodoxy, such as the issues of originality and authenticity.  In this unit, we will examine both camps, hoping to get a clearer understanding of the main characteristics of this debate.

    Unit 4 Time Advisory
    This unit will take you approximately 24 hours to complete.

    ☐    Subunit 4.1: 2 hours

    ☐    Subunit 4.2: 5 hours

    ☐    Subunit 4.3: 5 hours

    ☐    Subunit 4.4: 5 hours

    ☐    Museum Visit: 2 hours

    ☐    Writing Assignment: 5 hours
    Unit4 Learning Outcomes
    Upon successful completion of this unit, the student will be able to:

    • Explain the reasons for the emergence of the postmodernist rhetoric.

    • Discuss the way in which postmodernist rhetoric influenced contemporary art in the 1980s.

    • Identify neo-expressionist works.

    • Explain the return of pictorial abstraction and realist painting.

    • Describe and discuss main artworks that use and include objects.

    • Discuss the way originality and authenticity became one of the important issues for artists working in the 1980s.

    • List the most important artists and artworks associated with the emergence of postmodernist debate.

  • 4.1 Postmodernism (Po-Mo)  
  • 4.2 Return of the Painting  
  • 4.2.1 Neo-Expressionism  
  • Julian Schnabel  
  • Anselm Kiefer  
  • Georg Baselitz  
  • 4.2.2 Russian Irony: The Most Wanted Paintings  
  • 4.3 Return of the Object  
  • 4.3.1 Jeff Koons  
  • 4.3.2 Ashley Bickerton  
  • 4.3.3 Allan McCollum  
  • 4.4 Critique of Originality and Authenticity  
  • 4.4.1 Sherrie Levine  
  • 4.4.2 Cindy Sherman  
  • 4.4.3 Barbara Kruger  
  • Unit 5: Art and the Public Sphere  

    The term “public sphere” is used to describe different public spaces, not necessarily physical spaces, where people can congregate freely to discuss and form their opinions. Art museums, galleries, cities, and city plazas but also the media are some examples of the public sphere. In the late 1980s, many artists became increasingly concerned with the commercialization of the public sphere, which they felt threatened the arts and impeded people to think freely and make their own decisions.

    As a result, a number of artists examined the role of museums and the way they represented or plainly misrepresented the public interest they were supposed to serve. This type of artistic practice is called “the institutional critique.” Other artists addressed the perils of gentrification and the way city centers or entire cities lost their public when people were forcibly evacuated or simply could not afford the rent anymore, creating a series of works that is often identified as “public art.” Most importantly, all these developments took place against the backdrop of the so-called “culture wars” in America, when a set of events and exhibitions, such as the Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition or Richard Serra’s public sculpture Tilted Arc, resulted in a heated debate and a very hostile environment for the arts, threatening their survival and forever changing the art world.

    Before starting to work on this unit, revisit Unit 6 in ARTH301, especially subunit 6.2, and Unit 8.

    Unit 5 Time Advisory
    This unit will take you approximately 22 hours to complete.
    ☐    Subunit 5.1: 5 hours

    ☐    Subunit 5.2: 5 hours

    ☐    Subunit 5.3: 5 hours

    ☐    Museum Visit: 2 hours

    ☐    Writing Assignment: 5 hours
    Unit5 Learning Outcomes
    Upon successful completion of this unit, the student will be able to:

    • Explain the reasons for the emergence of culture wars.

    • Describe and discuss the controversy surrounding Tilted Arc.

    • Define the main characteristics of Robert Mapplethorpe’s work and the way it became used in culture wars.

    • Identify and discuss the role of public art.  

    • Identify major works of public art.

    • Explain and discuss a relationship between the gentrification of big cities and the involvement of contemporary artists.

    • Describe the way museums, museum collections, and museological operations influenced and informed contemporary artistic practice.

    • Define and discuss institutional critique.

    • Identify major contemporary artists whose work is representative of institutional critique.

  • 5.1 Culture Wars  
  • 5.1.1 Richard Serra and Tilted Arc (1981–1989)  
  • 5.1.2 Robert Mapplethorpe and The Perfect Moment (1988–1989)  
  • 5.2 Public Art: The City for People and Creative Consumption  
  • 5.2.1 Jenny Holzer  
  • 5.2.2 Krzystof Wodiczko  
  • 5.2.3 Alfredo Jaar  
  • 5.3 Art and the Museum: The Institutional Critique  
  • 5.3.1 Hans Haacke  
  • 5.3.2 Andrea Fraser  
  • 5.3.3 Fred Wilson  
  • Unit 6: Narrating Identity  

    1989 was a watershed year. For many, the fall of the Berlin Wall symbolized the end of the Cold War and a final victory of capitalism, which had global consequences and created a big change in the way we live and think about ourselves. Therefore, in the 1990s, contemporary artists increasingly moved away from big social issues and turned their focus to questions of identity, memory, and sexuality. Working as anthropologists would do, the artists explored what it means to be a man or a woman in a global world today: What is the role of memory and sexuality in construction of identity? Furthermore, what does race mean in today’s postcolonial world? Finally, what does it mean to be a human in a world saturated by technology?

    In this unit, we will explore a number of artworks built around such questions. Importantly, most of these artists were addressing the issue of identity by creating so-called “installation” work—or works of art that engage the entire space of a gallery or exhibition, forcing the viewer to respond with his or her whole body. Some artists create an installation by making different objects, such as sculptures, and the others would use old toys, stuffed animals, and similar objects. The installation is for many contemporary artists an important feature because it communicates with the viewer in a more direct way and as such is more conducible in telling stories or narrating identities.

    Before starting to work on this unit, please revisit Units 5 and 6 (subunit 6.4) in ARTH301.

    Unit 6 Time Advisory
    This unit will take you approximately 24 hours to complete:

    ☐    Subunit 6.1: 5 hours

    ☐    Subunit 6.2: 5 hours

    ☐    Subunit 6.3: 3 hours

    ☐    Subunit 6.4: 4 hours

    ☐    Museum Visit: 2 hours

    ☐    Writing Assignment: 5 hours
    Unit6 Learning Outcomes
    Upon completion of this unit, students will be able to:

    • Discuss the ways contemporary art changed in the 1990s—at the end of the 20th century.

    • Explain the ways issues of identity shaped contemporary artistic practice.

    • Identify and discuss major works of contemporary art that deal with the issues of identity.

    • Describe and discuss the ways sexuality, race, or memory became a critical tool for contemporary artists in exploring and challenging our social and cultural positioning.

    • Explore and discuss the role of installation.

    • Identify the similarities and differences between performance and installation.

  • 6.1 Identity and Memory  

    Please review the unit on installation art (Unit 7) in ARTH209

  • 6.1.1 Mike Kelley  
  • 6.1.2 Paul McCarthy  
  • 6.1.3 Annette Messager  
  • 6.1.4 Kiki Smith  
  • 6.1.5 Robert Gober  
  • 6.2. Race and Identity  
  • 6.2.1. Carrie Mae Weems  
  • 6.2.2 Kara Walker  
  • 6.2.3 Glenn Ligon  
  • 6.2.4 Yinka Shonibare  
  • 6.3 Identity and Technology  
  • 6.3.1 Orlan  
  • 6.3.2 Stelarc  
  • 6.3.3 Mona Hatoum  
  • 6.4 Identity and Sexuality  
  • 6.4.1 Nan Goldin  
  • 6.4.2 Larry Clark  
  • 6.4.3 Rineke Dijkstra  
  • Unit 7: Contemporary Art in the Global World  

    The 21st century ushered the world of art into the global arena, where there is no single specific art center or one specific art technique to speak about. However, there are some pressing issues that are common and that most artists around the world are sharing, and this is what we will examine in this final unit.

    Unit 7 Time Advisory
    This unit will take you approximately 15 hours to complete:

    ☐    Subunit 7.1: 2 hours

    ☐    Subunit 7.2: 2 hours

    ☐    Subunit 7.3: 4 hours

    ☐    Museum Visit: 2 hours

    ☐    Writing Assignment: 5 hours
    Unit7 Learning Outcomes
    Upon successful completion of this unit, the student will be able to:

    • Identify the reasons and issues associated with the global art world today.

    • Describe main characteristics of contemporary artistic practice today.

    • Define and discuss the way contemporary art addresses consumerism.

    • Explain the ways the role of performance art today is different from the one in the 1970s.

    • Describe and discuss the way non-Western artists address political issues today.

    • Identify what is the importance of contemporary art and artistic practice in the global world.

    • Discuss the role of humor and imagination in contemporary artistic practice today.

  • 7.1 Contemporary Art, Artists, and the Global World: An Introduction.  
  • 7.2 Power of Humor  
  • 7.2.1 The Yes Men  
  • 7.2.2 Reverend Billy (Bill Talen)  
  • 7.3 Power of Imagination  
  • 7.3.1 Gabriel Orozco  
  • 7.3.2 Doris Salcedo  
  • 7.3.3 William Kentridge  
  • Unit 8: Final Exam