An Introduction to Contemporary Art

What issues and approaches are engaging contemporary artists at the moment?

This introductory course provides a basic understanding of prominent themes, approaches and figures in contemporary art. It will investigate contemporary art’s grounding in modernism (and its appropriation and critical examination of modern art ideas) through key works and artists, movements (Minimalism, Arte Povera) and artistic strategies (feminism, post-modernism).

Led by Chris Clarke.

Beginners’ level – no prior knowledge necessary

£50 full / £35 concs

Course Outline:

Week 1 – 14 May

Histories of Modernism

This introductory session will provide an examination of competing versions of modernism, looking at how the modern idea of art as a chronological, avant-garde progression towards abstraction has been challenged and refuted by contemporary, so-called post-modern artists.

Week 2 – 21 May

Photography and Film

The advent of the camera had a profound effect on fine art practice. This session will look at how artists both reacted against and engaged with this technology, and will address photography and film’s preeminent role in conceptual and performance art through a survey of contemporary artists.

Week 3 – 28 May

Fragments of Art History

This session will provide a focus on several post-war art movements and their impact on contemporary artists. It will look at Arte Povera, Nouveaux Realisme, Feminism and the Situationists, and the respective major artists, ideas and curators involved in these movements.

Week 4 – 4 June

Ideas of Conceptual Art

Conceptual art, wherein the idea acts as the actual artwork, represents a consistent trend throughout modernism and post-modernism, leading from the seminal works of Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray to contemporary figures such as Louise Lawler and Sean Snyder.

Week 5 – 11 June

Pictures of Pop Art

Pop Art, in the works of Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns, provided a populist counterpoint to abstraction’s grandeur and introspection. This session looks at the legacy of these artists in post-modernism’s engagement with mass-media, and its influence in the practices of Mariko Mori and Bjarne Melgaard.

Week 6 – 18 June

Video Art (Broadcast Yourself exhibition tour)

Kathy Rae Huffman, Cornerhouse’s Exhibitions Director and co-curator of Broadcast Yourself, will lead an exhibition tour and discussion about media art and its distribution through television, public screens, art institutions and the internet.

Week 7 – 25 June

Contemporary Art Now

This final session will reflect on modernism’s various strategies and trajectories, and how these approaches have been borrowed and modified in the practice of contemporary artists. In addition, this session will look at interdisciplinary practices, encompassing film, music, visual art and architecture / public space and the role of artists as facilitators for collaborative projects.

Recommended reading

There is no prior reading required for this course but participants may be interested in the following books.

Acker, Kathy, Bodies of Work: Essays (Serpent’s Tail, 1996)

Barthes, Roland, Camera Lucida (Vintage, 1993)

Benjamin, Walter, Illuminations (Schocken, 1968)

Bourriaud, Nicolas, Relational Aesthetics (Les Presses du Reel, 1998)

Burgin, Victor, The End of Art Theory: Criticism and Postmodernity (Humanities,


Debord, Guy, Society of the Spectacle (Zone, 1995)

Eagleton, Terry, The Illusion of Postmodernism (Wiley / Blackwell, 1996)

Foster, Hal, Recodings: Art, Spectacle, Cultural Politics (Bay, 1985)

Jamison, Fredric, Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism

(Verso, 1991)

Jamison, Fredric, The Cultural Turn (Verso, 1998)

Manovich, Lev, The Language of New Media (MIT, 2002)

Meigh-Andrews, Chris, A History of Video Art: The Development of Form and

Function (Berg, 2006)

Mulvey, Laura, Fetishism and Curiosity (BFI, 1996)

Plant, Sadie, Zeros and Ones: Digital Women and the New Technoculture

(Fourth Estate, 1998)

Wood, Paul & Harrison, Charles, Art and Theory 1900-2000: An Anthology of

Changing Ideas (Wiley / Blackwell, 2002)