An Introduction to Contemporary Art

What issues and approaches are engaging contemporary artists at the moment? This introductory course looks at a number of important artists, and how they are influenced by modern and historical artworks.
Coinciding with Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2007 (Fri 23 November – Sun 20 January), these sessions will provide the viewer with a solid foundation in visual art through a range of critical approaches, drawing on disciplines including sculpture, painting, photography, video and installation art.

Led by Alpesh Patel and Christine Stoddard.

Beginners’ level – no prior knowledge necessary
Course price: £60 full / £45 concs. Bookings through Box Office (0161 200 1500).

  • 1 October: Questioning the Canon: “Post-Modernism” and Visual Studies

In this first session, we will introduce some of the key concepts and methodologies for understanding art as an aspect of visual culture. We will look at how form conveys meaning, how the socio-political context within which a work is produced opens up avenues of interpretation, and how issues like gender, race, class, sexuality, etc. impact our appreciation of a particular artwork. Through comparisons of a number of important historical and contemporary works, we will consider the emergence of postmodernism in the 1960s as symbolic of many of the questions around authorship, canonicity, artistic practice, and the form and function of the image in culture that are posed by artists today.

  • 8 October: Idea: Concept in/as Art

In this session, we will consider the strategies artists use to comment on the fetishization of art within the context of multinational capital, mass reproduction technologies, and a global consumer culture. Rather than an elite, finely crafted visual object, artists like Jenny Holzer, Zhang Huan, Matthieu Laurette, and Damien Hirst have engaged in a kind of dematerialization of the object where the idea or concept behind a work becomes the focus. The emergence of Conceptual Art in the 1960s provides an important historical ground for contemporary experiments with language, readymade objects, interventions and documentation as art.

  • 15 October: Identity Politics: 1980s/1990s

Following the surge of identity movements in the post WWII period, issues of sexuality, race, and gender, in particular, became an increasingly central concern of artists in the 1980s and early 1990s. In this session, we will explore the Whitney Museum of American Art’s 1993 Biennial exhibition in New York City which was dubbed the “Identity Biennial”, as well as the Black British movement in the UK of the 1980s which allied artists of African, Caribbean, and South Asian descent. Finally, the session will end with a discussion of the emergency of “post-identity” as labels attached to a new generation of artists of the late 1990s and early twenty-first century. Artists considered: Sutapa Biswas, Kara Walker, Anish Kapoor, Wangechi Mutu, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, and others.

  • 22 October: Space: Material, Conceptual, and Political

Robert Smithson in 1967 referred to his artwork which appropriated landscape and natural forms as “earthworks,” which has since become known as an umbrella term for a broad range of artists working in the 1960s-1980s. This session will investigate some of the ways in which artists have interpreted “space” as integral to the artist’s material practice, itself, but also as a conceptual mode of practice. The politics of public art installation is also considered, primarily through the case studies of Richard Serra’s “Tilted Arc” and Maya Lin’s “Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial.” Finally, a brief overview of the “Mixing It Up: Queering Curry Mile and Currying Canal Street” project will elucidate how artists call attention to the spatial politics of educational/institutional and public/commercial spaces in Manchester, itself.

  • 29 October: Gallery Tour: Outside the Box
  • 5 November: Live: The Body in Time

At the Il Tempo del Postino event for the inaugural Manchester International Festival this year, visual artists were presented with the query: what would happen if art occupied time instead of space? The presence of the “live” in much contemporary art—as something that happens in time—is indicative of the increasing mediatization of our culture and of new understandings of the body/self as emergent. In this session, we will look at the history of performance art and consider a number of artists who interrogate the question of time in their work through their bodies, including Guillermo Gómez-Peña, Marina Abramovic, Stelarc and others.

  • 12 November: Artists & Technology: Emergence of New Media Art

Artists have consistently been early adopters of emerging media technologies, such as Nam June Paik’s manipulations of video in the 1960s. This session addresses New Media art as a specific art historical movement, focusing not only on technologies and forms but also on thematic content and conceptual strategies. New Media art often involves appropriation, collaboration, and the free sharing of ideas and expressions, and frequently addresses the political ramifications of technology around issues of identity, commercialization, privacy, and the public domain. Artists studied include: Cory Arcangel, Paul Kaiser and Shelly Eshkar, Raqs Media Collective, and RTMark.

  • 19 November: Audience-Relation-Environment: Beyond the White Cube

Michael Fried’s seminal 1967 essay “Art and Objecthood” revealed one of the central tensions between Modernists and postmodernists: was meaning inherent in the work of art itself, or formed in the ‘theatrical’ exchange between viewer and object? Contemporary installation art seems to suggest the latter. Through the work of artists like Annette Messager, Jake and Dinos Chapman, David Rokeby, and Jill Mercedes, we will explore how the viewer is implicated in meaning-making and how artists use everyday materials, the gallery space, and new media technologies to create immersive or interactive environments that position the viewer as an integral part of the artwork, and sometimes even as the work itself.