This concept of randomness, chance, appropriation, and questioning the preconceptions of the world and viewer's world views is what characterizes much of the artwork coming from this decade. These concepts run counter to the concepts of modernism as modernism is based on formal design concepts. Artworks created with these new intentions are thus described as post-modern as each modern definition is questioned and turned on its head in search of a wider spectrum of meaning. Artists working under these principles thumb their nose at critics such as Greenberg, though utilize formal elements established in art to begin their framework.

Postmodernism is a revolt against the normalizing functions of tradition questioning the concepts of objectivity or truth, the mainstream, and the possibility of fixed meaning as in language. Both images and concepts are radically polyvalent. The artist is allowed to reconfigure one’s experience as seen with artists such as Duchamp, Johns, and Cage. Postmodernism contains a lack of historical referents in context of an image, often by removing an object from it’s “normal” place, or the use of advertising without regard to previous intent. This appropriation creates an inclusive aesthetic that cultivates incoherence and was influenced throughout the 60’s by the randomness of TV and media. Niel Postman describes that in this era, "All assumptions of coherence have vanished. And so, perforce, has contradiction. In the context of no context, so to speak, it simply disappears (Fineberg 365)."

Materials, Eccentric Abstraction, and Post Minimalism

The detatched objectivity of the Minimalists and the disengagement of Pop and formalism pushed some artists to seek a way back to the individual. Louise Bourgeois, Lucas Samaras, and Lynda Benglis pioneered an expressionism of organic forms and unusual materials such as plastics and latex at the beginning of the 1960’s. The materials gave the sculptures a vivid sensation of touch. The amazing fact was that they succeeded in this formalist and pop oriented art world. The work was formal in that it embodied minimalism, but the materials gave these artists a more intimate touch that involved their own body experience.

One attribution to their success was a show called “Eccentric Abstraction” where Lucy Lippard (Lippard Discusses her Curatorial Career) grouped them together in 1966. The need to make something that felt real and present was what drew these artists to their materials.

Eva Hesse

Eva Hesse, One More than One, 1967

Hesse used whatever materials were available to give her works a human presence that embodied her own feminine tortures. The breast-like forms are expressive of minimalism: "I feel very close to Carl Andre, I feel, let’s say, emotionally connected to his work. It does something to my insides. His metal plates were the concentration camp for me (Fineberg 312)." Hesse had a troubled life as she fled persecution from Nazi Germany during WWII and ended up in the United States for her short life.

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Eva Hesse, Hang Up, 1966, Contingentand Untitled (Rope Piece), 1970

Her work later shifts away from the overtly sexual imagery to a simplicity that is embodied in the materials themselves rather than the form. She turned to Fiberglass and latex in 1968 because of the tactile quality much like skin. She states,

Art and work and art and life are very connected and my whole life has been absurd. There isn’t a thing in my life that has happened that hasn’t been extreme – personal health, family, economic situations… absurdity is the key word… It has to do with contradictions and oppositions. In the forms I use in my work the contradictions are certainly there. I was always aware that I should take order versus chaos, stringy versus mass, huge versus small, and I would try to find the most absurd opposites or extreme opposites (Fineberg 313-314).

Untitled Rope Piece undermines the notions of fixed scale and gives a three dimensional gestural field much like Pollock. In 1969, Hesse collapsed from a brain tumor and died the following year.


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Bruce Nauman

Bruce Nauman, Untitled, 1965

Nauman looks inward but not in a psychological sense like Hesse. He focuses on Literal presence, although the process becomes more important in many cases than the final result, much like LeWitt. All of his work deals with his curiosity about the nature of immediate experience through questioning, and he uses any medium at his disposal to answer such questions.

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Bruce Nauman, Artist, Clown TortureNeon Templates of the Left Half of my Body, and Self Portrait as a Fountain

Nauman sets up tasks for himself like Morris just to see what would happen, in order to find things out. He would do things that you don’t particularly want to do, putting yourself in unfamiliar situations, following resistances to find out why you’re resisting, like therapy. In works such as his corridor pieces he actively involves the viewer to take part in the experience.

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Richard Serra

Richard Serra Reconcieved the anti-illusionism of minimal art as an aesthetic of direct physical experience. He concentrates on the quality of the materials and on the improvisational process of making sculpture. The significance of the work is in its effort not in its intentions. And that effort is a state of mind, an activity, an interaction with the world.

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In his splash pieces, the process is more important than the final product as he splashes molten lead on the wall. The piece becomes a permanent fixture, or would have to be destroyed in order to move it. It takes its form from the procedure and takes on a specific shape due to the space making the viewer aware of that space, the time involved in process, and the materials used.

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Richard Serra One Ton Prop- House of Cards, 1969 and Prop Sculpture 1968

The propped lead pieces give the viewer a sense of danger as the pieces are simply propped in place, and the slightest force could send a 500 lb sheet of lead falling on top of you… It gives a sense of presence of the materials again. Serra did many outdoor pieces, most notably, due to it’s controversy was Tilted Arc, that was placed in Federal Plaza in NYC. These are monoliths that are made with Cor-ten Steel and simply give a sense of weight and presence.



Jasper Johns

Jasper Johns, Target with Plaster Casts 1955

The author, Marshall McLuhan became a celebrity in 1964 and asserted that “The medium is the message.” This article stressed that the meaning is linked directly to the structure of advertising more than the subject of that advertisement. In Painting Jasper Johns stresses the structure of the art object in much the same way, focusing on how it means what it means.

The targets stress this point in the fact that they are objects created in an artistic way. The medium is the message, and the target brings the viewer to such a realization. In Target with plaster casts, Johns also brings a sense of human relationship to this symbol of the target through box lids which open to view these casts. The newspaper clippings are also not meant to be read literally. They are a material that was meant to add to the complexity of the piece. A sense of information overload which adds to the texture and quality of the action of the piece as Johns includes his everyday world.

Jasper Johns, Flag 1954-55

The Flags are based on a formally flat scheme rather than a unique physical object. The paintings become objects in themselves rather than depictions of objects. The paint handling becomes the subject, although the imagery ties into mass production and popular consumerism.

Johns, unlike many of the modern artists, did not intend to create paintings that had transcending views of nature or seeing. He enjoyed the object for the object, and thus questioned the meaning of that object and its perception by the viewer. His earlier work from 1954 shows an interest in assemblage or the “junk-art” aesthetic that was much like the time, but when someone had pointed this out to him, Johns destroyed everything and started new. Throughout most of the beginning of his career, he attempted to remove any indication of what others had done from his work as he wanted his work to be a “negation of impulses. To find out what he was and how it was different from other artists.”

Robert Rauschenberg

Rauschenberg is an artist who continually reinvented himself. Stemming from the existentialist traditions of questioning one's place in the world, his artwork continually comments on the influences surrounding him. Rauschenberg studied art at Black Mountain College where he was influenced by John Cage, Merce Cunningham, and Josef Albers. Albers was quoted as saying that he "had nothing to teach" Rauschenberg (Fineberg 178). This education was likely the influence for Rauschenberg's early White Paintings that demonstrated a sensitivity to concepts of color and Cage's theories.

Early in his career he became known for his "combine" paintings which were an alternative label to what most consider "assemblage" or the assembly of multiple media. Rauschenberg's "combines" combine sculpture with painting, the three-dimensional with the two-dimensional. His work attempts to de-construct and then reconstruct images, providing narrative and meaning that is all present in the visual result.

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Robert Rauschenberg, Bed, 1955

Bed is one of Rauschenberg's first combine paintings. The painting includes may materials that were found in the environment around him including even toothpaste. The attack of materials on the surface is extremely personal and alludes to the popular abstract expressionists of the time, but includes more of a post-modern development of appropriation.

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Robert Rauschenberg, Canyon, 1959 and Odalisk 1955

Rauschenberg's combine paintings lasted throughout the 1950s. The objects were found in the trash, junk shops, and the mass of kitch that could be readily obtained in the streets of New York. Though these objects were found, they were found through lived experience, gathered from the course of his natural activity forming personal associations without formal analysis as the surrealists tended to have with their predetermined compositions.

The combines were also sculptural as demonstrated in Odalisk. The name derives from a commentary on the traditional monument structure and the sexual imagery contained in the painted surface. By the time they were displayed at Leo Castelli's gallery, the Abstract Expressionists openly mocked Raushenberg's work and discredited it for its lack of aesthetic purpose.

Pop Art

Jasper Johns, Flag, 1954-55

Jasper Johns’ integration of everyday icon and his displacement of the painted canvas as an object led the way for many artists after him to further stretch these concepts. Two main movements stem from many of the ideas of Johns’ and Rauschenberg’s work of the 1950’s, the concepts behind those working with what is later labelled "excentric abstraction," and the movement titled "Pop."

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Eduardo Paolozzi, Real Gold, 1950 and Richard Hamilton, Just what is it that makes today's homes so different, so appealing?, 1956

Eduardo Paolozzi was a member of what became called the “Independent Group” in England. This Independent Group focused on many of the same topics of the Nuveaux Realistes, as they focused on the byproducts of society. Since the mid forties, Paolozzi made collages using images of consumer goods, technology, and popular culture taken from books and magazines. He combined images of everyday culture in a way that was freely associated, but with some form of meaning much like Rauschenberg had done in his work.

As the consumerism of US culture seeped into England, British artists commented more and more on the topic of popular culture for which they coined the term “pop art.” (Genuine appreciation for the imagery of the commercial environment and a rejection of the distinction between highbrow and popular culture). There was a serious concern for the direction in which the world was headed. “We still have no formulated intellectual attitudes for living in a throw-away economy” (Reyner Banham, “But today we collect ads” 1956)

Richard Hamilton worked in advertising during the forties. In his collage, What is it that makes today's homes so different, so appealing? he marked a turning point in art with his use of commercial graphic design techniques and imagery from popular media. He approached a sophisticated system of visual symbols to express his answer to his question. He described it as “instant art” due to the use of popular imagery. This implied an attack on the traditional division of “high” and “low” art as expressed in Clement Greenberg’s “The Abstract and Kitch”

The influence that TV exerted on increasing numbers of people was a major subject for the pop artists of the early sixties. For a brief time John F. Kennedy raised the spirits of America and Europe. He was the first TV President, and the public identified with him because of TV. His “New Frontier” culture also became a popular priority. And his establishment of the National Endowment for the Arts and Jackie Kennedy united fashion and culture with her media image.

Pop artists typically worked in a passive detachment from the spiritual. They commented on everyday life in a very morbid sense, not connecting emotionally with their art. The fluxus movement, the beat poets, and the combines of Rauschenberg foreshadow this movement and the way that the Pop artists treated what came into view. They, like Rauschenberg replaced found objects with the found images of magazine culture. They cultivated impersonality and developed commercial techniques in order to evoke the ideas of mass-production as will become clearer when we begin to talk about the artists involved.

Andy Warhol

"If you want to know all about Andy Wahrhol, Just look at the surface of my paintings and films, and me, and there I am. There’s nothing behind it." - Warhol

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Throughout the 1950’s, Warhol worked as a graphic designer and illustrator which became extremely profitable for him. He was earning nearly $65,000 a year by 1959. By 1962, Warhol decided to dedicate himself to fine art. Warhol settled on the subject matter of comics, cheap ads, and headlines from pulp tabloids to drive his artwork stemming from his advertising experience. Eventually he moved towards “no comment” paintings which were very coldly handled. The look was mechanical, and the subject matter was the direct opposite of what “high art” expects as individual and expressive. Warhol states:

What’s great about this country is America started a tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you can know that the president drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All Cokes are the same and all Cokes are good. (Fineberg 252)


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Andy Warhol, Cambells' Soup Cans, 1962

Warhol’s first gallery show was in 1962 of an installation of 32 Campbell’s Soup Cans all 16x20 inches. Warhol was always alert to the latest trend in art and these may have been painted in response to Johns’ Painted Bronze.

Jasper Johns, Painted Bronze, 1960

These works however surpass Johns in the inexpressive literalness of the way they were presented. They are images of cans of soup, a commercial thing that everyone can buy.

By the end of 1962, he had a desire to remove his hand from painting and began hiring assistants to create his work, much like a design firm. Warhol states, "The reason I’m painting this way is because I want to be a machine. Whatever I do, and do machine-like is because it is what I want to do. I think it would be terrific if everybody was alike (Fineberg 253). He could have contracted out his work, but he chose to still have the hand-done look and embraced imperfection.

Andy Warhol, Maryilyn Monroe's Lips, 1962

The Repetition of images forces an image into an anonymous decorative pattern while the particularlising features of each unit continue to assert themselves, creating an expressive difference between the individual and the machine. Warhol drives into the viewer the popular image, emphasizing it’s iconic quality, and the layers behind said icon. Warhol loved Hollywood and all it stood for. “I love Los Angeles, I love Hollywood, They’re beautiful. Everybody’s plastic… I want to be plastic.”

Roy Lichtenstein

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Roy Lichtenstein, Blam, 1962 and Drowning Girl, 1963

Lichtenstein wanted to “look programmed or impersonal,” mirroring the impersonality of mass culture as America entered the sixties. He states, "I don’t really believe I’m being impersonal when I do it (Fineberg 259).” Rather than a concern with asserting his identity he explored his imagery and style.

His style of rendering objects resembles their presentation in simple linear sketches of inexpensive product catalogs and advertisements in newspapers. He abandoned easily identifiable images in favor of anonymous comic strips, often soap opera romance or action themes. He was not painting things but signs of things. His true subject is not the embracing couple, the jets in a dog fight, but rather the terms of their translation into the language of media and the implications of that metamorphosis. This turned everything into a form that could be reproduced. One image can be substituted for another. He paid attention to the formal qualities of the reproduction more-so than the subject matter.

One of the things a cartoon does is to express violent emotion and passion in a completely mechanical and removed style. The detachment becomes the subject. His background differs from Warhol in that he was a fine artist and not a commercial artist and drew from the history of art rather than commercial culture.

Claes Oldenburg

Chaes Oldenburg was interested in the power of his imagination to alter the shape and meaning of real things. He edefined the found object in his own image stating, "What I see is not the thing itself but – myself – in its form."


Claes Oldenburg, "Empire" ("Papa") Ray Gun 1959

The Ray Gun became a prevalent icon for his work. Ondenburg states that if form in nature analyzes down to geometry, content (or intent) analyzes down to erotic form (Fineberg 197). The ray gun is personified as Oldenberg’s alter ego.

Claes Oldenburg, Pie A La Mode 1962

In 1961, Oldenburg rented a store front at 107 East Second Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. In it he created visually tactile, and optimistically humorous sculptures of everyday objects. The manipulation of form took precedence over any significance of the subject. He stated, "I wanted to see if I could make significant form out of a pair of ladys pantys." He continues to describe the experience:

I have made these things: a wrist watch, a piece of pie, hats, caps, pants, skirts, flags, 7 up, shoe-shine, etc., all violent and simple in form and color, just as they are. In showing them together; I have wanted to imitate my act of perceiving them, which is why they are shown as fragments (of the field of seeing), in different scale to one another; in a form surrounding me (and the spectator), and in accumulation rather than in some imposed design (Fineberg 198).


People loved these works, but he sold very little. After two months, Oldenburg closed The Store and Richard Bellamy (Green Gallery) gives Oldenberg a show for fall of 1962. Oldenburg thus creates his Ray Gun Theater which he uses his actors as objects in his store front.

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Claes Oldenburg, Floor Cake 1962

The Green Gallery show scheduled for September 1962. Oldenburg was faced with a challenge to fill a much bigger space than he had previously with The Store. Previously, his largest object was 3 feet square. His inspiration came from a car showroom and how the cars filled the space. He thus enlarged his objects to the size of cars and made everyday objects out of canvas, and vinyl stuffed with foam, cardboard and other material. Oldenburg moved to California the next year to get away from the mental craziness of NYC, continuing his soft sculptures and doing very engineered diagrams of these objects with thorough notes as to his specifications and ideas.

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Claes Oldenburg, Dormyer Mixer 1965 and "Ghost" Dormyer Mixers 1965

Being soft and flesh-like, these sculptures took on a human essence to them that resembled the sexuality of the Ray Gun. Oldenburg’s notebooks reiterate this fact through free association of his objects to lifelike forms. He was obsessed with Freudian psychology which emphasizes the fact that humans unconsciously imbue inanimate objects with sexual significance. He states, "Basically, collectors want nudes, so I have supplied for them nude cars, nude telephones, nude electric plugs, nude switches, nude fans…The erotic or the sexual is the root of art (Fineberg 200)."

Claes Oldenburg, Proposed Colossal Monument for Central Park North, New York City: Teddy Bear 1965

In 1965, Oldenburg begins designing proposals for monumental sculptures. About this transition Oldenburg describes,

One day I combined landscapes and objects, only I didn’t change the scale. I had a drawing of a vacuum cleaner and another of Manhattan – and I just superimposed them. The result was automatically a “giant vacuum cleaner” because the city held its scale – it didn’t become a miniature city. Somehow it worked (Fineberg 202).


In 1964, Christo was Oldenberg’s neighbor and had been thinking up such monumental ideas for his sculpture as well, creating proposals for sites before having permission of funding to create such monumental works of art. The proposal ideas that Oldenberg would come up with were based on a spirit of the proposed location.

Claes Oldenburg, Clothespin 1976

After marrying Coojse Van Bruggen (a Dutch museum curator) he began creating many larger monumental sculptures while collaborating with architects and his wife. Clothespin is in Philadelphia’s city center. Oldenberg continued to work in this manner into the nineties where he would continue to recreate these ordinary objects in monumental sizes.


Photography became an important vehicle for dissemination of an idea and soon became the focus of many painters following in line with Richter. Artists used projectors to create images that seemed technically precise. Photorealism fed on the detachment of 60’s art (Johns, Minimalism, Pop, and Conceptual art).

Richard Estes

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Richard Estes Grants, 1972, Telephone Booths, 1968, and Downtown Near Broadway, 2003

Richard Estes turned to Photorealism in 1967. He claims that he was "an old-fashioned academic painter trying to paint what I see… Nor do I have any verbal theories behind the work (Fineberg )." His work demonstrates a uniformly sharp focus, equalized a variety of textures.

Chuck Close

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Chuck Close Big Self Portrait, 1967-68 and Self Portrait, 1997

Chuck Close became famous for his large portraits measuring over 9 feet tall. He used Photographs and enlarged them using commercial art techniques including grids. When he went to color he first created his images by overlying four monochrome versions as in printing. His work is thus extremely calculated and speaks to his exploration of photographic and artistic reproductive processes.

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Duane Hanson

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Duane Hanson Janitor, Museum Guard IV, Supermarket Lady, Queenie II, and Tourists II, 1970-1988

Hanson's work brings photorealism into a three-dimensional realm. He produces life-like sculpture like Madame Tussad’s effigies. These figures produce a realistic presence often highlighting popular culture and stereotypes in America.


Feminism as a formal political movement took hold as female artists sought recognition within the realm of art history. The concepts of personal identity based on physical reality was important to not only women, but people of race as well. Their positions in society had been repressed for centuries, and artists saw this as a time to express such differences and bring light to such issues.

Judy Chicago

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Judy Chicago The Dinner Party, 1979 (Brooklyn Museum Elizabeth a Sacler Center for Feminist Art

Judy Chicago's work highlights feminism. Her famous piece, Dinner Party is a collaboration by more than 400 women completed between 1974 and 1979. It demonstrates a discourse for women in art and the record of history. Symbolic of women’s achievements and struggles with inscriptions of women’s names on the floor and the table runner. The plates are designed with vaginal motifs.

Ana Mendieta

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Ana Mendieta Tree of Life Series, 1977

Mendieta is a Cuban born artist who focused on her own body in nature expressing her sensuality of experience. In her Tree of Life Series (1977), Mendieta places herself literally into nature. In her work, the female body is a primal source of life and sexuality like the Palaeolithic Venuses. There is a literal transformation of body to nature by covering herself and becoming one with the landscape similar to personifications of nature and the occult practices that came to the Caribbean with the Yoruba slaves in the sixteenth century. There are many feminist issues that play an important role in interpreting this work as well as the sense of the materials in nature while photography documents and communicates the artistic vision.

Jenny Holzer

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Jenny Holzer Murder has its Sexual Side and Private Property Created Crime

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Jenny Holzer Protect me from what I want and The Future is Stupid

Holzer was able to creat “truisms” beginning in 1997 by painting and later by gaining access to billboards, and electronic signage.

Barbara Kruger

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Barbara Kruger I shop therefor I am and You are not yourself

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Barbara Kruger Your body is a battleground and Your Gaze Hits the Side of My Face

Kurger combines slogans with images creating trendy graphic design based on her eleven years of graphic design experience. She recently produced a grand installation at theHirshorn Museum in Washington DC:

Guerilla Girls

The Guerilla Girls Posters

GG_Fist.jpgThe Gurilla Girls are a group of women artists that came together after the “International Survey of Contemporary Art” in 1984 at MOMA where very few women artists were represented. They appeared on television, advertised, distributed leaflets and poster, and now have a web-page to bring attention to race and gender discrimination in the art world.

Cindy Sherman

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Cindy Sherman Untitled Film Stills 21 and 13 and Untitled 92, 1978 and 1981

Cindy Sherman uses appropriation creating intimate narrative fragments in her photographs to create many layers of readings implied through costume and setting. In 1977, she began photographing herself in 50’s outfits and other costumes and settings. These are not self-portraits in an ordinary sense as she explores a wide range of roles for women but based on the prefabricated roles of movies and media.

Her work challenges the idea of fixed identity and has had a large impact on encouraging younger artists (women) in the nineties to use photography in this personal way. Sherman states about her work that "They’re not at all autobiographical, yet the pictures should trigger your memory so that you feel you have seen it before (Fineberg 471)."


Mass Market consumerism in itself offered imaginative possibilities. The commodification of art – art treated as an item for sale and consumption thus became a subject for several artists.

Jeff Koons

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Jeff Koons Michael Jackson and Bubbles and Pink Panther, 1988 and Puppy, 2000

“The New,” was the principle series of work by Jeff Koons throughout the 1980's. In it, newness or a sense of pristine newness that accompanies the acquisition of consumer goods provokes a strange excitement in people. Koons loved the aphorism, “the hat makes the man” as his work deliberately moved to kitsch and also into explicit pornography making cynical consumer icons for the rich that were shocking for their commercial ambition and the confrontation with prevailing values of those who had dome to “own” culture in America.

Jeff Koons String of Puppies1988

Koons has had to defend his use of appropriation and satirization in his work against multiple copyright lawsuits. The most famous, Rogers v. Koons. with regard to String of Puppiesin which Koons lost the case and was forced to destroy his artworks. For more information on his court battles, this article by Owen, Wickersham, and Erickson Law Firm is a great resource. And for more on artistic copyright, this handout by John Mason provides some specifics about the law.

Check out the recent retrospective at the Whitney Museum


Robert Smithson

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Robert Smithson Spiral Jetty, 1970

Robert Smithson explored nature with a darker tone as he questions his personal identity, good and evil, and Christianity. Science Fiction and Geology provided a means of escaping these issues and working with nature. He creates a lot of Non-sites, literally displacing the sites by means of photographs and taking elements (rocks, earth, etc) from the place to the gallery.

Many of his works, although site specific, can be re-created in similar locations. Spiral Jetty (1970) is Smithson’s best known work because of it’s temporary nature and idea of order and life in general. It is located in a remote corner of the Great Salt Lake in Utah. It has been destroyed through time by the fluctuations in the lake.


The work's well documented history gives a sense of time and space. It was a momentary, site specific work, but has persisted through other media. It was placed in an industrial area that seemed like something out of science fiction future. The salt from the water outlined the rock and earth, and the organisms gave the water a red color.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude

With increasing frequency, the words and images with which a problem is described limit the range of possible solutions one can see, as demonstrated in the events stemming from the revolutions in Paris. By symbolically attacking the status quo, and by appropriation made change seem possible to artists.

Art in Real Events demonstrated that appropriated political insight with aesthetic beauty could create a mass critical debate on values. The first artist to communicate on a scale that enabled him to compete with corporations in shaping public perception of events was Christo. His work undermines convention by changing the context of how we see an object. In producing a Christo artwork, everyone finds themselves doing their usual job for something that has no practical purpose which is the truth of situationist methodology as described by Guy Debord. The irrationality of the situation and scale causes everyone to re-evaluate the world around them.

Christo explains,

The project is teasing society and society responds, in a way, as it responds in a very normal situation like building bridges, or roads, or highways. What we know is different is that all this energy is put to a fantastic irrational purpose, and that is the essence of the work (Fineberg 357).

Without the cooperation of the public, they could never gain the permits or sell the drawings, collages, prints, and other developmental tools which finance the work. This is all due to the architectural scale of his pieces.


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Christo and Jean-Claude Surrounded Islands, 1983

Although he had begun ideas for several sites in the 1970’s, Christo and Jeanne-Claude were not able to gain permission to wrap the Reischstag in Berlin or the Pont Neuf in Paris or do their “gates” project in Central Park. In 1980, they are asked to do a major project for a government-sponsored Festival of the Arts in Miami. They rejected the commission, but went out on their own to create it after essentially rejecting the government funding.

The site was a bay in Miami that in 1936, The Army Corps of Engineers had dredged the bay to create a channel for ocean going ships and placed the excavated material in 14 piles creating a chain of islands between Miami and Miami Beach. Christo and Jeanne-Claude studied environmental issues and engineering logistics in order to gain permission for their vision. They scientifically tested everything.

Surrounded Islands (1983) so closely resembled the preliminary sketches that people had an odd sense of deja-vu. The work blended into the visual surroundings of the flora and deco atmosphere. It was experienced mostly through the media as it was difficult to get a good view of the entire thing from the ground. This also allowed for a connection with a mass audience and a creation of a mass dialogue. Christo states,

I think the project has some kind of subversive dimension and this is why we have so many problems. Probably all the opposition, all the criticism of the project is basically that issue. If we spend three million dollars for a movie-set there would be no opposition. They can even burn the islands to be filmed and there would be no problem. The great power of the project is because it is absolutely irrational. This is the idea of the project, that the project put in doubt all the values (Fineberg 364).

The success of this venture allowed Christo and Jeanne-Claude to soon wrap Pont Neuf in Paris and complete their other envisioned projects.


Further Reading: Smarthistory, Christo and Jeanne-Claude's The Gates, 1979-2005. I also encourage you to visit their website as it contains an archive of images and video information.

Performance Art

Performance art took on new levels stemming from the Fluxus movement, happenings and the Judson Dance Theater.


Between 1962 and 1964, George Maciunas, Wolf Vostell, and Nam June Paik founded this group in Wiesbaden, West Germany which took off from the ideas of Cage. The fluxus movement was a Duchampian reaction against the expressionistic and symbolic aspects of happenings. They included minimalists such as George Brecht who created a work called “Chair” which consisted a white painted wicker rocker that encouraged interaction and viewer experience.

Fluxus was an undefined group. Many artists such as Joseph Beuys and Christo had vague connections with it. The two main talents were Nam June Paik (who made significant video and television art later in his career) and Joseph Beuys (who was greatly influenced by their theatrical orientation).

Nam June Paik

Nam June Paik was an artist of the Fluxus movement. His work investigates sensations of the body in real time juxtaposed with the notion of collapsed and recombinant time as with television (time that can be reconfigured at will). He states, "We are moving in TV away from high fidelity pictures to low fidelity, the same as in painting. From Giotto to Rembrandt the aim was fidelity to nature. Monet changed all that. I am doing the same (Fineberg 352)." His work demonstrates a change from content-level perception to process level perception. How we see and what we see simultaneously. The works collage music, performance, and sculpture.

Nam June Paik TV Bra, 1969

TV Bra (1969): In an effort to integrate sex into music and our perceptions through media.

Nam June Paik Video Fish, 1975-79

Noveaux Realistes

Noveaux Realistes Manifesto, October 27, 1960

The Noveaux Realistes movement was much like the junk art aesthetic in New York. Jean Tinguely was probably most notable of the artists of this group who’s manifesto was signed October, 27, 1960 in Yves Klein’s apartment.



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Jean Tinguely, Homage to New York 1960

Tinguely's Homage to New York, is a sculpture that took itself apart was constructed twice. The first time for this exhibition, the second time at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, it was a disaster as things came apart, the fire department came in and had to take care of the mess. Tinguely however found this to be a successful piece because of it. Duchamp announced around this time, "Ill tell you what’s going to happen, the public will keep on buying more and more art, and husbands will start bringing home little paintings to their wives on the way home from work, and we’re all going to drown in a sea of mediocrity (Fineberg 231)." Maybe Tinguely and a few others sense this and are trying to destroy art before it is too late.

Joseph Beuys

Joseph Beuys was the first artist to emerge in postwar Germany and achieve international celebrity based on the exploration of his German identity. There is a strong closeness with nature that is evident in German Culture and this comes out in his work. His work often refers to a particular event in his life, a reawakening: The story is of a plane crash in 1943 when he was part of Hitler’s army. He crashed during a snowstorm over Crimea (between Russian and German fronts). He was left for dead, but a group of nomadic Tartars rescued him, covered him in layers of animal fat and felt to raise his freezing body temperature and gave him a new life.

Animals take on a symbolism of a direct connection with the beyond. He believed that modern science and technology had missed out on some mystical route in nature that he was trying to express.

Graffiti Art

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Borofsky opened the door for a Graffiti aesthetic within the art world as a wave of expressionist graffiti bombed the New York Subway in the 1980’s. The writers were not naïve and their style turned towards gestural abstraction during a time of postmodernism. Although they had little formal education, Rammellzee wrote a manifesto of 1979-1986 called IONIC TREATISE GOTHIC FUTURISM ASSASSIN KNOWLEDGES OF THE REMANIPULATED SQUARE POINT ONE TO 720Degrees RAMMELLZEE . John Carlin describes this as “reads like Jacques Derrida on acid linking the biophysical structure of the universe to the shape and evolution of letters. The thrust of the treatise is the ability of symbolic creation to undermine institutional control. It sets fort a symbolic war wherein the artist’s ability to manipulate letters will change the reality structure.

Most graffiti art is attributed to the early seventies to an alias named TAKI 183 who began “Tag ups” as he wrote his name on the streets where he hung out. In the Eighties, the Renaissance of graffiti, the writers were able to take on the whole outside of subway cars creating elaborate murals inspired by comics and politics.

Keith Haring

Kieth Haring Drawing in the New York Subway, 1981

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Keith Haring Untitled Works, 1980-85

Kieth Haring is probably the most well known of the "writers" as he was able to appropriate his work into the art gallery setting. He was a graduate from The School of Visual Arts in New York, so Haring was a trained artist focusing on political themes. At 22 he began working in a style that was inspired by the graffiti writers as he noticed the black patches where the subway would cover old posters and began drawing in these spaces with simple white line. He passionately created more than 5,000 of these drawings between 1981 and 1985 gaining considerable attention and was arrested several times as it became a war between him and the transit authority.

Haring created icons of mass culture to which everyone could relate using the same devices as advertising: repeated trademark images with simple instantly understandable messages. He saturated the public with his images, playing off the media and consumerism as he created them on any surface and opened the “Pop Shop” (a location still in existence on Lafayette) in 1986 in SoHo, much like Oldenberg had done with his works. Haring unfortunately died of AIDS in 1990, only 31 years old and in the prime of his career.


The 1990's was a decade in which the easy millionaires of the 80’s lost their fortunes and started looking for jobs. Many hoped there would be a similar trend for the careerist fine artists and that art would be more about ideas again. The overnight millionaires of the computer and entertainment industries came to the fore and global consumerism continued. Big corporations became larger, and smaller ones disappeared. Main Street is replaced by the sameness in shopping malls, airports, and commuter traffic lines. Everyone bought cell phones, had the Internet, and were increasingly becoming tied into this technological age. The world becomes smaller with the advances in communication, transportation, and world politics, meanwhile people begin to loose a sense of identity.

Return to the body

The feminists of the 70’s made it clear how the introspective look at the body could bring identity to the artist. Many artists begin to look back to the body to express their own forms of identity.

Robert Gober

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Robert Gober Untitled, 1989-91 and Sink, 2000

Robert Gober began making legs, in a fetishized manner. He states, "I was in this tiny little plane sitting next to this handsome businessman, and his trousers were pulled above his socks and I was transfixed in this moment by his leg (Fineberg 480)." His work is oddly dissociated from the “normal” relations between things and the world. Creates a tension between the public and private identity.

Kiki Smith

Kiki Smith Women with Sheep, 2009

Kiki Smith is the daugther of Tony Smith and uses tactile materials in a figurative way to bring a visceral quality to her representations of the human form.

Matthew Barney

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Matthew Barney Cremaster (Stills), 1994-2003

Barney graduated from Yale College in 1989. He began using prosthetics and make-up in the 90’s to create human/creatures for abstract films. Sexual but ambiguously gendered. Coloring is simplified and exaggerated. His performances mix drama, the sense of the happening, music, and theology. His performances are done specifically for video and are seen as if paintings. Below you will find one of the Cremaster performances:

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Cultural Identity

Like those who turned to the body, many minority artists turned to older, stylistic representations of cultural identity. They focused on aspects of life that may be overlooked otherwise to bring a sense of social presence to their culture.

Yinka Shinobare

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Yinka Shinobare How to Blow Up Two Heads at Once (Ladies), 2006 and Odile and Odette

Yinka Shinobare expresses the post colonial culture through fashion, installation, and performances mixing African and Victorian motifs. His work is an expression of identity but also often a social critique.

Ai Weiwei

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Ai Weiwei Dropping, 1995Snakeand Sunflower Seeds

Ai Weiwei is a Chinese artist who finds unique methods for commenting on his identity and Chinese culture. He produces sculpted installations and films fully utilizing media to aid in his expressive result often ending in controversy and even arrest.

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Takashi Murakami

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Takashi Murakami Hiropon and Gero Tan

Takashi Murakami has blown up in the contemporary art scene with his appropriation of Japanese Manga aesthetic while commenting directly on Japanese culture and the aesthetic itself.

Kehinde Wiley

Kehinde Wiley Triple Portrait of Charles I, 2007

Wiley is an African American artist in Brooklyn, who utilizes the traditions of portraiture to highlight individuals of African decent.

Art as Controversy

A new generation of British artists focused on a body of art in that “truth” arose from the conversation around the work rather than from what was represented in it or even directed by it.

Dameon Hirst

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Damien Hirst A Thousand Years, 1990, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, 1991 and This Little Piggy Went to Market, This Little Piggy Stayed at Home 1996

Dameon Hirst blends uncomfortably visceral materials and explores media sensations. He escalates the shock value of his works, but still maintains a strong ideology in order to justify such practices.

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Other Videos About Hirst

Rachel Whiteread

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Rachel Whiteread House, 1993-94, Ghost, 1990, Untitled (Library), 1999, Twenty-five Spaces, 1995, and Water Tower, 1998-2000

Whiteread used controversy to push her artwork’s message. House was produced in the last remnant of a torn-down block of Victorian row houses in East London through poured concrete. The press started on the piece and before the month was out, she was awarded the prestigious Turner Prize, but on the same day the local council voted to demolish the project. The controversy stems from the felling one gets in this detail of other record of a human situation, the lives that were lived in the space left in the cast. It is like a tombstone or a memorial with the prevasiveness of death, and that thought can be quite unsettling.She later continues with this idea and creates works such as Ghost, and Library which a similar one was done as a memorial fro Holocaust victims for Vienna.


Vanessa Beecroft

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Vanessa Beecroft Shows, 1998-2001

Beecroft made paintings influenced by fashion design drawings. She also produced performances in which nude and semi-nude fashion models are placed in public spaces. She structures her shows in a way that the models become more like mannequins, overtly sexual, but depersonalised in structural arrangement and engagement with the viewer. The grids or structures in which she places the figures are similar to the commodification of previous artworks such as those by McCollumn.

Mariko Mori

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Mariko Mori Play With Me and Subway, 1994

Mariko Mori is a New York and Tokyo based artist who graduated from fashion design school and was a fashion model. She often uses makeup and photography to create a total fantasy world around herself in installations. In Japan, she dressed as a sexy cyborg and put herself into public for photos similar to the works by Cindy Sherman. In Play with methere is a double meaning, connecting her to the toy store, and the sexual availability in a utopia of pure unemotional sexuality. She states that "when you wear clothes, you become a personality, you become the clothes (Fineberg 495)."

Mariko Mori Pureland, 1996

Mori's photo prints are done on a massive scale (10 x 12 feet) creating a panoramic reality. In 1995, she sifts to experimenting with computer manipulation to create 3-D Virtual Reality videos that are accompanied by 20 ft wide images.

Mariko Mori Wave UFO, 2003

Mariko Mori: Oneness from UM Stamps School of Art & Design on Vimeo.

Postmodern Conceptualism and the Postmodern Self

Much of the 90’s is based on a conceptual model in which the artist readily shifted back and forth form one medium to another seeking the most appropriate form in which to express a particular idea. The idea in turn often derived from a structural concept or regime rather than following a more traditional formal development. Artists were working in sculpture one minute, then painting the next basing their media to follow a concept (“The Media is the Message”). Corporate conformity and the expansion of consumerism and marking left less and less mental space for a cohesive sense of self.

The Internet begins to become a main mode of communicating, shopping, transferring data, and “surfing” a sea of news and information without time, distance, or boundaries. The Internet went from 0 to universal in a little over a decade and it’s effect on personal consiousness is what has become a key issue at the turn of the century. Books such as William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984) have started to become a reality as humans fuse with computers and communicate mainly digitally.

Ebon Fischer

Ebon Fisher Nervepool

Fischer turned to the web to create social utopias that integrate art, design, and social philosophy. He teams together with designers to create web-based programs, digital art with no fixed materiality.

William Kentridge

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William Kentridge is a South African artist who specializes in film and animation. His works are surreal and strong images of social commentary produced using a unique method of drawing and erasing.

Further Reading: Rose, Josh."William Kentridge's Drawing form Tide Table (Soho in Deck Chair)." SmartHistory, Khan Academy. Web. 2014.


In the year of Kandinsky’s first abstract paintings and the most experimental moment of Picasso’s cubism, a Munich critic brought out a book called The Death of Art in which he complained that art is dying of the masses and of materialism… for the first time we have entered a period without direction, without an artistic style, without a young revolutionary generation. The most important avant-garde art has always been difficult to recognize or understand. It requires work from the serious viewer and baffles people usually making them uncomfortable and angry. It embodies an individual’s struggle to come to terms with his or her inner thoughts and identity in relation to the constantly changing facts of existence in the world.

Freud pointed out in Civilization and its Discontenents, a permanent tension exists between the individual and society and the alienation that this tension engenders perpetuates an avant-garde as the expression of an enduring human need. Art contributes to the ideals and models of thinking about important issues in a culture. We need to look beyond market influences and beyond the intellectual fashions of academia to see this spiritual dimension, because artists enter their ideas into the world, not just into books and art history classes (Fineberg, 504).



It is now on to you to find artists that demonstrate a contemporary spirit, push boundaries, and contribute to the future of art. You have been given a glimpse at an array of different talents, directions, and theories on art. As the art world progresses, it is important to keep an eye open to artistic events and consider how these new artists contribute.

I urge you now to use what remaining weblinks and questions to suggest artists that you find. Artists that are currently displaying their work in some fashion and explore areas of art that we may not have covered in these lessons.


This module was produced by Professor Josh Yavelberg utilizing a mixture of open educational resources and notes from:
Kleiner, Fred. Gardner's Art through the Ages: The Western Perspective,|. Vol. 2. Boston: Cengage Learning, Print, 2013. 
Feinberg, Jonathan. Art Since 1940. Third Edition. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Print, 2012.

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