At base, contemporary art is a notoriously divisive field: Certainly, today’s art world has its fair share of vociferous critics. But for those who love contemporary artistic practice, now is a great time to learn more about this fascinating subject. Here are just a few contemporary artists who have radically changed our notion of what art can and should do.
By the mid-20th Century, Andy Warhol had ushered in a new era of conceptual art in the United States. To this day, Warhol’s controversial “pop art” style is the single most significant influence on contemporary art as a whole. Indeed, it is essentially unthinkable to imagine contemporary artists like Jeff Koons or Damien Hirst without the pioneering efforts of Warhol.
Along with Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein is one of the most influential figures in the contemporary art world. Lichtenstein’s translation of popular American culture into a high art form veritably revolutionized the way in which artists expressed themselves throughout the latter half of the 20th Century. As an artist, Lichtenstein almost single-handedly blurred the line between middle-brow American culture and the aristocratic sensibilities of the high art world.
Undoubtedly, few contemporary artists were able to blend the aesthetic sensibilities of classical art with modernist experimentation like Gerhard Richter. In Richter’s artistic universe, photorealism is combined almost seamlessly with a kind of hazy and Proustian quality redolent of nearly forgotten memories. Warhol’s humor and “pop” sensibility are almost completely absent in Richter’s work: In its place is a razor-sharp conceptual aesthetic that changed the art world from the ground up.
If Andy Warhol changed the core image of modernist art, Joseph Beuys utterly upended it. Beuys used unorthodox artistic materials such as beeswax and wood, deeply influenced by early 20th Century surrealist art and its ethos of experimentation. Still a symbolic figurehead within the contemporary art world, Beuys has influenced everyone from Anish Kapoor to Jeff Koons.
Performance art did not gain much of a serious hold in the art world until the latter part of the 20th Century. But its effect since that time has been revolutionary. Almost single-handedly, Marina Abramović spearheaded an artistic movement rooted in live-action performance that has had a massive impact on high art and popular culture. Although some of her finest work first hit the scene in the 1980s, there is perhaps no artist who has had a bigger influence on the art world in the last 20 years.