Contemporary Art Examples Worth Seeing

What is contemporary art? Simply put, it is the paintings of our time, which, unlike the art depicting life in the previous epochs, is focused on art created in the last half of the 20th century. Contrary to the traditional movements of those times, today`s art highly values diversity.

It is art through which artists get the opportunity to freely explore different mediums, address social issues, and even participate in a global artistic conversation. Perhaps it is this receptiveness is what renders contemporary art the most interesting since it gives in to the soul of a nation that is constantly straddling the two worlds, namely, the world of tradition and modernity.
Contemporary Art
May 10, 2024
Daryna Markova
contributor DOM Art Residence

What is Contemporary Art?

Contemporary art is notoriously hard to define. The most widely accepted definition of contemporary art is that it refers to artworks created between 1945 and the present day. Contemporary artworks are therefore defined simply by time period, regardless of the style, medium (sculpture, painting, photography, drawing, or printing), or artistic movement they belong to. Contemporary art follows from modern art, which is broad term used to define art produced between the 1850s and 1945.

However, some art historians set the start date of contemporary art in the 1960s with the emergence of pop art, an artistic movement that represented a radical break from modernism.

Finally, a third definition of contemporary art is that it must be an artwork which either relates to practices and aesthetic designs that convey ideas or concepts (such as conceptual art), transcends boundaries between art and what traditionally is not considered art (for instance performance art), or that goes beyond the borders of art as they are understood by modern and classical art.

As we can see, there isn't a clear definition of contemporary art, but rather several definitions of contemporary art that ultimately all complement each other. Indeed, art today has become so diverse, in terms of the mediums, techniques and styles as well as artistic themes or subject matter that it has become impossible to pinpoint one definition.

Contemporary Artists

Let's set off on a discovery of famous artists with outstanding contributions to the art world, each one incorporating singularity in their creative way.

Andy Warhol
Campbell’s Soup Cans

Warhol was a famous American artist who made it big in the 1960s. "Campbell’s Soup Cans" by Warhol is maybe the best-known piece of contemporary art so far. Warhol's sculpture was significant in its resemblance to the Pop Art movement that started a revolution in the art world, spanning like fire across the universe.

Few people know that Vargola knew Ukrainian. More precisely, the Rusyn language (the language of the ethnic group in Zakarpattia). His grandparents were immigrants, so they settled in a small diaspora of Ukrainians, Slovaks, and Hungarians in America.

The first glance can reveal 32 mysterious and monotonous cans of soup, just like looking into a dark abyss. Then again, just a few layers below the shallow surface is a deep analysis of consumerism, mass production, and the world where the boundaries of contemporary art and business are less and less clear.

Andreas Gursky Rhine II

Andreas Gursky's "Rhine II" is one such example, demonstrating the ability of photography to outgrow the limitations of time and space. It creates a fleeting impression of a moment that stays under the camera lens forever, thus turning it into a transient work of art.

The work was primarily created by Gursky's careful determination and his ability to compose. Each and everything about the photo, from the horizontal gesture to the almost smooth interaction of light and dark sides, is semantically choreographed to evoke a feeling of peace and quietness.
The combination of landscape photography and abstract creation results in an image that surmounts the limitations of photography in such a way that a spectator may dive into the unlimited abyss of a landscape.

Louise Bourgeois

"Maman" is a tribute to the global prototype of motherhood, in which the metaphor of the protector and primal force is vividly conveyed. The oversized spider, with its tiny spidery legs and sagging abdomen, however, does arouse a set of mixed emotions of both wonderment and discomfort, forcing the viewers to weigh their notions of femininity and power.

Bourgeois, who suffered herself from a problematic relationship with her mother, places "Maman" into the realm of mythology that reflects her peculiar connections to motherhood—a sense of coziness and uncertainty at the same time.

For Bourgeois, "Maman" meant a lot. It was the result of their experiences and their feelings about themselves. It happened to be those of trauma, loss, and resilience. The spider, repeatedly seen in her artworks, stood for safety as well as for fear of death, representing her contradictory opinions of motherhood and femininity, which were drilled into her mind by society.

Olafur Eliasson
The Weather Project

Olafur Eliasson's "The Weather Project," an architectural icon and large-scale installation made especially for the Turbine Hall of Tate Modern in 2003.

Eliasson's work awakens us to the concept of contemporary art to stimulate our sensations, support our imagination, and reconnect us with nature.

Njideka Akunyili Crosby
I Still Face You

Akunyili Crosby was born in Nigeria and lives in the United States now. She moves and dwells between her two worlds effortlessly and eloquently, expressing herself through the correspondence of the global issues of relocation, and eventual isolation in a subtle yet compelling way.

In her famous work of art, "I Still Face You," the author presents us with some intricate collage paintings that are representations of the pictures collected from her life and experiences. Images of relatives, the archival remnants of Nigerian pop culture, and reshaped excerpts from stories about Western contemporary art history form an indistinctive pattern that is impossible to put into simple categories.

Using her knack for creating artistic masterpieces, Akunyili Crosby weaves her visual tapestries that resonate with the viewers to perfection.

Kehinde Wiley Napoleon Leading the Army over the Alps

"Napoleon Leading the Army over the Alps" is another example of a work where Kehinde Wiley depicts his twin experiences as an artist and a black man in search of his identity in a stressful society.

By posing them in places where they will be the ones calling the shots, he tries to regain his rightful place in the history books and also glorifies the capacity of black individuals to withstand any hardship. He does that by inducing the viewers to think in that way as to the kind of people who get to be in the history books and also the ones who don't.

A viewer in the first instance may see that, just like the earlier paintings, this also has the same composition as Jacques-Louis David's painting, with a dramatic approach and a grand emperor astride a horse. Upon closer inspection, subtle differences emerge: this military image is subverted when Napoleon is characterized as an African American man dressed in urban hip-hop clothing.

Yayoi Kusama
Infinity Mirror Room

"Infinity Mirror Room," designed by Yayoi Kusama, offers the viewer a subliminal experience of merging with infinity and spacelessness by being absorbed into the space inside the mirror.

Kusama, who has been obsessed with repetition, pattern, and the infinite, as one can see from her mirror-filled rooms, is to this day unafraid of challenging herself and moving in the pursuit of expressions of universal truths and beauty.
At the core of this "Infinity Mirror Room" lies admiration and amazement. People step in and find the ceiling, wall, and even the floor of mirrors surrounding them, and it makes the room infinite. Each mirror duplicates the actual space of the room as well as the reflections of other viewers’ eyes.

That the kaleidoscopic effect of space and time is experienced and the conceptual boundaries between self and other, here and there, are broken down. The strongest impact is upon the audience with the feelings of disorientation and dislocation caused by losing them inside the maze of light and shadows.

Kusama's "Infinity Mirror Rooms" are usually redesigned to make space for two viewers at most. They create feelings as if the observers were sharing their experiences through dialogue.

Cecily Brown
The Girl Who Had Everything

Cecily Brown's "The Girl Who Had Everything" is a mesmerizing work of art. Brown, who is famed for the use of red and blue shades of Venetian glass inspired by it, led to the creation of a world of whirls around the colorful forms and lush colors, along with the excitement of titillating the viewer into a state of absorption.

What others admire most about this extraordinary short story is its vivid display of the consequences it brings and the complexity of the emotions that accompany it. Through her gestural brushwork and richly layered surfaces, Brown captures the raw intensity of human experience: feelings like love, delight, enthusiasm, and sadness.

Cecily Brown is indeed an imaginative person who draws cues from various art genres, both Old Master paintings and contemporary literature.

Tracey Emin
My Bed

"My Bed" is Tracey Emin's provocative and intrinsically private installation that, in a way, makes the audience ponder the very concept of visual art and self-identity. Dating back to 1998, this snapshot captures the bed as it is with additional personal belongings of all sorts, e.g., empty soda cans, old condoms, butts, and other wreckage.

The objects that we normally consider to be insignificant and even banal develop deep relevancy to the context of the installation, and they become a kind of telling symbol of Emin's battle with depression, drugs, and the search for meaning in a world filled with turmoil.

“My Bed” is a mirror of the poet as an artist in the process of constructing and deconstructing her identity as well as that of a woman who is trying to survive the complexities of life in our time. This is seen in how much she is willing to disclose her weaknesses and imperfections in paintings.

Takashi Murakami
Flower Ball

Consisting of a multilayer design of vibrant petals structured in a ball form, the "Flower Ball" literally pulsates with power and vitality, thereby inviting its viewers into a story of vibrant colors and light-hearted fun.

The title of his paintings is a consequence of how he considers each petal as being alive, dancing with the wind, and individually contributing to its natural environment. “Flower Ball” also reveals new aspects of the author's differences as an artist and permanent researcher at the crossroads of East and West.

Similar to Murakami, his inspiration comes from diverse sources, from classic Japanese art to cartoons that people can relate to now. Such a visual language is, at the same time, both familiar and original. This innovator’s ability to blend different forms of culture makes it possible to take a new glance at the beauty of things as well as to be more tolerant towards different cultures that appeal to viewers.

Vik Muniz

Muniz, who gained recognition for his ingenuity and creativity in unorthodox materials, reproduces world masterpieces employing unbelievable materials, among which are chocolate syrup, sugar, and trash, and so he blurs the border between real and surreal representations and becoming and death.

Marat's figure is the only human one continuously made of chocolate syrup in a flat space, done with the meticulous skills of the artist to show the exact form of the human body.

Through the use of unconventional materials of impermanence is depicted, since it becomes as if the Marat image could literally flit off and be immediately gone.

Ai Weiwei Remembering

Ai Weiwei's "Remembering" is a very moving and impactful installation of his paintings that is a reminder that the various victims of the 2009 Sichuan earthquake will never be forgotten. Consisting of several thousand knapsacks, with each one spelling a word in the sentence "She was a happy girl for seven years in this world," the work honors the thousands of children who lost their lives when the schools they studied in turned into rubles during the quake.

Apart from reflecting the significance of Gulen and other dedicated individuals who spent several years in prison for no crime at all, "Remembering" is also a reflection of Ai Weiwei's personal experiences as an activist and dissident in China.

In the aftermath of the earthquake, he was the figure who put the below-par government's reaction to a natural disaster into perspective and defended the payback for the victims' family members. He achieves this through the "remembering" mode, and he wants to remind the leaders of their responsibilities in his paintings.

Marina Abramović
The Artist is Present

"The Artist is Present," an acclaimed performance art piece by Marina Abramović, brought crowds with its main theme of raw emotion, close contact, and great contribution to the exploration of the human bond. In 2010's MoMA created a work named "The Artist is Present," managed by Abramović, which involved the silent exchange of energies between the two participants sitting across from each other at a table, and the visitors had to challenge themselves by touching their deepest fears, vulnerabilities, and desires in the presence of the artist.

In the process of sitting across this great and famous lady Abramović with an exchange of gaze and energy, we will find ourselves being reminded of the vastness of paintings' possibilities to awaken us, stir up our emotions, and penetrate deep inside our souls miraculously.

Tauba Auerbach

As the most notable example of her innovative streak, Auerbach’s production of artworks that allude to the conventional classification of visual art as two-dimensional or three-dimensional invites the viewers to re-examine their relationship with her artworks. Tauba’s paintings push spectators out of their comfort zones and require more from them than just a superficial glance at the picture.

Auerbach's use of optical illusions and trompe l'oeil effects generates a feeling of uncertainty and puzzling, along with the viewer's joining efforts to dissolve doubts about his or her senses and perceptiveness. Her paintings and sculptures may have the look of being almost flat at first, but from certain positions and when looking at them from different angles, they start to unfold as fully three-dimensional objects.

The current piece, which is predominantly "Untitled," is a feature of Auerbach's fascination with the science and art relationship and the similar pursuit of enlightenment concerning the universe's internal structure and patterns.

Kara Walker
A Subtlety

In 2014, Kara Walker exhibited her artworks at the Domino Sugar Refinery in Brooklyn, depicting sculptures of colossal sphinxes and boys of similar size made of sugar and carrying large baskets of fruit.

Walker's work is literally in the viewer's face, bringing up the unpleasant facts of the American past and asking them to look inside themselves and check their behavior, which may help maintain their racist status. Subtlety can also point out the personal experiences of the artist as a black woman living and dealing in the complicated world of today's society.

David Hockney Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)

David Hockney's "Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)" is a spellbinding yet powerful clip that illustrates the main facets of romanticism, nostalgia, and time's precariousness. This work was a product of 1972 and portrays a sense of quiet daydreaming and introspection, where two people are posed at a poolside with visions of the landscape as the background.

The famous artist achieves this harmony and balance with his sensitive coloring and composition, pulling the viewer deep into the picture and inviting a spectacle of Buchenwald's silent beauty.

The biggest mystery in “Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)” is how the work evokes melancholy and the desire for a past age. The figures, presumably Hockney's previous lover Peter Schlesinger, and an obscure friend, are in the middle of a quiet moment of bonding that cannot be captioned at a glance.
They exchange a moment of complete silence, their emotions tiptoeing in the middle of their veiled motions. The presence of the old tombs by the river brings a feeling of pathos and the melancholy of time, as well as life and its evanescence for everyone and each connection.

Featuring more than a hundred artworks, the artist's museum is only in Los Angeles and opened 20 years after the death of the artist. The famous painting that still captivates audiences remains popular with its timeless beauty and universal appeal, and it can be regarded as the legacy of the artist as a premier of the 20th century.

Jeff Koons
Balloon Dogs

The famous three-dimensional sculptures named Balloon Dog, which are actually made from stainless steel and then coated with vivid, highly reflective layers of color, deliberately call attention to the latter-day illusion.

Years after the paintings were made, they still mesmerized audiences with their yarn, and the symbolism that signifies the Balloon Dogs is the piece of evidence that indicates Koons' everlasting impact as contemporary art symbols of our age.

Anish Kapoor
Sky Mirror

The mirror called "Sky Mirror" by Anish Kapoor is made of highly polished stainless steel, getting into the shape of a giant concave mirror.

"Sky Mirror" at the same time represents Kapoor's attraction to the concept of “space" and the continuum of his existing research on the question of art's role in the interface of contemporary art, architecture, and the environment.

He asserts that his creation should not be limited to just providing a serene and peaceful ambiance but must also serve as a vehicle that focuses on the spectators' senses and their way of thinking about the world.

A World of Wonder

Contemporary art has become a roller coaster ride, evoking the dialogue on life from the modern perspective. It casts a range of emotions, from the comical to the soulful, besides impelling individuals to consider viewpoints, thus leaving an unfading mark afterward. While reading such contemporary art paintings, spend some time and try to look deeper. Play with its layers, find its cultural secrets, and join others in the exploration of this movement's majesty and recipient of people’s appreciation.