Contemporary art resists easy definition, due to the incredible variety of art it encompasses. It is broadly defined as the art of today, created during the late 20th and early 21st century. It is characterised by its global nature, the diversity of cultures it explores, and the influence of technology and the digital age. Contemporary art involves experimental and dynamic combinations of materials; it is incredibly diverse and forms part of modern cultural dialogue.
Modern art is not the same as contemporary art, though their definitions can easily be confused and there is some overlap between the two. In terms of a time period, modern art was created from the 1860s to the 1970s approximately, and it began with key painters such as Van Gogh, Gauguin, and Cézanne, who revolutionised painting at that time. Iconic modern artists include Picasso, Matisse, and Frida Kahlo, and after World War II, the USA became an artistic hub and produced many renowned modern artists such as Andy Warhol and Willem de Kooning. While there is some overlap between the definitions of modern art and contemporary art, contemporary art is intrinsically connected to the present moment, and is art produced within our lifetime.
The term ‘contemporary art’ first emerged as a classification in 1910 with the foundation of the Contemporary Art Society by Roger Fry, and it grew in popularity in 1930s as a critical term. As Modernism became an increasingly historical art movement, much modern art was no longer contemporary, so the definition of what contemporary art was changed. After all, its definition is anchored in the present – so contemporary art shifts with time. The key moment that is often described as the shift from modern to contemporary art is post World War II, or the 1960s, where there was a change in the art scene.
Nathalie Heinich, the French art specialist, sees modern and contemporary art as distinct from one another. Modern art challenges the conventions of representation, whereas contemporary art can be said to challenge the very notion of artwork itself. It is true that contemporary art has truly pushed the boundaries of what art is. It is incredibly diverse and often characterised by its very lack of uniformity. It encompasses many trends and offers no singular point of view, although there are many recurring themes that artists address, including: identity politics, globalisation, modern technology, contemporary society and political issues.
Charting the progression of art from the 1950s, many movements can be described as forming part of contemporary art: from abstraction in all its forms – abstract expressionism and lyrical abstraction – to figuration, including photorealism and hyperrealism. Street art and pop art are distinctly connected to contemporary art today. Contemporary art is globally diverse, and the shape of it varies from country to country. For example, in the UK the contemporary art scene was shaped by the YBAs – Young British Artists – who were supported by Charles Saatchi and exhibited at prestigious institutions such as the Tate.
Art museums take their own unique approach to defining contemporary art, and there is no uniform agreement. The Institute of Contemporary Art in London takes artworks created from 1947 onwards, whereas the New Museum in New York has chosen the later date of 1977. The Tate Modern in London considers contemporary art as art created within the last 10 years, on a rolling basis.
New media is key to contemporary art, as contemporary artists have the ability to be much more experimental. They work on installations, use both audio and video, and explore new media linked to digital technologies. Contemporary painting is no exception to this exploration – artists may experiment with paints, combining both oil paints and acrylic, or incorporate collage and other materials to create mixed media works. The subject matter of contemporary painting is so diverse as artists can be inspired by historical movements, individual artists, or contemporary life. Contemporary art can be characterised by its almost timeless quality, due to the sheer variety of work created; some work is very of the moment, while other artists look back to the past.
Singulart’s artists exemplify the sheer variety of contemporary painting. From portraiture to landscape art, abstraction to figuration, there is a work of art for everyone. They expand the boundaries of what traditional painting can be by exploring new materials and new subject matter. They do not simply work with paint, but also experiment with ink, pencil, resin and increasingly unusual materials such as gold leaf, sand or even cement. Abstraction and figuration are two ends of the spectrum of contemporary painting, but increasingly artists wish to move beyond this dichotomy to explore both categories.
Ewa Hauton and François Pagé take a figurative approach to their portraits, as does Kirstin Mccoy with her landscape work. The work of Olivier Messas falls somewhere in between abstraction and figuration, and Francesco D’Adamo, Glib Franko, and Rosy Auguste show uniquely different approaches to abstract painting. Vincent Bardou and Virginia Valère, on the other hand, experiment with contemporary street art. Contemporary art is increasingly international, and Singulart is committed to representing a diversity of nationalities to show the breadth of contemporary painting.