Contemporary Art: 1980 to the Present

The details
Art History and Theory
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 6
Sunday 17 January 2021
Friday 26 March 2021
18 May 2020


Requisites for this module



Key module for

BA V351 Curating,
BA V352 Curating (Including Year Abroad),
BA V353 Curating (including Placement Year),
BA V359 Curating (Including Foundation Year),
BA V35B Curating (Including Foundation Year and Year Abroad)

Module description

This module offers students an overview of the most significant and paradigmatic artistic transformations in Europe and North America from the 1980s to the present. It presents the development, successes and failures of modernism over the late 20th century, and the eventual dissolution of modernist practice into the disparate possibilities of postmodernism.

We will problematize contemporary art as a field where a countless set of artistic theories and practices take place, practices that have constantly challenged and reconfigured our very understanding of art. Students will have the opportunity to closely examine a wide range of artists, projects, and institutional ruptures that will inform our debates on the distinctions between modern, postmodern, contemporary and new media art.

We will be submerged into the world of contemporary art, a world full of paradoxes, contradictions and controversies, in which is possible to buy god's love for £50m (For the Love of God, Damian Hirst) while simultaneously asking the Congolese population to 'enjoy poverty' (Episode III: Enjoy Poverty, Renzo Martens). Questions that are at the heart of this module include: can enjoying a carrousel ride (Golden Mirror Carousel, Carsten Holler) be a more radical gesture than an artist initiated socio-political movement (Immigrant Movement International, Tania Bruguera)?; What is the spirit of contemporary art? Does it have one? What have been the most significant changes in the relationship between the contemporary artist and the art institution? Have the three market booms since the 1980s had an impact on the production, reception, and dissemination of contemporary art? How has the biennial impacted our understanding of the local and the global? What can confessional artworks (Everyone I have Ever Slept With 1963-1995, Tracy Emin) tell us about our conceptions of the public and the private?

Contemporary art has allowed for experimentation with an unlimited range of media, methods of production, dissemination, and engagement. In this module, we will also open up space for speculation and debate: has artistic production exhausted itself? Is there art beyond contemporary art? If there is, what would it look like?

Module aims

The aim of this module is to expose students to the widest possible range of contemporary art practice after the 1980s, and to give them the opportunity to consider this work in a number of different contexts, including those of national and international origins, of media, of politics, and of the institution. Moreover, this module sets out to make clear the intricate connections between artistic practice, art history, theory and criticism, and the wider culture in which art is produced.

Module learning outcomes

At the end of this module students will have knowledge and understanding of:

1. the distinction between modern, postmodern, contemporary, and new media art

2. the conditions that paved the wave for the emergence of contemporary art

3. the work of a wide variety of artists, the production of various seminal exhibitions and events in the period, including their reception and social impacts

4. the role of a variety of media in forming the practices of contemporary artists.

Module information

No additional information available.

Learning and teaching methods

There will be a two-hour combined lecture and seminar each week. All teaching events will be accessible to students on and off campus either face-to-face or remotely through online teaching. Week 21 is reading week.


  • Claire Bishop. (2004) 'Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics', in October: The MIT Press. vol. 110, pp.51-79
  • Erjavec, Aleš. (c2003) 'Excerpt from 'Introduction'', in Postmodernism and the postsocialist condition: politicized art under late socialism, Berkeley: University of California Press., pp.1-54
  • David Campany. (1979) 'A Theoretical Diagram in an Empty Classroom?: Jeff Wall's Picture for Women', in Oxford Art Journal.
  • Buchloh, Benjamin H. D. (1981-21) 'Figures of Authority, Ciphers of Regression: Notes on the Return of Representation in European Painting', in October. vol. 16, pp.39-
  • Piotrowski, Piotr. (c2002) 'Male Artist's Body: National Identity vs. Identity Politics', in Primary documents: a sourcebook for Eastern and Central European art since the 1950s, New York: Museum of Modern Art., pp.225-233
  • Bourriaud, Nicolas. (c2002) Relational aesthetics, Dijon: Les Presses du réel.
  • Ohlin, Alex. (2002) 'Andreas Gursky and the Contemporary Sublime', in Art Journal. vol. 61 (4) , pp.22-35
  • Eisenman, Peter. (1984) 'The End of the Classical: The End of the Beginning, the End of the End', in Perspecta. vol. 21, pp.154-
  • Ryan, Nicky. (2007-03) 'Prada and the Art of Patronage', in Fashion Theory. vol. 11 (1) , pp.7-24
  • Joachimides, Christos. (1981) 'The New Spirit of Painting', in A New Spirit in Painting, London: Royal Academy of Arts., pp.14-16
  • Alex Potts. (2001) 'Installation and Sculpture', in Oxford Art Journal. vol. 24, pp.7-23
  • Richard Meyer. (2003) 'The Jesse Helms Theory of Art', in October. vol. 104, pp.131-148
  • Wu, Chin-Tao. (c2002) 'Introduction', in Privatising culture: corporate art intervention since the 1980s, London: Verso.
  • Legge, Elizabeth. (2000) 'Reinventing Derivation: Roles, Stereotypes, and "Young British Art"', in Representations. (71) , pp.1-23
  • Fraser, Andrea. (2006) 'From the Critique of Institutions to an Institution of Critique', in Institutional Critique and after, Zürich: JRP/Ringier. vol. v. 2, pp.123-136
  • Gaiger, J. (2009-01-01) 'Dismantling the Frame: Site-Specific Art and Aesthetic Autonomy', in The British Journal of Aesthetics. vol. 49 (1) , pp.43-58
  • Julian Stallabrass. (1996) 'In and Out of Love Damien Hirst', in New Left Review. vol. 216
  • Rustin, Michael. (1989-02) 'Postmodernism and Antimodernism in Contemporary British Architecture', in Assemblage. (8) , pp.88-
  • Johnson, Dominic. (2013) ''Does a bloody towel represent the ideals of the American People?' - Ron Athey and the Culture Wars''', in Pleading in the blood : the art and performances of Ron Athey, London: Live Art Development Agency., pp.64-93

The above list is indicative of the essential reading for the course. The library makes provision for all reading list items, with digital provision where possible, and these resources are shared between students. Further reading can be obtained from this module's reading list.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Weighting
Coursework   2500 word essay     40% 
Coursework   Reading Summaries TOTAL     30% 
Coursework   SUMMER 24hr take home exam     30% 

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Matt Lodder, email:
Dr Matt Lodder



External examiner

Prof Richard Simon Clay
Newcastle University
Professor of Digital Cultures
Available via Moodle
Of 18 hours, 18 (100%) hours available to students:
0 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s).


Further information
Art History and Theory

* Please note: due to differing publication schedules, items marked with an asterisk (*) base their information upon the previous academic year.

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