Inventing the Future: Early Contemporary 1945-1980

The details
Art History and Theory
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 6
Thursday 03 October 2019
Saturday 14 December 2019
18 December 2019


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

In the earliest days of the Cold War immediately following World War II, the fundamental world-views of the Soviet Union and the United States were set against each other in military, political, ideological and cultural terms. In 1947, the United States government sponsored an international art exhibition, "Advancing American Art", which aimed to showcase the stars of the American post-war avant-garde. The exhibition aimed to demonstrate and spread the cultural values of individualist, creative, forward-thinking, democratic America around a world threatened by authoritarian Communism.

Even after the show was withdrawn following public scepticism of the high modernism their taxes were funding, art remained a key tool in the diplomatic arsenal of the USA, resulting the establishment of the Congress for Cultural Freedom, a front organisation run covertly by the CIA itself. In the service of espousing a vision of American culture distinct from the rigid, repressive modes of the USSR, the Congress actively and aggressively promoted American modernism in general, and the Abstract Expressionism as epitomised by Jackson Pollock in particular. Modern art was a CIA weapon.

This module will present the development, successes and failures of modernism over the late 20th century, and the eventual dissolution of modernist practice into the disparate possibilities of post-modernism. Over the course of this term, we will trace the development of modern and contemporary art from World War 2 to the early 1980s, with particular attention paid to the social rhetorics of art, and the impacts of artistic practice on wider cultures. What have artists done, and how has their work changed the world?

The Autumn term will first cover the artistic movements which emerged from the tumultuous events of World War 2, from Abstract Expressionism in America, Socialist Realism in the USSR and Neo-Dada and Pop art to Performance and Postcolonialism in art. The term will conclude with Postmodernism, Appropriation and the effects of Mass Media.

Module aims

The aim of this module is to expose students to the widest possible range of modern and contemporary art practice after 1945, and to give them the opportunity to consider this work in a number of different contexts, including those of national origin, of media, of politics and of 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. Art has power.

Module learning outcomes

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

1. aspects of modern and contemporary art and architecture from 1945 to the present;

2. key political, social and cultural histories of the period;

3. in greater depth, a number of artists, architects, exhibitions and events in the period, including their reception and social impacts;

4. the role of different media, national contexts or ideological standpoints in forming the practices of contemporary artists;

5. the role of art historians, art critics and aesthetic philosophers in shaping the reception and even production of art and architecture.

Module information

Lectures will focus variously on movements (minimalism, neo-dada, pop), themes (feminism, politics), media and methods (sculpture, performance, new media), particular national or regional contexts (USA, Europe, Latin America), or broader philosophical debates (such as modernism and postmodernism). The course is intentionally broad in both its scope and its approach, intended to provide students with an overview of the issues at stake in art and culture during the post-war period and the powerful and lasting impacts art and art history has had on culture, politics, and ideology.

The module will make trips to relevant exhibitions museums and galleries in London and beyond.

Learning and teaching methods

9 x 2 hour seminars + 1 Reading Week 1 x 2 hour gallery visit


  • Jones, Amelia. (2006) A companion to contemporary art since 1945, Malden, MA: Blackwell.
  • Foster, Hal; Krauss, Rosalind E.; Bois, Yve-Alain; Buchloh, B. H. D.; Joselit, David. (2016) Art since 1900: modernism, antimodernism, postmodernism, London: Thames and Hudson.
  • 'Citizen Brus Examines His Body: Actionism and Activism in Vienna, 1968',
  • Wark, Jayne. (2001) 'Conceptual Art and Feminism: Martha Rosler, Adrian Piper, Eleanor Antin, and Martha Wilson', in Woman's Art Journal. vol. 22 (1) , pp.44-
  • Kuspit, Donald B. (1976) 'Pop Art: A Reactionary Realism', in Art Journal. vol. 36 (1) , pp.31-
  • Banham, Reyner. (2011) 'This Is Tomorrow', in October: The MIT Press. vol. 136, pp.32-34
  • Trommler, Frank. (December 1989) 'Germany's Past as an Artefact', in The Journal of Modern History. vol. 61 (4) , pp.724-735
  • Barry, J.; Flitterman, S. (1980-06-01) 'Textual Strategies: The Politics of Art Making', in Screen. vol. 21 (2) , pp.35-48
  • Johanna Drucker. (1993) 'Collaboration without Object(s) in the Early Happenings', in Art Journal: Taylor & Francis. vol. 52 (4) , pp.51-58
  • Siegelbaum, S. (2012-03-01) 'The Riddle of May '68: Collectivity and Protest in the Salon de la Jeune Peinture', in Oxford Art Journal. vol. 35 (1) , pp.53-73
  • Harrison, Charles; Wood, Paul. (2003) Art in theory, 1900-2000: an anthology of changing ideas, Malden, MA: Blackwell.
  • Lewis, Norman; Acton, David. (2015) Procession: the art of Norman Lewis, [Berkeley]: University of California Press.
  • Potts, Alex. (2012-04) 'Realism, Brutalism, Pop', in Art History. vol. 35 (2) , pp.288-313
  • Ball, Edward. (1987) 'The Great Sideshow of the Situationist International', in Yale French Studies. (73) , pp.21-
  • D'Alessandro, Stephanie. (2002) 'History by Degrees: The Place of the Past in Contemporary German Art', in Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies. vol. 28 (1) , pp.66-
  • 'Another Brick in the Wall',
  • de Duve, Thierry; Krauss, Rosalind. (1989) 'Yves Klein, or The Dead Dealer', in October. vol. 49, pp.72-
  • ''The New Brutalism",
  • ''The New Brutalism",
  • Morris, Robert. (1995) 'Notes on Sculpture', in Minimal art: a critical anthology, Berkeley: University of California Press., pp.222-235
  • Bown, Matthew Cullerne. (c1991) Art under Stalin, Oxford: Phaidon.
  • Kunimoto, Namiko. (2013-02) 'Shiraga Kazuo: The Hero and Concrete Violence', in Art History. vol. 36 (1) , pp.154-179
  • Saunders, Francis Stonor. (1999) 'Yanqui Doodles (Chapter 16)', in Who paid the piper?: the CIA and the cultural Cold War, London: Granta Books., pp.252-278
  • Danto, Arthur C. (c1987) 'Approaching the End of Art', in The state of the art, New York: Prentice Hall Press., pp.202-220
  • JULES LUBBOCK. (2002) 'The Counter-Modernist Sublime: the Campus of the University of Essex', in Twentieth Century Architecture., pp.106-118

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   Weekly Reading Summaries Total     10% 
Coursework   Week 2 Reading Summary  08/10/2019   
Coursework   Week 3 Reading Summary  15/10/2019   
Coursework   Week 4 Reading Summary   22/10/2019   
Coursework   Week 5 Reading Summary  29/10/2019   
Coursework   Week 6 Reading Summary   05/11/2019   
Coursework   Week 7 Reading Summary  12/11/2019   
Coursework   Week 9 Reading Summary  26/11/2019   
Coursework   Week 10 Reading Summary   03/12/2019   
Coursework   Take Home Exam  09/12/2019  50% 
Coursework   Week 11 Reading Summary   10/12/2019   
Coursework   3000 Word Essay  15/01/2020  40% 

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, 2 (11.1%) hours available to students:
16 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

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