Contemporary Art: 1980 to the Present

The details
Philosophical, Historical and Interdisciplinary Studies (School of)
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 6
Monday 15 January 2024
Friday 22 March 2024
07 November 2023


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.

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To expose students to the widest possible range of contemporary art practice after the 1980s.

  • To provide students with 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.

  • 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

By the end of this module, students will be expected to be able to:

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

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

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

Module information

In this module, 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?

Learning and teaching methods

This module will be delivered via:

  • One 2-hour combined lecture and seminar per week.

There will also be a Reading Week when no teaching will take place, exact week to be confirmed.


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 Coursework weighting
Coursework   Reading Summaries TOTAL    33.34% 
Coursework   Week 19 Reading Summary    0% 
Coursework   Week 22 Reading Summary    0% 
Coursework   Week 25 Reading Summary    0% 
Coursework   2500 word essay     66.66% 
Exam  Main exam: In-Person, Open Book, 120 minutes during Summer (Main Period) 
Exam  Reassessment Main exam: Remote, Open Book, 24hr during September (Reassessment Period) 

Exam format definitions

  • Remote, open book: Your exam will take place remotely via an online learning platform. You may refer to any physical or electronic materials during the exam.
  • In-person, open book: Your exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer to any physical materials such as paper study notes or a textbook during the exam. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, open book (restricted): The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer only to specific physical materials such as a named textbook during the exam. Permitted materials will be specified by your department. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, closed book: The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may not refer to any physical materials or electronic devices during the exam. There may be times when a paper dictionary, for example, may be permitted in an otherwise closed book exam. Any exceptions will be specified by your department.

Your department will provide further guidance before your exams.

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
60% 40%


Coursework Exam
60% 40%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Solange Gulizzi
PHAIS General Office - 6.130;



External examiner

Dr Dominic Paterson
University of Glasgow
Senior Lecturer in History of Art / Curator of Contemporary Art
Available via Moodle
Of 20 hours, 20 (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), module, or event type.


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