Inventing the Future: Early Contemporary 1945-1980

The details
Philosophical, Historical, and Interdisciplinary Studies (School of)
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 6
Thursday 05 October 2023
Friday 15 December 2023
06 October 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),
BA V305 Curating with Politics,
BA V306 Curating with Politics (Including Foundation Year),
BA V307 Curating with Politics (including Placement Year),
BA V308 Curating with Politics (including Year Abroad)

Module description

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.

This module 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?

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • 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.

  • 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

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

  6. How to use their visual memory.

Module information

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.

The module 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.

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.

Learning and teaching methods

This module will be delivered via:

  • One 2-hour combined lecture and seminar per week.
  • An exam in January before the start of term.

Week 8 is Reading Week.


This module does not appear to have a published bibliography for this year.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Coursework weighting
Coursework   Slide Test  21/11/2023  43% 
Coursework   2500 word essay   13/12/2023  57% 
Exam  Main exam: Remote, Open Book, 24hr during January 
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
70% 30%


Coursework Exam
70% 30%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Michael Tymkiw, email:
Dr Michael Tymkiw
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 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), module, or event type.


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