Overview of Postmodern Art

As with all definitions of postmodernism, postmodernist art is characterized as a rebellion against the modern (including realism and the artistic elite). There are actually several, often overlapping, avant-garde art movements associated with the birth of postmodernism. The most notable of these are described below:

Postmodern Culmination where all artistic novelty has been previously explored and meaning is replaced by fashion
Futurism Early rebels against tradition who expressed a love for speed, technology and violence
Dada A form of nihilistic anti-art which was ironically legitimized and commercialized (includes Duchamp's "readymades")
Surrealism Style which pursues a dream-like state, perceived as "truer" than reality
Pop Art Emphasizes kitschy "low art", mass-production, and commodification of culture. Warhol is the "Pope of Pop Art"
Lowbrow Art Also known as Pop Surrealism, this democratization of art originated in California's hot rod and comics cultures
Conceptualism Deconstruction of what makes something "art", designed to confront viewers and their concept of art
Appropriation Repurposed objects or existing art, that with minimal transformation, subversively gives them new meaning and context
Decollage Images given new meaning by tearing or removal, started with a mashup of commercial posters and those underneath
Bricolage Art technique where works are constructed from various available materials ("found items" or mass-produced "junk")

Postmodern Artists


Flower Bomber - Blurring the lines between vandalism and art, this graffiti juxtaposes a rioter with a bouquet of flowers swapped for his molotov cocktail

Swinger - Depiction of a boy's water rescue where the ring buoy is modeled after a playful rope swing, done by Banksy on the third anniversary of the Hurricane Katrina disaster

One Nation Under CCTV - Placed next to an installation of security cameras, this criticism of the British government reminded the citizens of London that they were being watched by Big Brother

Ronald McDonald - Art installation featuring a scowling fiberglass Ronald McDonald lording over a live, raggedy shoeshine boy

Umberto Boccioni - The Drinker

Umberto Boccioni

Unique Forms of Continuity in Space - Marching figure is shaped and polished by the Futurist motifs of wind, speed, and machinery

Dynamism of the Body - Abstract, that like all of Boccioni's work, expresses dynamism and energy

The City Rises - Depictition of the construction of an electric power plant, which ironically highlights the worker's energy rather than that of structure they are creating

Synthesis of Human Dynamism - Similar to Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, this walking figure is an abstract futurist sculpture of the human body

Chris Burden - Transfixed

Chris Burden

The Reason for the Neutron Bomb - 50,000 nickels and match sticks representing enormous buildup of Soviet tanks in eastern Europe

LAPD Uniforms - A row of ominous uniforms released two years after the Rodney King beating

Metropolis II - Kinetic art installation featuring 18 tracks, including one six lane freeway, simulating traffic of 100,000 toy cars every hour in this miniature city. According to Burden: "The noise, the continuous flow of the trains, and the speeding toy cars produce in the viewer the stress of living in a dynamic, active and bustling 21st century city."

Marcel Duchamp - Fountain

Marcel Duchamp

Nude Descending a Staircase - Early work that combines cubism and futurism, expresses motion through superimposed images

Fountain - Urinal signed as "R. Mutt" and originally rejected, but ironically became legitimized because of Duchamp's brand name

L.H.O.O.Q. - Another of Duchamp's "readymades", this cheap postcard picturing the Mona Lisa was transformed into a higher art form by the addition of a penciled in mustache and beard

Jasper Johns - Three Flags

Jasper Johns

Three Flags - John's work is often labeled as Neo-Dadaist or Pop Art for its use of popular imagery and iconography, an example of which can be seen in Three Flags

Numbers in Color His Numbers series used the Dadaist technique of "found" shapes in a different context to challenge the way viewers look at art, while the repitition and use of symbology are reminiscent of Pop Art.

Barbara Kruger - Thinking of You

Barbara Kruger

Your Body is a Battleground - Silk-screened and split photograph that critiques the idealized version of beauty portrayed in the media

I Shop Therefore I Am - Commentary on materialism and our culture's default form of identification

We Don't Need Another Hero - Artwork that questions societal roles including gender, brains vs. brawns, and leaders vs. followers

Kruger thinking of you - Provocative and ambiguous work that compares thoughts of "you" with pain or self inflicted wounds

Lichtenstein - Drowning Girl

Roy Lichtenstein

Drowning Girl - Adaptation of a DC Comic that accentuates the melodrama, ambiguity, and style of pop art

Blam - Stylized cartoon violence featuring a pilot ejected from an exploding inverted jet, appropriated from a 1962 comic book series "All-American Men of War"

Sunrise - Representational simplification of a sunrise, done in Lichtenstein's typical halftone pop art style

Magritte - The Son of Man

Rene Magritte

The Treachery Of Images: "This is not a Pipe" - Artistic commentary on semiotics and simulacra, as discussed by Michael Foucault, where an image representation of a pipe is not the same as the original source object

The Son of Man - Famous self potrait with a bowler hat and face obscured by a green apple

Not to be Reproduced - Another postmodern portrait, this time of Magritte's patron Edward James, features a mirror that does not reflect the front of the subject

Jackson Pollock - Autumn Rhythm (Number_30)

Jackson Pollock

Autumn Rhythm (Number_30) - Originally named Number 30 because of his belief that titles affected the viewers' perception of paintings, Autumn Rhythm is an example of the "drip" or "action paintings" that he pioneered. Pollock's works of abstract expressionism eschewed traditional processes and composition and were more of historical record of an "event" (much as a seismograph captures an earthquake)

James Rosenquist - F-111

James Rosenquist

F-111 - Enormous room sized painting depicts a larger than life view of the links between American commericalism and the military

President Elect - John F. Kennedy campaign poster turned commentary on commodification and middle class consumerism

Andy Warhol -  Campbell's Soup Cans

Andy Warhol

Campbells Soup Can - Simple iconic soup cans that originally caused an uproar over art featuring mundane commercial products

10 Marilyns - Reflection of the commercialization of culture and the transformation of Marilyn Monroe into a mass-produced symbol

Triple Elvis - Another example of Warhol's obsession with American cultural icons, featuring black and white clones of a cowboy Elvis

Robert Williams - Skulldy Dumpty.jpg

Robert Williams

In the Land of Retinal Delights - One of the first major works by Williams in the 1960's, this lowbrow/pop surrealism painting features vast piles of birghtly colored widgets that look as if a modern day M.C. Escher got a hold of a 3d printer

Skulldy Dumpty - Dark take on the classic children's nursery rhyme, where we get to see the reprocussions of the oft repeated fall

Zombie Mystery Paintings - Collection of surrealistic and graphic paintings that were described as "morally insolvent and grossly artistic"

Appetite For Destruction - Was the inspiration and original cover art for Guns N' Roses first studio album, but the artwork was replaced after retailers refused to stock the album

Examples of Postmodern Art

 andy warhol - 10 marylins 10 Marylins, 1967 by Andy Warhol

 rene magrite - 10 marylins La Trahison Des Images (The Treason of Images, "This is not a pipe"), 1929 by Rene Magrite

Roy Lichtenstein - Sunrise Sunrise, 1965 by Roy Lichtenstein

James Rosenquist - President Elect President Elect, 1961 by James Rosenquist

Museums Featuring Postmodern Art

Center On Contemporary Art - Seattle gallery dedicated to the advancement, development, and understanding of contemporary art

Contemporary Museum of Art - Baltimore's Contemporary Museum of Art

Guggenheim, Bilbao - One of Guggenheim's new European centers whose iconic architecture has eclipsed the original's

Guggenheim, New York - Famous collection of both modern and contemporary works

Los Angles County Museum of Art - At the time of this writing is currently holding an exhibition on Magritte

Metropolitain Museum of Art - One of the largest museums in the world, features a wide array of Postmoden artists including Warhol

Millenium Park - Chicago center for art, music, architecture and landscape design which itself is a postmodern icon

Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego - La Jolla museum with works from artists like Chris Burden and Barbara Kruger

Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago - Devoted to contemporary culture including painting, sculpture, photography, video and film

Museum of Modern Art, New York - Dedicated to being the world's foremost museum of modern art, features Rosenquist's F-111

Philadelphia Museum of Art - Boasts a wide collection of both modern and contemporary art

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art - Boasts a large collection of technology and media arts

The Warhol - Site of the official Andy Warhol Museum

Articles and Critiques

Unacknowledged Roots and Blatant Imitation: Postmodernism and the Dada Movement - Paper by David Locher

New York Art Crit - Art history and reviews by John Haber

Why Art Became Ugly - Critique of Postmodern Art by Stephen Hicks

General Links on Postmodern Art

Postmodern Art - Definition at Wikipedia

Postmodern Artists - List from Wikipedia.org

Books on Postmodern Art

Post Modern Art: 1945-Now - by Francesco Poli, explores the currents, themes, and names that are part of the artistic heritage of today, from Art Informel to New Dada to body and video art. Its sixteen chapters present painters, sculptors, photographers, and architects with their most important works, many of them results of the close identification between art and life.

After Modern Art 1945-2000 (Oxford History of Art) - by David Hopkins, covers artists including Jackson Pollock, Jasper Johns, Yves Klein, Andy Warhol, Louise Bourgeois, Cindy Sherman, and Damien Hirst. Highlights key movements such as Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, Minimalism, Conceptualism, and Postmodernism.

Art of the Postmodern Era: From The Late 1960s To The Early 1990s - by Irving Sandler, Art of the Postmodern Era surveys the artists, works, movements, and ideas as well as the social and cultural context of this energetic and turbulent period in art.

Postmodern Perspectives: Issues in Contemporary Art - by Howard Risatti, explores the relationship between contemporary art, culture, and society, and offers non-specialists a guide to the general structure and focus of Postmodern critical discourse, preparing them to understand the origins, theories, and interrelated ideas of Postmodern art and art criticism within a broader social and political context.

The Annotated Mona Lisa: A Crash Course in Art History from Prehistoric to Post-Modern - by Carol Strickland, offers an illustrated tutorial of prehistoric to post-modern art from cave paintings to video art installations to digital and Internet media.

Teaching Art in a Postmodern World - by Lee Emery, discusses changes in art education needed to deal with the differences in how postmodern theory directs attention away from the formalist properties of art works to the social conditions and structures which shape artistic values (often done using devices such as irony, parody or shock).