A new course from MoMA: “What Is contemporary art?”

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A new course from MoMA: “What Is contemporary art?”

A view from the fourth-floor collection galleries looking out onto the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden. © 2019 The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo: Noah Kalina

What is contemporary art? There’s no single answer. The instructors behind The Museum of Modern Art’s newest course  What Is Contemporary Art? describe what contemporary art means to them, and what they hope you’ll experience in this six week course.

Arièle Dionne-Krosnick, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Architecture & Design

“Contemporary art tells a story about what the artist is living through. It responds to the concerns of the present, whether personal, social, or political concerns, and translates them into form. It transmits a sense of urgency that manifests differently depending on the artist’s materials and process.

After taking this course, I hope you will feel more comfortable visiting a museum without discomfort or the fear of not knowing what you may be looking at. I hope you encounter artists and mediums that are new to you and objects that you didn’t realize could be art. I hope the course demystifies the art process as a solitary or magical act, though there is some magic to it.” 

Sean Anderson, Associate Curator, Department of Architecture & Design

“I imagine architecture through the lens of art, and art through the lens of architecture. Both create and define spaces we could inhabit, always bringing us back to where we are at a given moment. They introduce and excavate ways of seeing and experiencing the world. Architecture and art deteriorate too; in each moment something falls away and something else becomes the contemporary. It is that change and transformation that I am always intrigued by.

In the world today there are so many questions that can’t be answered but that can be responded to. In art, architecture, and design, questions about our world are observed and recounted in innovative ways. As you navigate the artworks, ideas, questions, and propositions in the course, reflect on them through the lens of your own experience. The works in this course present ideas rather than solutions.”

The People’s Studio: Collective Imagination at the Paula and James Crown Creativity Lab. © 2019 The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo: Noah Kalina

Christian Rattemeyer, former Harvey S. Shipley Miller Associate Curator, Department of Drawings & Prints

“Contemporary art is a new voice in an ongoing dialogue of artistic ideas. Every artist working today contends with, looks at, draws inspiration from, and rejects all the art that has come before. It is the topmost layer of a sedimentation of proposals, styles, ideas, images, forms, and vocabularies that have accrued over time. 

Contemporary art is a way of looking at the world and making sense of the questions, problems, joy and chaos that exist all around us and trying to find an expression that gives form to them or makes sense of them. 

I hope that by drawing connections between different contemporary art practices and the world around us, the course allows you to explore the questions that artists are asking, and apply them to your own situations.” 

Sophie Cavoulacos, Assistant Curator, Department of Film

“Contemporary art is alive with possibility because you can pick up a thread that’s meaningful to you in an artwork and follow it. It can also be challenging because it might not tell a story in a way that is immediately recognizable or might not be something that you have a frame of reference for, but I think that challenge is exciting because when you make connections, they’re yours.

I hope you will discover in this course a work of art or design that you fall deeply in love with or about which you make a discovery. I hope you see yourself in some of the works. I had that experience when putting together the course. Contemporary art can be rigorous and illuminating but it should also be enjoyed. Dive into the course and then put it aside—treat it like a book that you can pick up and follow at your own pace.”

Erica Papernik-Shimizu, Associate Curator, Department of Media & Performance

“Ephemeral, rather than physical art forms, such as moving images or live performance, can be considered as a means of visualizing or amplifying an artist’s ideas. These ideas reverberate among viewers in infinite ways, shifting shape as we draw on our own associations and experiences to form an interpretation of the work. In this way, contemporary art is fundamentally open-ended and multi-layered, defying traditional boundaries of medium and genre.

I hope that you will find yourself in active dialogue with the media works in this course while you’re watching them and in turn regard yourself as an important component of the works themselves, which are not complete without the viewer.”

Sheila Hicks. “Pillar of Inquiry/Supple Column.” 2013–14. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Sheila Hicks, Glen Raven Inc., and Sikkema Jenkins and Co. © 2019 Sheila Hicks


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