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Moderne vs. Contemporary Art

Moderne vs. Hedendaagse kunst - Lyklema Fine Art

What is the difference between modern and contemporary art? That is a question that newcomers to the art market regularly ask themselves. And certainly after the Kunstrai last weekend, a question that will have been asked frequently.



Artists such as Gustave Courbet (1819-1877), Edouard Manet (1832-1883) and the Impressionist movement broke with the prevailing academic traditions with their naturalistic representation of the world. Manet's 'Déjeuner sur l' Herbe' is one of those revolutionary examples. It was first exhibited at the 1863 Salon des Refusés in Paris. It caused laughter, outrage and even anger. The audience was most upset by the "inappropriate" setting and the natural female nudity in the company of two clothed men.


Manet's work paved the way for the Post-Impressionists. Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) was the first to break with natural representations and concentrate on the lines, planes and colors that make up nature. Inspired by Cézanne's drive to free painting from its representational role and focus instead on pure forms, Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) pushed the boundaries of abstraction even further.

'Les Demoiselles d'Avignon' is perhaps one of the most characteristic examples of this transition. The painting depicts five female nudes, but their forms are fragmented and interwoven with the equally whimsical background. Picasso thus laid the foundation for the Cubist movement, in which a subject is divided into its geometric components and often shown from different angles at the same time. However, the shapes remained recognizable.

Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) was subsequently one of the first artists to paint in a completely non-objective manner. 'Composition VII' (1913), for example, lacks an observable starting point without recognizable subjects but 'only' shapes, colors and lines. He was nourished more by philosophy, religion, innovative scientific theories and music and no longer by nature or mythology.


Even though the artistic ambitions of Manet, Cézanne, Picasso and Kandinsky differed, all their work is considered modern art. Modern art offered an aesthetic response to modernity; to fundamental changes in society as a result of the industrial revolution and the introduction of the modern capitalist economy. As a result, artists began to break down forms and question the representational role of paintings. This developed slowly through a series of artistic movements. In addition to impressionism, post-impressionism and cubism, movements such as symbolism, fauvism, futurism, suprematism, constructivism, dadaism, surrealism and abstract expressionism also fall under the heading of Modern Art.


Most art historians will point to the late 1960s as an important turning point for the art world. In general, art created after this time can be considered contemporary art, including conceptual art, performance art, minimalism, pop art, and video art. For the first time in history, the process of creating art received more attention than the end product. Much of the art produced over the past thirty years is also connected to social and political issues. Bansky, for example, made 'Sirens of the Lambs' (2013) and shows 'piglets' anxiously peeking out of a truck as a criticism of the casual cruelty of the food industry or had a work of art shredded in front of attendees of an auction.



First of all, Modern Art and Contemporary Art come from two different periods. The period of Modern Art includes work from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, roughly from 1880 to the 1960s. Modern art is also often an expression of individuality. While Contemporary Art focuses more on social impact. It is about the discussion and is therefore subjective by definition.

Article in a different form previously appeared at, of which we are a proud partner, and in March 2021 it was written by Pieter Paul Hensels.
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