What you will study
Current interest in modern art is at an all-time high. This module offers you the opportunity to study the important recent changes in the practice of art and to gain an insight into the critical debates through which these changes have been interpreted and understood. The module addresses such topics as the meaning of abstract art, the challenge of photography, the role of the ‘avant garde’, the canonisation and ‘crisis’ of Modernism, the emergence of ‘postmodernism’, and the phenomenon of ‘globalisation’. The module is structured around four co-published books, each with an accompanying study handbook.
Book 1, Frameworks for Modern Art introduces and explores a range of contemporary issues and debates about art and its place in the wider culture today. The opening chapter discusses key concepts such as modernity, modernism, autonomy, spectatorship and globalisation. It is followed by four case studies, each of which is devoted to a specific work of art chosen from across the span of the century: Marcel Duchamp’s Bottlerack, Barnett Newman’s Eve, Ana Mendieta’s Silueta series, and Yarla by the Australian Aboriginal Yuendumu community. These works have been selected not only for their intrinsic interest, but for the way in which they open up wider questions of meaning and interpretation that are central to understanding twentieth-century art.
Book 2, Art of the Avant-Gardes discusses the development of modern art in the first third of the twentieth century. The book opens with a brief introduction to some of the key themes of art in the period and summarises the political context in which it developed: the First World War, the Russian Revolution and the subsequent consolidation of the European dictatorships.
The book consists of four parts. The first looks at the centrally important idea of ‘expression’ in art, and related questions of Orientalism and the ‘primitive’. The second part concentrates on Cubism, and the third goes on to investigate the development of abstract art. The final part discusses the radical avant-garde movements committed to overcoming the barrier between ‘art’ and ‘life’: Dada, Soviet Constructivism and Surrealism.
Book 3, Varieties of Modernism addresses works of art produced in Europe and America between the 1930s and the 1960s.
Again, the book is divided into four parts. The first part covers aspects of the European avant-garde from the 1930s to the aftermath of the Second World War. It includes discussion of Surrealism, abstract art, debates around the Popular Front, and the conflicting views of art on display in the 1937 World’s Fair.
The following two parts consider the important topic of ‘modernism’. The first focuses on the emergence of Abstract Expressionism, including the discourse of masculinity that permeated the American avant-garde of the period. The next part looks at the ‘autonomous’ high modernism of the early to mid-1960s, contemporary photography and Minimal Art.
The fourth part discusses aspects of the neo-avant-garde that emerged after the Second World War– in opposition to the autonomy of modernism – in the so-called ‘gap between art and life’. It discusses the work of Rauschenberg, Warhol and the Fluxus artists, among others.
Book 4, Themes in Contemporary Art covers the period from the 1960s to the end of the twentieth century, broadly speaking, that is, the period of ‘postmodernism’. It begins with an introductory overview of the emergence in the 1960s of what has been called an ‘expanded field’ for art activity, leading to the fully-fledged ‘postmodernism’ of the late twentieth century. This is followed by a sequence of three essays on the impact of Conceptual Art. The first is an essay on the consequences of Conceptual Art for the notion of the aesthetic that had been so central to artistic modernism. The second is an essay on the Post-Conceptual practice of painting, while the third discusses various practices of Post-Conceptual photography. There then follow three essays on different aspects of contemporary art: a wide-ranging essay on the emergence of various practices of installation, performance and video art; an essay on a range of practices by women artists and finally an essay on the ‘globalisation’ of art at the end of the twentieth century.
There is also a dedicated module reader, Art of the Twentieth Century, edited by Jason Gaiger and Paul Wood which consists principally of writings by art historians and art theorists, originally published as free-standing essays or chapters in books. It gives students access to a wide range of different authorial voices and perspectives on art beyond those explored in the four books. There is a further set book of documentary source material, Art in Theory, 1900–2000, edited by Charles Harrison and Paul Wood.
The module contains fully integrated audio-visual materials, consisting of ten 30-minute DVDs, two resource DVD compilations and an audio CD in which book editors informally discuss some of the main issues addressed in the module books.
AA318 is designed to enable you to recognise and address issues raised by the study of twentieth-century art. In terms of knowledge and understanding, it is hoped that study of the module should enable you to:
have a knowledge of modern art in the twentieth century, embracing key movements, artists and works of art
understand the benefits of interpreting works of art within their wider historical contexts
understand that art history is a critical discipline producing knowledge through scholarly and reflexive debate
understand a range of relevant critical concepts (e.g. ‘modernism’, ‘realism’, ‘avant-garde’, ‘postmodernism’, amongst others)
appreciate that in the study of art, disagreement is rarely settled by factual ‘testing’, but commonly involves questions of interpretation, emphasis and interest.