Puzzling out Contemporary Art

This week was the first week of constellation I chose Dr Jon Clarkson subject of “puzzling out contemporary art”. We started at the the fundamental question of “what makes a work of art Contemporary?” Is it depending on the time in which it was made? Is Contemporary art a kind of style? we looked at Jack Vellriano- The Singing Butler. We analysed it as a group and came to the conclusion that we all thought it wasn’t contemporary as it took influences from classical works of art from history even though it is a quite recent painting. We questioned if it was art at all and if it was just a “kitch” representation of the past as romantic only had nostalgic value of the past. The singingbutler

The 1990’s : Political change

We discovered that contemporary art came about during the fall of Communism and representing this fall was the fall of the Berlin wall in November 1989. The rules of classical, beautiful, precious artworks collapsed due to this change.

Information Technology

The availability of viewing art increased with the increase of computers and the usage of them. Today we have Phones, Tablets, laptops and desktop computers which makes us be able to access images of any artwork you can think of at a click of a button. You can get all the information you need about artworks not letting you experience it in a gallery environment. Images of artworks have no home any more they are replicated onto the internet and products you can buy in someways this makes me question the value of art if it is being duplicated and mass produced.

The Rise of the Biennale

Before the 1990’s there was about 25 Biennales including the Venice Biennale which is the oldest and most well known. Today there is over 200 making art more available and closer to us. There has been a rise in Art in an international scale with more countries having Biennale exhibitions.

I now have a better understanding of how Contemporary art has been formed over time. However the subject of Contemporary art moved to how to analyse an artwork. We looked at an artwork by Isa Genzken called Leonardo’s cat as the fundamental piece to analyse. Slide1(4) (2)

How would you start working out what a artwork is about?

there is three main factors of analyzing an artwork they are

  • Imagery
  • Materials
  • Arrangement (form)

These three key things helped us to further try to understand the piece Leonardo’s cat by Isa Genzken while looking at work from other artists in order to further our understanding of analyzing contemporary art


david batchelor   rachael harrisonCampana_All_animals_Banquette0


David Batchelor-Parapillar 7      Rachel Harrison- A man contemplates a rock        Campana Brothers- Banquette Chair

In all three of these pieces we have no difficulty recognising the objects as a collection of “ready-mades” however some may argue that paint is ready made as it is commercially available. Looking at the imagery within Leonardo’s cat there is a sense of leisure and coherence.


julia dault matthew darbyshire


Julia Dault- Moonwalk        Matthew Darbyshire- Furniture Island 2 

Both of these pieces are doing what materials are meant to do. nothing has been skewed or distorted in anyway they are acting exactly how they are supposed to act. The modern materials also relates to Leonardo’s cat as the materials are functioning the way materials are supposed to.

Form or Formless

aiweiwei alfredo jaar Untitled 1967-8, remade 2008 by Robert Morris born 1931

Ai Wei Wei- Sunflower seeds         Alfredo Jaar- The eyes of Guete Emerita         Robert Morris- Untitled

In all of these form and lack of form is evident. Robert Morris’s Untitled you can tell that the artist can not control the way in witch the material flowed, it selects its own form. Ai Wei Wei’s Sunflower seeds do not have a particular form they create their own by taking up the shape of the space. Alfredo Jarr’s The eyes of the Guete Emerita creates its own landscape, enormity is evident and the sheer mass of the slides makes u feel as the viewer feel overwhelmed as you cannot look at them all.

So what has these key aspects taught me about how to perceive Genzken’s Leonardo’s cat? Is the title of a piece a clue does any of thess pictures help us understand Genzken’s work any better? What about the context of her work

Isa Genzken

isa genzkenIsa Genzken uses the head of Nefertiti  as a maequin for various sunglasses, de-glorifying the well known queen to nothing more than a stand to advertise sunglasses. The juxtaposition of the cheap and mass produced and the expensive is evident. the mass culture, imagery and materials disturb our sence of form






Rachel Harrison

Display-Furniture-Glasswork-621x410 Rachel Harrison is an artist who makes plinths and supporting structures more interesting than the sculptures they are supporting. she has plinth on wheels defeating the purpose of a plinth making it able to move. in some ways her plinth is like Isa Genzken’s plinth supporting “Leonardo’s cat” the plinth is being ooverwhelmedand engulfed into the sculpture becoming a vital part of it .



Display Furniture & Glasswork



Modernism has prompted the idea of the autonomy of the work of art. This means two things

  1. The artwork is independent
  2. The artwork was self-contained , that is, you did not need to look outside it to understand it


We were now asked these questions about the piece by Isa Genzken- Leonardo’s Cat

What is your subjective response to the work? 

How does it (make you) feel? 

Our answers as an audience were:

Childish from the random assemblage of materials, Far from simplistic, tacky, comforting/uncomfortable.

Context- because it is in a gallery we have to question it as an artwork.

the use of “Leonardo” in the name- Pretentious, frustrating.

No one has made this before? is it chaotic, effortless, static, irritating, flashy? however it isn’t easily dismissed from your mindas its presence in a gallery makes you want it to have a profound meaning.


Two models of meaning

Meaning is often thought of as a kind of archeology. Often more like constructing or assembling a network of association.

  • In the first model, meaning is buried.
  • In the second model, meaning is dispersed.

We think about artwork influencing or being influenced by another thing. In the second model we would talk of an artwork emerging from a population of images.




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