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Understanding Contemporary Art: From Pop to Pluralism

5-Session Daytime Course on Zoom

Wednesday, March 24, 2021 - 12:00 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. ET
Code: 1M2122
This program is part of our
Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.
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"Miss Lillian", 1977, by Andy Warhol (Smithsonian American Art Museum)

Avant-garde American art of the 1960s was dominated by two contradictory impulses. On one side, a group of young artists returned to representational art, but with a cool and decidedly modern twist known as pop.  At the same time, the so-called minimalists created a new kind of abstraction, paring down their works to just a few, carefully considered colors and forms.

Then, beginning in the 1970s, artists explored an enormous range of new materials, techniques, and styles. That experimentation gave rise to the term pluralism, encompassing forms from conceptual and super-realist art to environmental and performance art, all of which still resonate today.

In this richly illustrated seminar, art historian Nancy G. Heller looks at the roots and later influences of radical American art from the last five decades.

MAR 24  Soup Cans and Comic Strips: The Revolutions of Pop Art and Minimalism

The paintings and sculptures of Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, and Marisol. Eloquent subtleties inherent in the paintings of Ellsworth Kelly and Agnes Martin, plus the sculpture of Richard Serra.

MAR 31  Introduction to Pluralism: The Extremes

Stunning photo-realist paintings by Chuck Close and Audrey Flack and parallel sculptures by Duane Hanson, vs. the slyly challenging conceptual art of John Baldessari.

APR 7  Taking Art Out of the Gallery and Museum

Land art (or Earth art) by Christo and Jeanne Claude, plus the graffiti paintings of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring–from vandalism and “radical chic” to new auction records.

APR 14  Feminist Art and the Influence of “Identity Politics”

Judy Chicago’s groundbreaking Dinner Party installation, plus art focusing on a variety of traditionally marginalized groups including Americans of African, Latinx, Asian, and Native American descent, plus LGBTQ individuals. Works by Kara Walker, Luis Jiménez, Jaune Quick-to-See Smith, and Robert Mapplethorpe are discussed.

APR 21  Erasing Boundaries: Redefining “Art,” by Innovative Use of Traditional Materials and Techniques

A survey of the extraordinary range of materials and techniques myriad artists are exploring in imaginative, sometimes controversial ways.  The photography of Cindy Sherman and Jeff Koons’s contemporary approach to kitsch; performance art; artists’ books; Faith Ringgold’s painted story quilts, stained glass by Judith Schaechter, and Liza Lou’s astonishing sculptures made from colored glass beads.

Heller is a professor emerita of art history at the University of the Arts, Philadelphia.

5 sessions

World Art History Certificate core course: Earn 1 credit*

Patron Information

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*Enrolled participants in the World Art History Certificate Program receive 1 core course credit. Not yet enrolled? Learn about the program, its benefits, and how to register here.