Module Details

AR312-6-FY-CO: Contemporary Art: 1980 To The Present

Note: This module is inactive. Visit the Module Directory to view modules and variants offered during the current academic year.

Year: 2017/18
Department: Art History and Theory
Essex credit: 30
ECTS credit: 15
Available to Study Abroad / Exchange Students: Yes
Full Year Module Available to Study Abroad / Exchange Students for a Single Term: No
Outside Option: Yes

Supervisor: Dr Gavin Grindon
Teaching Staff: Dr Gavin Grindon
Contact details: Sarah Mumford, Deputy School Administrator email: Tel: 01206 872200

Module is taught during the following terms
Autumn Spring Summer

Module Description

Module Outline (updated July 2015)

Contemporary artists have open to them an unlimited range of techniques, processes, and media with which to produce artwork. In recent years this has included such activities as preparing Thai curry for gallery goers (Rirkrit Tiravanija), or staging the aftermath of the attack of a Lovecraftian monster on the gallery space (Mike Nelson). Similarly, contemporary artists` attitudes towards the subject matter that they use is equally diverse, where their representations or expressions [i.e. their artworks] are thought of as punctuations in a constant flux of intertextuality, where meaning or `truth` is contingent upon or `relative` to context.

This course examines the plurality of approaches and attitudes to contemporary art produced in the last thirty years, in relation to seminal precursors from the period 1968-2000. The central focus will be on recent European and North American contemporary art (including, for example, neo-Conceptual art, the yBa, neo-expressionism), but the course will also explore key influences and developments from a range of now canonical international figures (including: Neo-Avant-garde artists such as Marcel Broodthaers, and Hans Haacke; the Metro Pictures and Neo-Geo artists from New York such as Jenny Holzer, Barbara Kruger, Richard Prince, Sherrie Levine, and Jeff Koons).

Throughout the module we will be asking the question: how does the context in which art is made and received by its audiences affect its production, reception and interpretation? We will look at various conceptions of `context` including physical, geographic and topological context, as well as temporal and historical contexts leading to a deeper understanding of the institutional, political, sociological and philosophical contexts in which art, art criticism and art history emerge.

The module will take advantage of the School`s close links with Firstsite, Colchester`s visual arts facility, and make trips to relevant exhibitions in London museums and galleries.

The aims of this module

The aim of this module is to expose students to the widest possible range of contemporary art practice, and to give them the opportunity to consider this work in a number of different contexts: national, international, exhibition, private gallery and media.
The module aims in particular to develop skills of discussion through seminar debate.

Learning Outcomes

At the end of this module students will have knowledge and understanding of:

aspects of contemporary art from 1980 to the present;
(in greater depth) a number of artists, exhibitions and events in the period;
the role of different media in forming the practices of contemporary artists.

Learning and Teaching Methods

One two hour seminar each week for 33 weeks


50 per cent Coursework Mark, 50 per cent Exam Mark


Two essays of 3,000 words (40% each) and weekly reading summaries (c. 100-200 words per week) (20%).

Exam Duration and Period

3:00 during Summer Examination period.

Other information

Gallery visits during the year.


  • Bibliography (updated August 2013) to be updated for 15/16
  • Michael Archer, Art Since 1960, (Thames and Hudson 1997)
  • M Archer et al (eds.) Apocalypse: beauty and horror in contemporary art, (London: Royal Academy, 2000)
  • S Bann and W Allen, Interpreting Contemporary Art, (London: Reaktion, 1991)
  • M Beudert et al (eds.) Contemporary Art: the Janet Wolfson de Botton gift, (London: Tate, 1998)
  • V Button, The Turner Prize, (London: Tate 1997)
  • T Druckrey (ed.) Ars Electronica: Facing the Future, A survey of two decades, (Cambridge: MIT 1999)
  • Hal Foster, Return of the Real, (MIT, 1996)

Further information