Contemporary Art is the art of today and it broadly encompasses the artworks produced in the late 20th century and the 21st century. Some define contemporary art as art produced within “our lifetime”. However, as these vary with time, it is difficult to put a period to it. The classification of “contemporary art” as a special type of art goes back to the early 20th century and in fact, the Contemporary Art Society was founded in 1910 in London. However, no art expert of today categories works of that period as contemporary art. Thus, it is difficult to define “contemporary art” and most efforts to do so are not precise. For the purpose of this article, we have included only artists who are alive and continue to produce artworks. While traditional art forms like painting and sculpture continue till today, contemporary artists have also invented numerous other ways to express their creativity. These include large-scale installation art; graffiti art; photographic self-portraits; and photo-paintings. Here are the 10 most famous contemporary artists and their best known works.

 

Ai Weiwei
Ai Weiwei

#10 Ai Weiwei

Born: August 28, 1957

Nationality: Chinese

Son of writer Gao Ying and poet Ai Qing, Ai Weiwei had a difficult childhood as his family was exiled when he was just one year old. After living in exile for around twenty years, they were allowed to return to China after Mao’s death in 1976. Soon, Weiwei got involved in the unofficial Beijing art scene and co-founded the “Stars”, an early avant garde art group. In 1981, he moved to the United States, where he stayed for 11 years. In New York, he got involved in the contemporary art scene and was introduced to Conceptual and Minimalist traditions, which he combines in his artworks. Ai returned to China after his father fell ill. He rose to fame due to his design for the 2008 Beijing Olympics stadium. However, due to his controversial art, he was soon harassed by Chinese authorities and even imprisoned for “economic crimes”. Ai Weiwei currently resides in Cambridge, UK. He is regarded as an architect of Chinese modernism; and he is the most famous contemporary artist from China. Weiwei also remains a prominent activist who has been openly critical of the Chinese Government’s stance on democracy and human rights.

Masterpiece: Sunflower Seeds (2011)

Other Famous Works:-

Dropping a Han Dynasty urn (1995)

Forever (Bicycles) (2003)

 

Olafur Eliasson
Olafur Eliasson

#9 Olafur Eliasson

Born: February 5, 1967

Nationality: Danish–Icelandic

Olafur studied at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts from 1989 to 1995. After graduation, he started working with Einar Thorsteinn, an architect and geometry expert. The first work that resulted from their collaboration was 8900054, a stainless-steel dome 9.1m wide and 2.1m high. Olafur went on to collaborate with specialists in various fields to create pieces of art with the aid of science. He is most known for sculptures and large-scale installation art using the effects of light, water and air temperature to create a captivating experience for the viewer. The underlying aim in the art of Eliasson is to provoke people to perceive culture, community and the natural environment in a different way. The Activist art of Eliasson forces the viewers to contemplate their role in globalization and environmentalism. He believes that uncertainty is key to his art. He once stated: “This uncertainty is important to me, as it encourages people to think and sense beyond the limits within which they are accustomed to function.”

Masterpiece: The Weather Project (2003)

Other Famous Works:-

Umschreibung (2004)

New York City Waterfalls (2008)

 

Cindy Sherman
Cindy Sherman

#8 Cindy Sherman

Born: January 19, 1954

Nationality: American

Cindy Sherman studied art at Buffalo State College, where she began painting in a super-realist style. However, frustrated with the limitations of painting, she turned to photography. Sherman recalled: “I was meticulously copying other art, and then I realized I could just use a camera and put my time into an idea instead.” She went on to become one of the most influential and revolutionary contemporary artists working exclusively in photographic self-portraits. To create her photographs, Sherman shoots alone in her studio. She assumes multiple roles as author, director, make-up artist, hairstylist, wardrobe mistress and model. During her long career, Sherman has captured herself in a range of guises which often unsettle the viewer; and touch numerous themes including sexual desire and domination. Her photographic self-portraits are inspired by movies, TV, magazines, the Internet, art history and more. Through them, she raises a number of pertinent questions including the seductive and often oppressive influence of mass-media over our individual and collective identities.

Masterpiece: Untitled Film Stills Series (1977 – 1980)

Other Famous Works:-

Untitled #96 (1981)

Untitled #153 (1985)

 

Anish Kapoor
Anish Kapoor

#7 Anish Kapoor

Born: March 12, 1954

Nationality: British Indian

Born in Mumbai, India, Anish Kapoor is a Jewish artist who moved to London in the 1970s, where he studied at both the Hornsey College of Art and Chelsea College of Arts. In the 1980s, he became renowned for his geometric or biomorphic sculptures using simple materials such as granite, limestone, marble, pigment and plaster. In 1987, he began working in stone and, since 1995, he has worked with the highly reflective surface of polished stainless steel. Kapoor is best known for his abstract sculptures which transformed the modern minimal approach to sculpture by adding lyricism and metaphor to it. Spiritualism and the beginning of the world may be seen in several of his works through his use of holes, often vulva-like, and curves to illustrate pregnancy. Anish Kapoor is one of the most critically acclaimed contemporary artists and he has been honored with numerous awards. In 1991, he received the Turner Prize, an annual prize presented to a British visual artist; in 2012, he received the Padma Bhushan, India’s third-highest civilian award; and in 2013, he received a knighthood.

Masterpiece: Cloud Gate (2006)

Other Famous Works:-

Sky Mirror (2001)

Dirty Corner (2015)

 

Gerhard Richter
Gerhard Richter

#6 Gerhard Richter

Born: February 9, 1932

Nationality: German

Gerhard Richter has created a wide variety of work. He has produced abstract as well as photo-realistic paintings; sculpture; drawings; photographs; and glass pieces. Like Picasso, Richter has not maintained a single cohesive style and, though he has been associated with several art movements, his work cannot be put under one particular genre. In his photo-paintings, Richter starts with a photograph and projects it onto his canvas. He paints to replicate the look of the original picture and finally employs his hallmark “blur”. In his abstract pictures, Richter builds up cumulative layers of non-representational painting. He begins with brushing big swaths of primary color onto canvas. The paintings evolve in stages, based on his responses to the picture’s progress: the incidental details and the patterns that emerge. Gerhard Richter has received popular and critical acclaim for his works. Many consider him to be the greatest living artist in the world.

Masterpiece: Abstraktes Bild [599] (1986)

Other Famous Works:-

Lesende (1994)

48 Portraits (1972)

 

Jeff Koons
Jeff Koons

#5 Jeff Koons

Born: January 21, 1955

Nationality: American

Born in York, Pennsylvania, Jeff Koons studied painting at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. After graduation, he moved to New York to establish himself as an artist. He rose to prominence in the mid-1980s with his work being classified as Neo-Pop art. Neo-Pop is a postmodern art movement which took inspiration and extended the influential Pop Art movement. Like Pop Art, Neo-Pop focuses on recognizable objects and celebrities from popular culture with icons and symbols of the present times. Koons, in particular, is best known for depicting everyday objects produced in stainless steel with mirror-finish surfaces. Moreover, Koons has categorically stated that there are no hidden meanings in his works and nor any critiques. Critics remain divided on their opinion of Koons. While some view his work as pioneering and of major art-historical importance, others dismiss it as showcasing no intelligence or sensitivity. However, it is of no doubt that Jeff Koons is one of the most famous contemporary artists and his artworks have set record auction prices for a work by a living artist.

Masterpiece: Balloon Dog Series (1994–2000)

Other Famous Works:-

Rabbit (1986)

Puppy (1992)

 

Takashi Murakami
Takashi Murakami

#4 Takashi Murakami

Born: February 1, 1962

Nationality: Japanese

Even when he was very young, Takashi Murakami was worried with the state of contemporary art in Japan as he believed that it was “a deep appropriation of Western trends.” Murakami pointed out that, unlike the west, Japanese artists have used flat, 2-dimensional imagery for centuries and continue to use it in anime and manga, to this day. He also believed that, post World War II, there was little distinction between high and low art in Japan. Murakami combined the principles underlying the works of traditional Japanese artists with post-war pop culture in Japan to come up with the Superflat art movement. Superflat refers to various flattened forms in Japanese graphic art, animation, pop culture and fine arts. It has now become a prominent post-war Japanese art movement and Murakami has become one of the most famous Japanese painters and sculptors of the 21st century. Known as the Andy Warhol of the east, Murakami is known for blurring the line between high and low arts. The most common motifs in his artworks include smiling flowers, iconic characters, mushrooms, skulls, Buddhist iconography and the sexual complexes of otaku culture.

Masterpiece: Flower Ball (2002)

Famous works:-

My Lonesome Cowboy (1998)

Tan Tan Bo (2001)

 

Yayoi Kusama
Yayoi Kusama

#3 Yayoi Kusama

Born: March 22, 1929

Nationality: Japanese

Yayoi Kusama tasted some early success in Japan and, while there, she developed her signature style of covering things; walls, floors, canvases, household objects and naked assistants; with polka dots. In 1957, at the age of 27, she moved to the United States and became involved in the Pop Art movement, an influential 20th century art movement which challenged traditions of fine art by including imagery from popular culture. She has said that she faced racism and sexism in America; and that her artworks were copied by her male peers; including Warhol, Oldenburg and Samaras; who then took credit for them by exhibiting them in major galleries. Whatever might be the case, with time, Kusama’s contribution to the Pop Art movement as well as to the art world was recognized and now she is perhaps the most successful female contemporary artist. Kusuma is most renowned for her complex Infinity Mirror installations, rooms in which an observer can experience an illusion of a never-ending space.

Masterpiece: Narcissus Garden (1966)

Other Famous Works:-

Dots Obsession (2003)

Repetitive Vision (1996)

 

David Hockney
David Hockney

#2 David Hockney

Born: July 9, 1937

Nationality: British

David Hockney is regarded as one of most prominent figures of the Pop Art movement and his 1967 painting A Bigger Splash is an iconic work of Pop Art. Hockney focusses on personal subject matter; and depicts scenes from his own life and that of friends. His famous works include swimming pools, split-level homes and suburban Californian landscapes. Hockney is openly gay and several paintings by him; including Domestic Scene, Los Angeles; explore homosexuality. In 1990, Hockney was offered a knighthood but he declined. However, in January 2012, he accepted the Order of Merit from Queen Elizabeth II. In 2011, in a poll of more than 1,000 British artists, David Hockney was voted the most influential British artist of all time. On November 15, 2018, his painting Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) sold for $90 million (£70 million), becoming the most expensive painting by a living artist sold at auction. However, this record has since been surpassed by Jeff Koons’s Rabbit, which sold for more than $91 million.

Masterpiece: A Bigger Splash (1967)

Other Famous Works:-

Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) (1972)

Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy (1971)

 

Banksy
Banksy

#1 Banksy

Born: 1974

Nationality: British

Graffiti Art; art created on a wall or other surface, often illicitly; came to the forefront as a modern art movement in the second half of the 20th century. Banksy is an anonymous graffiti artist and there remains much speculation about his identity and biographical details due to his massive popularity. He began his career in the 1990s in the Bristol underground scene. Banksy’s works of political and social commentary have been featured on streets, walls and bridges of cities throughout the world. He has created some of the best known graffiti ever including Flower Thrower, The Mild Mild West and Balloon Girl. His Balloon Girl was ranked as the favorite artwork in United Kingdom in a 2017 Samsung poll. The popularity of Banksy has led to recognition of many other important artists in the field of graffiti art. He was awarded the Person of the Year at the 2014 Webby Awards. Banksy is the most famous graffiti artist and he has made the biggest contribution in making street art popular. Though he is not as critically acclaimed as some of the artists in this list, Banksy is without doubt the most famous contemporary artist.

Masterpiece: Balloon Girl (2002)

Other Famous Works:-

Mobile Lovers (2014)

Flower Thrower (2003)

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