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The works that have marked the History of art
A closer look 17 Mar 2017

The works that have marked the History of art

What are the works that have marked the history of (modern and) contemporary art? After moving away from classical art, these revolutions have opened new fields and infinite freedom.

Avant-garde, revolutionary, audacious… they all marked a style. Duchamp, Picasso, Christo, Anish Kapoor, JR, have one thing in common; their status of pioneers. Artsper has selected 11 of these works and how they marked the history of art…

1. Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, 1917


Duchamp marked the birth of artistic gesture with a work of art. A gesture that is anti-aesthetic but he focused on the concept: it is the concept of “ready made”, here, that classifies the object as a piece of art. A reversed fountain which resembles a urinal and gives ideas to the most iconoclasts… performance artist Pierre Pinoncelli, armed with a hammer and his urine, attacked the “ready made” two times in a row during the inaugural exhibition of the Carre des Arts in Nimes on August 24, 1993, and then at the Pompidou Center on January 4, 2006.

2. Edouard Manet, Le déjeuner sur l’herbe, 1863

Le Dejeuner sur l’Herbe is known as an anti-Raphael painting. Its 3 personages are extracted from Raphael’s piece Jugement de Pâris, which themselves were taken from an engraving by Raimondi. But Manet shocked the public mainly due to three details. First of all, the naked woman surrounded by two men. Second, the elimination of the divine: the gods have disappeared and the personages are casted out of heaven. The third element, too avant-garde and scandalous for the period: the model has a provoking look which enhances her position of inspiring muse. With this confronting look in front, the observer is introduced for the first time into the history of art. It apostrophizes us but remains literally absorbed, this is the birth of the theater of exhibition and no longer of action, called “facingness” by theorist Michael Fried.

3. Pablo Picasso, Les demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907


In his « pink period », Picasso did one of the most radical pieces of the modern period by eliminating all traces of perspectivism. The painter is one of the rare artists interested in objects and formal primitivism. He treated the faces of these women like a formal object, which allowed him to treat each element of the representation as an element of art in itself. Les Demoiselles d’Avignon inherited the pictorial influence of Paul Cezanne, and integrated leitmotivs of primitive cultures: a funerary sculpture of old Athens, African masks and fetishes… In search of the real origin, Picasso was seeking to freeze the moment where the painting appears on the canvas: the famous “tabula rasa”.

4. Andy Warhol, Shot Sage Blue Marilyn, 1964


Andy Warhol shot the face of Marilyn Monroe declined to infinity. Through reduction screen-printing, the artist creates a disturbing portrait of Marylin. This face has proliferated through a visual culture while denying its individuality. From this angle, the worship of the image is due to the death of the individual. Andy Warhol created this portrait soon after the suicide of the actress. More than just a colorful pop portrait, the Marilyn‘s can be seen as a “memento mori,” according to theoretician Susan Sontag. In any case, they are amongst the most important works to have marked the recent art history. Since them, countless paintings and photographs of Marilyn Monroe have been produced.

5. Christo, Pont Neuf, 1985

On September 22, 1985, Christo and Jeanne Claude covered the Pont Neuf for 15 days. Dressed with a golden cover, the oldest bridge in Paris rediscovered its image by arousing a new attitude on the passers-by who did not look up anymore. The couple of artists invites us to take a “poetical” look at the bridge with a new and enlightened look. The installation is a piece of aesthetic, technical and political bravery. A piece unprotected by the law, since justice affirms that a dematerialized concept (in this case, that of covering a monument) can not be protected by the law, only the sensible part is protected in this case.

6. Robert Smithson, Spiral Jetty, 1990


Proclaimed as the leader of Land Art, Robert Smithson, is an anti-Duchamp : his work is the opposite of an object fabricated in series instead it fades over time. Land Art uses soil as a main material and examines its evolution, degradation and “entropy”. Robert Smithson went from the world of White Cube (the gallery) to support the goal of democratizing art. Spiral Jetty started as an utopia, that of the abolition of geographic and temporal frontiers. The piece ended up becoming a dystopia… since the artist died during an helicopter accident when trying  to see his work of art.

7. Louise Bourgeois, Maman, 1999


Maman or the oversized spider, has an autobiographical character, paying tribute to her mother, Josephine Bourgeois, is a former tapestry repairer who used to work in her husband’s textile restoration workshop in Paris. As a child, Louise Bourgeois, used to watch the patterns of thread done by her mother while weaving. Maman (mom) weaving is a metaphor of the spinning, care and maternal refuge. “The spider is an ode to my mother… Because my mother was as intelligent, patient, clean, useful, reasonable, indispensable as a spider”. The spider has already been exhibited in London, Tokyo, San Francisco, Copenhagen, St Petersburg, and has exposed her canvas at the Museum of Fine Arts of Ottawa, Canada.

8. Jeff Koons, Ballon Dog, 1994-2000


“Why a balloon dog ?”
« Maybe because there is the idea of survival in him. I have transformed an object without qualities and ephemeral -a simple balloon- in a monumental work of art that has the power of survival ». Says Jeff Koons.

Surviving for 58 million dollars is the luxury afforded by these steel dogs. With his simple balloons, Jeff Koons, creator or an ace of marketing, remains the most expensive artist in the world. His metal animals are key works that have marked the recent history of the art market.

9. Anish Kapoor, Dirty Corner, 2015


Dirty Corner also called the queen’s vagina was exhibited in the royal gardens of the Château de Versailles in the Spring of 2015 during the Kapoor Versailles exhibition. Anish Kapoor’s big steel trunk has a sexual connotation. The confrontation between the sacred and sex, harmony and deformity, nature and steel, are the reflection of  two opposite epochs hence two visions. Those who identify with the first one are offended, and have attacked Anish Kapoor’s piece in four occasions and hence  “freedom of creation” declared the old minister of culture Fleur Pellerin during his visit to the “Château de Versailles”.

10. JR, La pyramide du Louvre, 2016


Playing with magic, street artist JR did a trick at the biggest museum in the world. The pyramid of the Louvre disappeared after going through an anamorphosis (optical illusion) during the month of May 2016. The optical illusion, disturbed the public, since it’s a mixture of two contradictory epochs: the digital era (photoshop) and the medieval period (the Sully facade). The audacity of this confrontation of epochs caused intense controversy among the traditionalists. Through his gesture, JR incites us to take a new and disinterested look on what we can not see anymore. “Today, with the selfies, people pose in front of this monument, turning their backs on it” says JR.

11. Yayoi Kusama, Dots Obsession, 2012


Yayoi Kusama, a real iconoclastic personality, has raised her  two-colored dots to the rank of star system. Creators like Louis Vuitton has taken over her leitmotiv. Her obsession for dots obsess us by absorbing our body in her immersive work with a proliferation of mirrors. Yayoi Kusama blends in with the decor by harmonizing her person with her pieces and hence invites us to alchemy.