25 Contemporary Artworks You Need to See

A man studies one of Damien Hirst's Spot Paintings
A man studies one of Damien Hirst’s Spot Paintings

Contemporary Art a period that is generally considered to start from 1945. Due to this, contemporary art can be considered to be from the post-war period to present day. Many different styles, genres and artistic approaches took place during this period. It is therefore difficult to know where to start. This is why Artpser is giving you the opportunity to discover 25 contemporary works of art that you absolutely need to know to be able to understand this artistic period! 

1. Andy Warhol, Campbell’s Soup Cans, 1962

Andy Warhol, Campbell's Soup Cans, 1962
Andy Warhol, Campbell’s Soup Cans, 1962

An iconic piece of art from the pop artist Andy Warhol, Campbell’s Soup Cans illustrates consumerist culture and mass media in american society. In addition to this, Andy Warhol’s style is visible in his work. Through the repetition of the represented object, the artist realizes a critique of a consumer society, which does not stop producing.

2. Louise Bourgeois, Maman, 1990

Louise Bourgeois, Maman, 1990
Louise Bourgeois, Maman, 1990

Standing at a height of 30 meters and evoking the shape of a spider, Maman is one the iconic works of Louise Bourgeois. The work exists in various versions, with diverse and varied materials. The sculpture was built for an exhibition at the Tate Modern, and pays homage to the artist’s mother, who died suddenly when she was only 21 years old.

3. Jackson Pollock, Autumn Rhythm, 1950

Jackson Pollock, Autumn Rhythm, 1950
Jackson Pollock, Autumn Rhythm, 1950

Created at the peak of Jackson Pollock’s career, Autumn Rythm is a perfect example of the “goutte-à-goutte” painting technique, otherwise known as “drip-painting”. The latter technique, which is specific to Pollock, made him famous due to its originality. To create his works Pollock stood on his canvas and dropped diluted paint onto the canvas, letting it fall naturally. He would drip, splash, scrape and pour paint onto his canvas. For the artist, the movement and paints themselves drove his art. This unique method of painting is considered to be the artist’s trademark.

4. Njideka Akunyili Crosby, I Still Face You, 2015

Njideka Akunyili Crosby, I Still Face You, 2015
Nijdeka Akunyili Crosby, I Still Face You, 2015

A young dynamic artist, Njideka Akunyili Crosby unites her dual cultural experience in her vibrant works of art. After spending her formative years in Nigeria, she moved to America at the age of 16 and now lives and works in Los Angeles. Her intensely personal pieces unite her rich cultural influences, with more “traditional” acetone paintings superimposed on complex sets, which are often a collation of elements taken from Nigerian folk culture.

5. Damien Hirst, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, 1991

Damien Hirst The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, 1991
Damien Hirst The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, 1991

Conserved in formaldehyde, the work The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living by Damien Hirst is still today one of the most controversial pieces of contemporary art. The original piece was commissioned by the collector Charles Saatchi in 1991, but the shark had to be replaced in 2004 when the piece was sold. Due to the nature of the work, many wonder whether this creation by Damien Hirst should be considered art or not.

6. Cecily Brown, The Girl Who Had Everything, 1998

Cecily Brown, The Girl Who Had Everything, 1998
Cecily Brown, The Girl Who Had Everything, 1998

Cecily Brown is known for her luxurious and extremely textured works. Her art is a mix between that of the baroque masters and abstract expressionism. She mixes color and texture with suggestive, sexually explicit figures and biomorphic forms that stand out among the abstract swirls that dominate her paintings. By simply alluding to forms rather than offering a concrete representation, the artist forces the viewer to properly examine the paintings, from which the erotic images swim into focus.

7. Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Mirror Room, 1965

14. Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Mirror Room, 1965
14. Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Mirror Room, 1965

Yayoi Kusama has been described as being one of the most eccentric artists of our time. Her psychedelic and hallucinatory work use motifs and repetition to play with the concept of infinity. Infinity Mirror Room is an immersive installation designed to engulf the viewer/ participant in an overwhelming sense of infinity and possibility. Yayoi Kusama described her life as “a pea lost among thousands of other peas”.

8. Keith Haring, Untitled, 1982

Keith Haring, Untitled, 1982
Keith Haring, Untitled, 1982

This painting sums up the Pop Art style of Keith Haring, with dynamic figures and a simple composition. From his beginnings as a graffiti artist in the New York subway, Keith Haring began his career with his immediately recognizable figures and patterns. One of his most commonly represented symbols is the heart. He used his work to popularize important messages about sexuality and AIDS during a time when the stigma and taboo surrounding these topics were still prevalent.

9. Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled, 1981

12. Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled, 1981
12. Jean-Michel Basquiat, Untitled, 1981

This vibrant and dynamic work of art, painted when Jean-Michel Basquiat was only twenty years old, is considered a kind of enigma by art critics. Sometimes called “Skull” because of the shape of the face, this complex composition certainly raises more questions than it provides answers. Does it depict a skull or a half formed face? Does the painting represent life or death? Some even wonder if it is not a kind of self-portrait of the artist.

10. Jenny Saville, Propped, 1992

Jenny Saville, Propped, 1992
Jenny Saville, Propped, 1992

The painting that kick started the career of Jenny Saville is a striking self portrait. Saville made a name for herself with her large portraits (often self-portraits) showing women who do not conform to society’s usual beauty standards, but who reflect the grand diversity of beauty in women. Her distinctive handling of oil paintings and her warm skin tones are reminiscent of Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon.

11. Banksy, Girl with Balloon, 2002

Banksy, Girl with Balloon, 2002
Banksy, Girl with Balloon, 2002

This iconic graffiti artist of today first appeared on Waterloo Bridge in London, although since then it has been repainted. This work was done many times in support of various political campaigns, notably the Syrian refugee crisis in 2014. In 2018, a framed copy of the work spontaneously shredded during an auction at Sotheby’s thanks to a device that Banksy himself installed in the frame.  He re-titled the shredded work, Love is in the Bin. The woman who had bought the print for a record price decided to proceed with the sale.

12. Tracey Emin, My Bed, 1998

Tracey Emin, My Bed, 1998
Tracey Emin, My Bed, 1998

My Bed, as indicated by the name, is a reconstruction of the artist’s unmade bed. Tracey Emin explains that this idea came to her after a long period of depression caused by difficult relationships and alcoholism. After recovering from her depression, she was disgusted by the detritus that had accumulated in her room and decided to expose it. The work was nominated for the Turner Prize, which sparked a huge controversy over whether or not it qualified as art.

13. Roy Lichtenstein, Look Mickey, 1961

Roy Lichtenstein’s Look Mickey, 1961
Roy Lichtenstein’s Look Mickey, 1961

With Look Mickey, Roy Lichenstein represented a scene and style belonging to pop culture for the first time in his career, this was a step that would become his signature. His reconstruction of a pre-existing scene, right up to the speech bubble, has led many to describe the work as an insult to the fine arts. Nevertheless, this unique style came to be celebrated. Today he is considered as one of the precursors to the Pop Art movement. 

14. Takashi Murakami, Flower Ball, 2002

Takashi Murakami, Flower Ball, 2002
Takashi Murakami, Flower Ball, 2002

Murakami initially trained in the traditional Japanese art of Nihonga, before being frustrated by the elitism associated with this genre. He invented the term “superflat” at the beginning of the 2000s to describe the legacy of 2D art in Japanese culture through a long legacy of anime and manga, but also to address post-war Japanese society.

15. David Hockney, Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures), 1972

David Hockney, Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures), 1972
David Hockney, Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures), 1972

Considered the most expensive work of art by a living artist ever sold at auction, Portrait of an Artist is one of the most iconic pieces by David Hockney. The work was created using two photographs that were staged by the artist. The first version of the work was destroyed. However, a second version was repainted over two weeks in 1972.

16. Dorothea Tanning, Door 84, 1984

Dorothea Tanning, Door 84, 1984
Dorothea Tanning, Door 84, 1984

This work by Dorothea Tanning marks the beginning of an evolution and passage of figurative surrealism to more abstract compositions thanks to loose, dynamic strokes and bright colors. The artist created this work with oil paint and a door segment. This is not one of the artist’s most well-known works. In fact, the artist became particularly famous for her works Birthday (1942) and Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (1943).

17. Jeff Koons, Balloon Dogs, 1994

Jeff Koons, Balloon Dog, 1994
Jeff Koons, Balloon Dog, 1994

The former Wall Street trader, Jeff Koons, is a very controversial figure in the world of art. He declared that there is no deeper meaning message behind his works. What’s more, he uses a workshop to bring his visions to life. Therefore he does not create his works himself. For these reasons, many question whether or not his works can legitimately be considered art. His metallic Balloon dogs are some of his most recognisable works.

18. Marc Chagall, ceiling of Paris Opéra Garnier, 1964

Marc Chagall, ceiling of Paris Opéra Garnier, 1964
Marc Chagall, ceiling of Paris Opéra Garnier, 1964

The ceiling of the Opera Garnier in Paris is certainly one of the most famous works by Chagall. It has been very controversial from the time it was created until its official opening in 1964. In fact, the various panels were assembled under protection from military guards. This vibrant piece is considered as reflecting Chagall’s status as “one of the great painters of our time” and contains references to famous composers and artists throughout history.

19. Frida Kahlo, Self Portrait, 1948

Frida Kahlo, Self Portrait, 1948
Frida Kahlo, Self Portrait, 1948

This striking self-portrait was the last that Frida Kahlo painted. Self-portrait is the only work of art created by the artists throughout the year 1948 because of her worsening health conditions. In this work, Frida Kahlo wears a traditional costume of Tehuana with an embossed collar framing her face and replacing her usual ornate and natural background. The sharpness of her face and expression accentuates the emotion.

20. Lucian Freud, Reflection, 1985

13. Lucian Freud, Reflection, 1985
13. Lucian Freud, Reflection, 1985

Lucian Freud is known for his figurative depictions. All his work is autobiographical and all his self-portraits were made with the help of mirrors. This work is a perfect example of the artistic style of its creator: each line, every defect of his face and skin are visible. The grandson of the psychologist Sigmund Freud is considered by many to be an artist who portrays his subjects in a brutal way. He therefore offers the public a glimpse into their minds and their worlds.

21. Sophie Calle, Prenez soin de vous, 2007

Sophie Calle, Prenez soin de vous, 2007
Sophie Calle, Prenez soin de vous, 2007

In 2007, Sophie Calle’s boyfriend ended their relationship by email. It ended with the words “take care of yourself”. Sometime later, the artist distributed this email to 107 women, chosen for their profession, and asked them to interpret his words. The answers include language criticism, legal analysis, dance interpretations, coding, and even a short film of a cockatoo slowly eating the printed note. The different responses are brought together in this extraordinary exploration of relationships and vulnerability.

22. Antony Gormley, Angel of the North, 1998

Antony Gormley, Angel of the North, 1998
Antony Gormley, Angel of the North, 1998

Anthony Gormley is known for his anthropomorphic statues. These are often based on casts of his own body. Angel of the North is one of the most well known works by this artist. The latter is located in Gateshead in the United Kingdom. It was made over four years and £800, 000 were spent on constructing it. The wings are slightly tilted inwards, suggesting an embrace. In addition, the sculpture is intended to represent the passing of time.

23. Ai Weiwei, Remembering, 2009

Ai Weiwei, Remembering, 2009
Ai Weiwei, Remembering, 2009

The chinese artist Ai Wei Wei created this striking piece in order to pay homage to the child victims of an earthquake. This took place in 2008 in the Sichuan province. Particularly devastating, the natural catastrophe tore down many schools. These were poorly constructed and led to the death of many children. The large scale work is composed of 9,000 student backpacks. The viewer can read the chinese characters “she lived happily in this world for seven years”. This sentence is a quote from a grieving mother about her lost child.

24. Francis Bacon, Three Studies of Lucian Freud, 1969

Francis Bacon, Three Studies of Lucian Freud, 1969
Francis Bacon, Three Studies of Lucian Freud, 1969

Sold in 2013, this triptic became the most expensive work of art sold by a british artist. It represents the friend and rival of the artist, Lucian Freud. The color scheme is dynamic. Francis Bacon emphasizes the importance of not separating the three studies.

25. Mark Rothko, Orange, Red, Yellow, 1961

Mark Rothko, Orange, Red, Yellow, 1961
Mark Rothko, Orange, Red, Yellow, 1961

In 2012, Orange, Red, Yellow, beat the records at auction during its sale. Known for his geometric, abstracts and vibrant colors, Mark Rothko has received as much criticism as he has praise. Rothko made his works on a very large scale. For the artist, his work had to be “very intimate and human”. He recommended to the viewers to stand 18 meters away from these works in order to fully experience the intimacy and transcendence between the work and the audience. 

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