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Unit 10: 1980 CE - Present

Global Contemporary

Images 224-250

Main Ideas:

  • In an era of rapid modernization, these artworks touch upon its consequences such as gender & racial disparities, economic neocolonialism, and restrictions on basic freedoms

  • These artworks use innovative methods often with mixed media and in-person installations to showcase different aspects of their central message

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In-Person Installations

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  • With a 3-D installation, the viewers can easily immerse themselves in the artwork to understand the artist's clear unambiguous message through the artwork's features
  • The message of these artworks is generally a critique on the consequences of rapid modernization, such as class & gender disparity, economic neocolonialism, and restrictions on freedoms

Image 224: The Gates

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The Gates


New York City, US


Christo and Jeanne-Claude


1979 - 2005 CE


Mixed-media installation

  • The gates are placed along the pedestrian walkways in Central Park → They represent the natural pattern of pedestrian movement throughout the park
    • In Feb 2005, there were 7503 gates at this exhibition

    • The gates are placed along the pedestrian walkways of New York's Central Park → Allows pedestrians to move through them

      • There is no single vantage point to see all the gates, but rather, the gates are all in an oval-shaped loop along the walkway → Represents the idea that people shouldn't view the gates as static and rather focus on the motion/movement they represent​

    • The bright orange color of the gates seeks to set it apart from the surrounding nature so that its sense of movement can easily be seen

Image 225: Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Its Underground Location:

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Vietnam Veterans Memorial


Washington, DC, US


Maya Lin


1982 CE



  • The memorial's architecture allows for a more personal reflection of the soldiers' lives
    • This memorializes the victims of the Vietnam War (1955-75) with their full names, not their photos

      • By putting a person's photo, we only see them in one particular way (which could be staged or candid); however, with a person's name, we can think about everything that person has done​ → A person's name is a more holistic all-encompassing identifier

    • The memorial is located slightly underground: We have to descend a small ramp to reach it, then we see all the names on the left wall → We are somewhat "swallowed up" by the memorial and more attentive and reflective toward the memories of the victims

      • Black granite's color reflects the solemn mood of the memorial

    • Some believed this memorial to be controversial as Maya Lin's Asian heritage may conflict with the fact that these soldiers were killed in Asia, yet the memorial was successfully built despite these opponents

Image 229: A Book from the Sky

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A Book from the Sky


Xu Bing


1987 - 1991 CE


Mixed-media Installation

  • Uses artwork made out of Chinese characters to make a political statement against censorship in Communist China
    • Xu Bing made up random pseudo-Chinese characters and put them on books, hanging scrolls, etc. all over the floors, walls, and ceiling

      • Because no one can read them (since these aren't real Chinese characters), it invites the viewer to instead reflect on the scene as if the ground was the sea and the roof was the sky​

    • As the viewer reflects on the empty scene, it allows us to think about how the Chinese government censored certain books and prevented people from understanding the true meaning and practice of scholarship through the limitations on freedom of expression​​

      • Also allows to think that Chinese propaganda is sometimes meaningless to the viewer and creates a false image of reality

Image 236: En La Barberia no se Llora (No Crying Allowed in the Barbershop)

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En La Barberia no se Llora (No Crying Allowed in the Barbershop)


Pepon Osorio


1994 CE


Mixed-media Installation

  • The artwork in the room contains many stereotypical masculine aspects that criticizes the idea of masculinity (machismo) in Nuyorican culture
    • Nuyorican: Puerto Ricans in New York City

    • Machismo: Latin-American ideal of male dominance and masculinity

    • Has many traditional masculine aspects as well as satirical aspects that all together criticize the idea of masculinity

      • Barber chairs, car seats, sports equipment, depictions of male reproductive figures, etc.​

      • Main aspect are the images of men crying, which criticize the idea of masculinity in Nuyorican society

    • Has many small trinkets (chucherías) that represent aspects of Puerto Rican culture (its flag, portraits of famous Latin American men, etc.)

      • The idea that these national symbols are represented through small trinkets mocks the strict cultural ideals of Latin America, which includes machismo

    • The room also has video installations with Latino men in stereotypically masculine poses

      • Many of these men are among the elderly → Shows that machismo is a deeply-rooted multi-generational issue that should be fixed​

    • He criticizes the ideal of machismo to advocate for more gender equality

Image 237: Pisupo Lua Afe (Corned Beef 2000)

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Pisupo Lua Afe (Corned Beef 2000)


Michel Tuffery


1994 CE


Mixed media

  • Represents the negative environmental and social impact of colonialism and the introduction of beef on Samoa
    • Pisupo initially meant "pea soup" in the Samoan language but now also means "canned food"

    • The structure is made of food cans in the shape of a cattle to criticize the effect that canned food and beef had on the Samoan population

      • Corned beef replaced the traditional Samoan diet of seafood and local fruits/veggies​

        • It's also high in cholesterol, fat, and sodium​ → Is the leading cause of diabetes and heart disease in Samoa

    • The cattle and food cans also have a significant environmental impact on Samoa

      • Cattle grazing takes up lots of space and water, and it destroys and uses up a lot of plants​

      • Food cans produce a significant amount of waste, especially since waste disposal is difficult in island nations

    • Canned foods are also a Western import → This criticizes Samoan neocolonialism and comments on Samoa's struggle for independence

      • Criticizes how Samoa still has to rely on imports from other nations to survive​

Image 238: Electronic Superhighway

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Electronic Superhighway


Nam June Paik


1995 CE


Mixed-media installation (49-channel closed-circuit video installation, neon, steel, and electronic components)

  • Emphasizes the economic and cultural unity of the US while showcasing each state's uniqueness
    • Has 49 TVs in the shape of a map, displaying key characteristics of each state

      • Iowa is where the presidential election cycle begins, so its TV plays old news footage of various elections​

      • Kansas's TV plays the Wizard of Oz

    • The neon lights represent the superhighways

      • Represent that what unites all the states is not just highways but also electronic communication (TVs, broadband connection, internet, etc.)​

    • The variety of information on the map and the tension created by the neon lights shows the idea that it's difficult for us to absorb any details about our nation because of all the "information overload"

Image 239: The Crossing



The Crossing


Bill Viola


1996 CE


Video/sound Installation

  • Uses an immersive video experience of fire and water to activate our sense of spirituality
    • Similar to Shiva Nataraja (Image 202): When we’re surrounded by flames, we feel like we are transcending into heaven & the sublime

      • Drew influence from Hinduism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Sufism, etc.

    • Original video was recorded in 300 frames per second → Viola can slow it down significantly to create a more immersive and spiritual experience

      • This technological experimentation helps drive Viola’s artistic intentions to make this feel like a spiritual experience

Image 240: Guggenheim Museum Bilbao 

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Guggenheim Museum Bilbao




Frank Gehry (architect)


1997 CE


Titanium, glass, and limestone

  • The smooth, curvy architecture with a large atrium and large windows gives us the illusion that we are floating while in the museum → We can better immerse ourselves with the artworks in the museum
    • The walls are very curvy but smooth

      • Represents architecture modernism​

      • When outside, you can feel that the inside would be some sort of illusion

    • When inside in the atrium, the large windows allow lots of sunlight to come inside, and the combination of the sunlight plus the interior curviness gives viewers the illusion of floating

      • While we feel a sense of floating, we still feel some heaviness (as if we aren't floating upward to the sky) → We're more drawn to what's inside the museum rather than what's above

      • This large atrium is for sculptures → The illusion of floating + the heaviness allows us to better immerse ourselves with the sculptures so we can be more attentive and appreciative of them​

Image 243: Darkytown Rebellion

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Darkytown Rebellion


Kara Walker


2001 CE


Cut paper and projection on wall