Michael Delahoyde, PhD

Professor of English


Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University


It’s a contentious term and a concept difficult to define, but Postmodernism refers to

new forms of expression in the arts of the last quarter of twentieth century. It was originally applied to architecture in the mid-1970s to describe buildings that abandoned clean rational Minimalist forms in favor of ambiguous, contradictory structures enlivened by playful references [that is, “quotation”] to historical styles, borrowings from other cultures and the use of startlingly bold colors. (Dempsey 269)

Considered to have a “Messy vitality” and operating with the anti-minimalist motto “Less is a bore,” Postmodern Art rejects modernism and yet is a continuation of it. In the 1980s, Postmodernism started being used as a term in the visual arts for works drawing on popular culture. Modernism in general tried to create a unifying moral and aesthetic utopia, whereas Postmodernism celebrates late-20th-century pluralism: “An ecstasy of communication,” says Jean Baudrillard (Dempsey 271).

Postmodernism often involves a past that is “quoted” or “appropriated” in new and unsettling contexts, or is deconstructed — stripped of its original conventional meaning somehow.

Charles Moore (1925-1993)
Piazza d’Italia (1975-1980) — a tour-de-force revelling in architectural theatricality; a witty montage of Classical architectural motifs in the form of a stage set, involving historical references with panache (Dempsey 271).

Richard Prince (1949- )
Dissimilar elements placed together (text with images, objects with graphics).

Tim Rollins (1955- )

Hans Haacke (1936- ) conceptual artist.
Freedom is now just going to be sponsored — out of petty cash (1990) — Several disparate elements make a politically charged point as German big business moved into former East Germany after the Wall came down. One of the old observation posts standing in Potsdamerplatz is topped with the Mercedes Benz auto logo — a symbol of capitalism. Added is a monumental epitaph from Goethe: “Art remains art.”

Judy Chicago (1939- )
The Dinner Party (1974-1979) — an installation homage to women in history, and a collaborative effort involving over 100 women. Over 100,000 people saw it in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1979.

Ettore Sottsass (1917- )
Carlton Bookcase (1981) — an anti-functional, outrageous impossibility for a bookcase. “To me, doing design doesn’t mean giving form to a more or less stupid product for a more or less sophisticated industry. Design for me is a way of discussing life, sociality, politics, food — and even design” (qtd. in Dempsey 273).

Jeff Koons (1955- )
Rabbit (1986) — a sculpture cast in glossy stainless steel from a cheap inflatable Easter rabbit. Kitch becomes high art.

Julian Schnabel (1951- )

Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988) born of Haitian and Puerto Rican parents started as a graffiti artist in the late ’70s using the tag SAMO (Same Old Shit). His angry confrontational designs protested racial prejudice. African mask-like faces and NY scenes, crossed-out messages. Associated with Andy Warhol. Signed with Mary Boone gallery, glamorous venue in NY art scene, four years later dead of heroin overdose.

Cindy Sherman (1954- )
Untitled Film Stills (1977) — She is the subject of her own art photographs but it’s not self-portraiture. She poses as recognizable figures and stereotypes: from B-movies, girlie mags, tv, Old Maser paintings — effacing her own identity to question stereotypes.

Barbara Kruger (1945- ) formerly chief graphic designer at Mademoiselle.
Untitled (‘Your gaze hits the side of my face’) (1981) and series of photo-montages combining images with unsettling captions. Social behavior such as men looking at women is exposed to scrutiny.

Sue Coe (1951- )
Mad Cow (2001) — Postmodernism can often feature a kind of amoral irony or sophistry, but Coe displays a social conscience with prints levelling some pointed and biting criticism at capitalism, the meat industry, factory farming, et al.

Works Consulted

Dempsey, Amy. Art in the Modern Era: A Guide to Styles, Schools & Movements. NY: Harry N. Abrams Inc., Pub., 2002. 251-254.