Dates: 1960-Present

Origin: International

Key Artists: N/A

The epithet first came to prominence to describe a new eclectic mood in the 1970s work of architects like Robert Venturi, and was then used in the titles of wide-ranging cultural diagnoses by Jean-François Lyotard (1979) and Fredric Jameson (1984). Another cultural theorist, Jean Baudrillard, has also helped shape understandings of postmodernism: but consensus on the subject has always been weak, with ever-broader usage leading to ever-looser connotations.

As a term contrasted to modernism, its meaning gathers strength from definitions of its opposite. Thus in art criticism, modernist work between 1960 and 1970 might be characterized as keeping its distance from familiar representations of the world and seeking out essences of visual experience; while the ‘postmodernist’ art that followed is seen as embracing all manner of given representations and styles, while querying all notions of essence. Such art supposedly responds to the collapse of modernist notions of progress, and to a global condition in which subjects are bound to experience the world as consumers surfeited with a plurality of processed images and packaged information, among which no narrative can establish privilege. The debated possibility that postmodern art might, like its predecessor, maintain a critical stance towards society depends on its deployment of ‘irony’ and, in Lyotard’s writings, of ‘the sublime’. The postmodern attitude in art, by definition pervasive in the 1980s and 1990s, may arguably be traced back to 1960s Pop art and behind that to the work of Robert Rauschenberg.

Bell, Julian. “postmodernism.” The Oxford Companion to Western Art. Ed. Hugh Brigstocke. Oxford Art Online. 12 Mar. 2010 <>

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