Dates: 1978-Present

Origin: Europe, United States

Key Artists: Richard Prince, Barbara Kruger

By the end of the 1970s, Modernism’s utopian principles of innovation, artistic authenticity, and individual expression had become increasingly suspect in a critical culture attuned to late capitalism’s production of desire. Postmodernist theory—articulated in fields as diverse as architecture, comparative literature, semiotics, and political science—questioned and dismantled the grand narrative of Western culture and had a profound impact on the visual arts. A number of different yet related aesthetic strategies (known variously as “Appropriation art” and “Neo-Geo”) emerged at this time to signal the apparent demise of Modernism and to critique its legacy. Some artists flagrantly appropriated the works of others and called these their own in order to demonstrate the myth of originality and the death of the authorial voice. Others exploited the commodification of their work to underscore the inescapable effects of commerce on the art world. In a Duchampian mode, these artists incorporated ready-made objects drawn directly from the commercial realm into their sculptures and installations. Still others produced abstract, geometric canvases (as emblems of Modernism) to demonstrate that painting, like any representational system, is a code or text that could be endlessly replicated. Additionally there is a fundamental compatibility between Postmodernism’s critique of cultural authority and the feminist critique of sexual difference. Hence a number of women artists associated with Neo-Conceptualism used its strategies of appropriation, pastiche, and simulation to challenge the auratic quality of the autonomous art object and the (male) cult of the artist.

“Neo-Conceptualism.” 12 March 2010. <>

Richard Prince

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