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Contemporary Artists You Should know

Contemporary art is uncharted territory for most people, it can feel daunting and quite frankly elitist to be newly exposed to the world of art. It’s all about finding what speaks to you and what you’re willing to experience and explore because, in the end, artists are producing pieces that are to be left up to your interpretation. It’s okay to like what you think is “cool”, and you can often end up finding a brand you’ll love or an artist you really admire.

1. Takashi Murakami

Takashi Murakami sets the stage of the global art scene, honing in skills in traditional Japanese painting, sci-fi, nostalgic anime styles. This results in sculptures, paintings, and films beautifully entangled in pop-culture, contemporary arts, historical periods, and uniqueness. The range of Murakami’s artistic endeavors are truly unmatched, his characters becoming increasingly well known as they diffuse from Japan to Europe, other parts of Asia, and the United States. Ever since the early 1990s, he’s been expressing himself through his smiling flowers and odd-looking cartoons, portraying themes of technology, love, violence, and fantasies.

With Murakami leading the pack and a slew of other Japanese artists the exhibition “Superflat” was created. It showcased various techniques, skill sets and mediums different artists had, in doing so, Murkami curated a gallery that was hard to ignore. It showcased different sides of Japanese visual arts and culture, ranging from anime (Japanese cartoons) to ukiyo-e (The Edo period where woodblock prints were a common artistic medium; meanwhile he finesses contemporary and World War 2 consequences by putting the spotlight on the “flat-side” of Japan’s visual-culture scape. Here Murakami proves his artwork can extend the bounds of “just figurines/characters” and embody something new and fresh.

2. Ai Weiwei

A cultural figure of international renown, Ai Weiwei is an activist, architect, curator, filmmaker, and China’s most famous artist. Open in his criticism of the Chinese government, Ai was famously detained for months in 2011, then released to house arrest. “I don’t see myself as a dissident artist,” he says. “I see them as a dissident government!” Some of Ai’s best-known works are installations, often tending towards the conceptual and sparking dialogue between the contemporary world and traditional Chinese modes of thought and production. For Sunflower Seeds (2010) at the Tate Modern, he scattered 100 million porcelain “seeds” handpainted by 1,600 Chinese artisans: a commentary on mass consumption and the loss of individuality. His infamous Coca Cola Vase (1994) is a Han Dynasty urn emblazoned with the ubiquitous soft-drink logo. Ai also served as artistic consultant on the design of the “Bird’s Nest” stadium for Beijing’s 2008 Olympics, and has curated pavilions and museum exhibitions around the globe.

3. Brian Donnelly (Kaws)

“Honestly, I wish the headlines were about the work,” says the 44-year-old artist. “There’s money out there, and people can spend it how they wish. It doesn’t make the work better or worse.” -KAWS

If you haven’t heard of him, you have probably seen his work: with 2.4 million fans on Instagram, a huge following in Asia, a coveted line of vinyl toys, and collaborations with brands as varied as Dior, Nike, Sesame Street, and Uniqlo, Kaws has become one of the most popular living artists in the world. But that also makes him one of the most contentious.

4. Yayoi Kusuma