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
Yayoi Kusama is a Japanese artist who is sometimes called ‘the princess of polka dots'. Although she makes lots of different types of art – paintings, sculptures, performances, and installations – they have one thing in common, DOTS! She also creates environments of dots so that we can experience this feeling of self-obliteration too. She calls these rooms her 'Infinity Rooms', and creates them by installing hundreds of flashing colored LED lights into mirrored rooms. The pinpricks of light in the darkroom reflect endlessly in the mirrors, making you feel like you are in an apparently endless space. The dots surround and engulf you…it's very hard to tell where you end and where the rest of the room begins!
5. David Hockeny
Like other Pop artists, Hockney revived figurative painting in a style that referenced the visual language of advertising. What separates him from others in the Pop movement is his obsession with Cubism. In the spirit of the Cubists, Hockney combines several scenes to create a composite view, choosing tricky spaces, like split-level homes in California and the Grand Canyon, where depth perception is already a challenge. Hockney insists on personal subject matter - another thing that separates him from most other Pop artists. He depicts the domestic sphere - scenes from his own life and that of friends. This aligns him with Alice Neel, Alex Katz, and others who depicted their immediate surroundings in a manner that transcends a particular category or movement.
6. Cecily Brown
Presenting a world that pulses with excesses and appetites, Cecily Brown explores the breadth of human experience in tactile oil paintings. Broadly inspired by the history of painting—from Rubens and Veronese to the muscular expressionism of Willem de Kooning—Brown’s personal vision transcends classical notions of genre and narrative, freeing subject matter from its original context and positioning it within a new aesthetic reality.
7. Jenny Saville
In her depictions of the human form, Jenny Saville transcends the boundaries of both classical figuration and modern abstraction. Oil paint, applied in heavy layers, becomes as visceral as flesh itself, each painted mark maintaining a supple, mobile life of its own. As Saville pushes, smears, and scrapes the pigment over her large-scale canvases, the distinctions between living, breathing bodies and their painted representations begin to collapse.
Artists not particularly in the limelight and/or the ones who you find yourself will usually end up being your favorite. These are just some of my personal favorites who yet had the chance to be truly in the spotlight.
From Left to Right: Alexander Duke (Wizard Skull), Akut Aydogdu, Kasing Lung