The Learning Series: What is Modern Art?

Vasily Kandinsky’s “Composition 8” photo courtesy of Guggenheim

Modern Art is a period that developed over the course of roughly 100 years emerging in the late 19th century and lasted until the mid-20th century. This period of art history was characterized by significant social and political changes that challenged academic traditional notions of art and its purpose. At its core, modern art is a form of expression that reflects the spirit and values of the time in which it was created.

While there are many movements within modern art, the most distinct include Realism, Impressionism, Expressionism, Cubism, Dadaism, and Abstract Impressionism.

One defining characteristic of Modern Art is its rejection of traditional aesthetic values in favor of experimentation and innovation. Artists began to explore new techniques, materials, and forms, moving away from the representational art of the past and towards abstraction and conceptualism. They sought to express the inner world of emotion and thought rather than merely depict the external world.

Here are three examples which represent some of the most influential and innovative contributions to the Modern Art movement.

Marcel Duchamp’s “Fountain” (1917) is a highly controversial work of Modern Art that pushed the boundaries of what could be considered art. “Fountain” is a porcelain urinal that Duchamp submitted to an art exhibition under a pseudonym. The work challenged the conventional notion that art must be aesthetically pleasing and sparked a debate about the nature of art and its role in society.

Pablo Picasso’s “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” (1907) is considered one of the most important works of Modern Art. This painting is a seminal work of Cubism, an artistic style that Picasso co-created with Georges Braque. “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” broke from traditional representational art by depicting the female form in a highly abstracted, geometric style.


Jackson Pollock’s “Number 1A, 1948” (1948) is a groundbreaking work of Abstract Expressionism, a style of painting that emphasized the spontaneous, gestural application of paint to the canvas. “Number 1A, 1948” features Pollock’s signature “drip” technique, in which he dripped and splattered paint onto the canvas in a seemingly random yet purposeful way.

If you’re interested to see Modern Art masterpieces a few notable museums that have extensive collections of the time period are the MoMA in New York City and the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. MoMA’s collection features works by modern masters such as Vincent van Gogh, Henri Matisse, and Piet Mondrian, while the Centre Georges Pompidou showcases works by Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, and Marcel Duchamp.

While there are many movements within Modern Art, the most distinct include Realism, Impressionism, Expressionism, Cubism, Dadaism, and Abstract Impressionism.

Collecting modern art can be a valuable addition to an art portfolio for a number of reasons. Firstly, modern art provides a unique insight into the social, political, and cultural values of a particular era. By including modern art in a portfolio, the collector demonstrates an understanding and appreciation of the dynamic and ever-changing nature of the art world. Many modern art pieces have appreciated significantly in value over time, which can make them a sound investment for a collector looking to build a diverse and financial sound art portfolio.

Written by Lo Sampadian