Lyotard, John Francois · What is Postmodernism?

According to Lyotard, all art is at first postmodern because it is reactionary to the movement previous. Postmodern art is not just what is beautiful or up to taste, but that which causes the viewer both pleasure and pain upon viewing. What postmodern art aims to do is to capture the unpresentable – that which is a concept with no object. Some of the most interesting and thought-provoking art is art that tries to make visible the invisible – the sublime, as Lyotard would say.

Bruce Nauman, one of my absolute favorite artists, is a more approachable introduction to postmodern art because he incorporates humor through a play on words. From Hand to Mouth (1967) references the literal hand to mouth sculpture and the experience of living hand to mouth on a low income. Literally nothing else is there except the journey from one end to another. Nauman exists on the borders of modernism, minimalism, and conceptual postmodernism and that is what makes his work so interesting and engaging.

Walking in an Exaggerated Manner around the Perimeter of a Square (1967-68) is one of my favorite artist performances and changed my view of art and art-making. Referencing the contrapposto pose in art history, the film questions what is considered art and broke new ground with performance and non-narrative film-making.

Ken Lum’s I Can’t Believe I’m in Paris (1995-2011) has made the invisible feeling of achieving a life-long goal visible with the repetition of awe-struck words that melt the heart of the viewer. It’s so relatable that I can imagine myself as this woman, experiencing the joy of finally making it to Paris.

Anish Kapoor. Cloud Gate covered in Vantablack, 2006

Anytime I see a work by Anish Kapoor, I think of Lyotard’s understanding of postmodern art. His use of the disturbing, light absorbing Vantablack paint makes the viewer visualize a feeling of oblivion and nothingness. To me, it is horrifying to see this lack of color and I have only seen it through a digital screen. I could not imagine what it looks and feels like up close.

David LaChapelle. Amanda Lepore, 2002.

David Lachapelle’s photographs are disturbing and funny and over-the-top. They are not about what is beautiful or tasteful, but that which causes us to be uncomfortable existing in that in-between state – Lyotard’s pleasure and pain.

Making it through Matthew Barney’s Cremaster Cycle (1994-2002) videos is a feat. His work is disturbing, confusing, beautiful, pretentious, and you just can’t look away. His work is postmodern to the T.

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