What is Conteporary?

It is mid 2021, the world has been ravished by my first global pandemic, and by some strange accident most of postwar design is now referred to as “mid century design”. That definition we used to know which separated the modern, post-modern, po-po-mo; Art Nouveau, Art Deco, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and Memphis. Somehow most of that is now just bundled into one ignorant title, as though these were all the same.

I am sitting on the sofa in Edinburgh, after having fixed a couple of issues with the plumbing, stopping leaks between brass, copper and plastic from the 1950s, my interventions from 2001 and today. Lauren is listening to a live performance of “contemporary music”, to which she just said “I don’t like contemporary music”, despite it being her field. I responded that it is not really contemporary, since it has sounded the same for the past 40+ years.

Which is why I am typing.

The Tate states that: “[…] the date of origin for the term ‘contemporary art’ varies.

The Institute of Contemporary Art in London, founded in 1947, champions art from that year onwards. Whereas The New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York chooses the later date of 1977. In the 1980s, Tate planned a Museum of Contemporary Art in which contemporary art was defined as art of the past ten years on a rolling basis.”

This—-of course—-must not be confused with Modern Art, which according to Wikipedia is a period from the 1860s to the 1970s, go figure.

I believe the Tate’s approach makes more sense than other defining periods. I struggle with the fact that the design industry has apparently died in the past 20 years, so there may not actually be any contemporary design to contribute to the next decade. The rolling decade approach should be pretty robust, though it does require some self-awareness amongst those who consider themselves to be proponents of contemporary creative practices.

Tobias Feltus: