Monday, February 25, 2019

Contemporary Art: An Evolution of Appreciation

From confusion to awe to a developing appreciation, my relationship with contemporary art has evolved over time. My first memories of art were my own contemporary “masterpieces,” abstractions created from glitter glue and finger paint. From a young age, my parents accompanied me on countless museum trips, and I remember never quite understanding what was so exciting about a huge canvas covered in solid red paint, or other contemporary abstractions. But these museum trips created a lifetime appreciation for art that eventually led me to attend a pre-college program at the Cleveland Institute of Art.

The program was accompanied with free access to the Museum of Contemporary Art, or MOCA, which my friends and I happily took advantage of throughout the program. Concealed within the mirrored, geometric building was some of the most peculiar artwork I have ever experienced. I remember sitting in a dark room for at least half an hour, trying to make sense of Lu Yang’s animated work entitled Delusional Mandala. According to the MOCA website, the purpose of Lu Yang’s work was to “... investigate how neuroscience, medical and digital technology, and the Internet are changing society” (“Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland”). This was my first introduction to the use of art to explore technology’s effects on society, an area I am exploring today. But Lu Yang’s imagery was wild; after staring at a variety of dancing body parts and psychedelic buses, I left feeling at once fascinated and a bit violated. This animation got somewhere deep inside my head, recurring in my memory throughout the next few weeks. Though I went into the exhibit somewhat skeptical, it had an incredible impact on me.

Fast forward about a year and a half to this past winter break, when my family went to visit the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. I was weary of being pushed through crowds of tourists, but I entered the Whitney with an open mind, eager to see and learn something new. We first went straight to the special Andy Warhol exhibit. Of course, I was familiar with Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup series, but I did not understand the story of his life beyond the pop art designs most Americans recognize. From this exhibit, I gained insights into Warhol’s ever-morphing identity and opinions, from his sexuality to his political views. I left with a heightened understanding not only of the art, but also the artist behind the work.

More exciting to me than Warhol’s exhibit was the exhibit Programmed: Rules, Codes, and Choreographies in Art, 1965–2018. From the Whitney website, “...Programmed traces how rules and instructions in art have both responded to and been shaped by technologies, resulting in profound changes to our image culture” (“Programmed”). Like Lu Yang’s work I had seen in Cleveland, this was an entire exhibit dedicated to the intersection between art and technology. This was the kind of contemporary art I could relate to. After years of confusion about seemingly forced deep meanings in contemporary art, I could see the meaning in this exhibit. I was particularly drawn to W. Bradford Paley’s Codeprofiles, which visualizes “ code is read by people, written by programmers, and executed by computers” (“Programmed”). Lines moved across the screen, representing how code is written, read, and implemented. I was entranced. This exhibit spoke to my interests outside of art, expressing the art behind programming and algorithms.

As my family left the museum, we shared our favorite exhibits, finding that we each had different preferences; different works piqued our interest. Now I see that, perhaps, there is contemporary art for everyone. I believe that if you look around, you will find something that speaks to you. You just have to be willing to look long enough to find it.


“Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland.” Home | MOCA Cleveland, 2 June 2017,

“Programmed: Rules, Codes, and Choreographies in Art, 1965–2018.” Hopper Drawing | Whitney Museum of American Art,

Link to Lu Yang's Delusional Mandala:

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