Modern art emerged during the end of realism or the crisis of representation (Cezanne, Cubism, Dadaism, Surrealism). Realism is defined as the mirror theory of knowledge where the mind is a mirror of reality and objects that exist independently of the mind are represented (reproduced by a concept/work of art) adequately, accurately and true.
The invention of photography canceled/negated the authority of painting to “represent” reality. Technological innovations from the infrastructure of society subverted and radically transformed the superstructural tradition of visual art, when mass production replaced hand-crafted originality.
Modern art also contains abstract art, where the presentation of the unpresentable is attempted (Suprematism, De Stijil, Constructivism, Abstract expressionism, Minimalism). One way to present what is conceivable, but not representable. is through abstraction: if the concept was inadequate to represent reality, then the solution was privileging it and eliminate of all traces of reality from the (re)presentation of the unpresentable. Then the concept becomes the sublime reality.
De Stijl promoted the machine aesthetic, which was an idealistic belief in abstraction for real life, and championed machinelike undecorated flat surfaces (international style in architecture).
Constructivism was basically the desertion of easel painting for kinetic art and technical design in typography/architecture/industrial production.
In Abstract expressionism there was only one name: Jackson Pollock.
Dadaism was taken as a stance against the optimism of modern art. For Dada means nothing, a meaningful nothing when nothing has any meaning. Dada emerged in the nihilistic defiance of endless machinery and assembly line of technological warfare in World War I (Hans Arp, Max Ernst, Francis Picabia, Marcel Duchamp, and Kurt Schwitters’ Merzbau production). Even when the artist spits, it is art! Dadaism released automatism, which junks all traditional rules of art for the sake of chance as the direct creative access of the unconscious. Duchamp insisted that as “readymades,” the non-art object by itself can be displayed as art, if it was separated or isolated from its original context/use/meaning (the posted image of a porcelain urinal signed as R. Mutt). The mass (re)produced object discontinued the concept of originality, as well as the sacred uniqueness of a work of art.
Minimalism: Carl Andre’s 120 fire bricks, where he intended to “unexpress” himself by eliminating all elements of expressiveness that left only the aesthetic process itself at the very borderline of non-art.
Non-presentation signified the very destruction of the aesthetic process. Piero Manzoni captured the movement by canning his own shit and sold it as 100% pure artist’s shit. Conceptualism did away with the aesthetic process and refuted art itself since it was contaminated with elitism and crass marketing of the art world.
Jean-Francois Lyotard identified one alternative strand of postmodernism as “antimodernist” that called for the end to experimentation. But since antimodernist conservationism is but one strand of a tangled skien, then rational agreement on postmodernism is impossible.
Another strand is “eclectic” or “junk” pomo, a ground zero of contemporary general culture: Reggae music, Western films, Burger King for lunch, local cuisine for dinner, Paris perfume in Tokyo, retro clothes in Hong Kong…. Kitsch, confusion, anything goes, no aesthetic criteria except for the almighty dollar.
1. Reproductibility in age of mass consumerism: Walter Benjamin thought mass reproduction would lead to the destruction of aura/autonomy of original stuff, but actually, the more a piece of work became a cliché, the more the original increased in value. Everything was becoming souvenirs of the ancient manufacture of the past. Where the reproduced replaced reality as hyperreality, or image consumerism, the life that already has been lived and reproduced without reality, except the cannibalized image.
2. Postmodernism consists of working without rules for the purpose of finding out the rules of what you just finished working on. Instead of experimentation, the question of recognizing a work as art depends on whose power it is that legitimizes what was done as the right way of doing it.
2. Legitimation is the third issue of the postmodern: a difficult and unpopular avant-garde modern art became accepted as institutional standard of taste through the taste of art galleries, museums, dealers, and the art-purchasing public (merchants and collectors of art). As experimentation destroyed the aura and autonomy of art, the aura and autonomy became the sole properties of “exhibitive power” or the critical establishment (curators, art dealers and clients). Ergo even anti-art inevitably becomes reproduced as art by the institutional powers of legitimizaition. Contra the naive utopian beliefs of early avantgarde modernists, where they thought history would confirm and legitimate their works as representing modernity through formalism and subversion, postmodernist struggle with this legacy (formalist subversion) and come to grips with the depressing reality that representation, reproduction, and legitimation are far more complicated than previously thought.