The Best Art of the 21st Century

Since the turn of the 21st century, there has been a select league of great artists who have managed craft art pieces appreciated worldwide. Yes, we are talking about some marvelous artwork ranging from paintings, digital crafts, sculptures, and the likes.

That said, which ones stand a cut above the rest? Well, we asked our friends at 9 Mousai to give us some advice to compile a list where we look back at some of the best art of the 21st century thus far.

The Most Famous 21st Century Art

Artwork: The Upper Room

Artist: Chris Ofili

Year: 2002

This marvelous work of art is an installation that consists of thirteen large paintings assembled in a specially constructed and lit room. The paintings depict a rhesus macaque monkey, twelve of which share the same pose, each sitting in the jungle. The different palette on which “The Upper Room” is painted, makes it unique as it features dynamic patterns and varied surface texture. The installed paintings on canvas are a mixture of oil, acrylic, graphite, ink, and polyester resin.

The installation, which was first displayed at Victoria Miro Gallery in London in 2002, has its basis on the biblical allusion of The Last Supper of Jesus and His Disciples. This explains why the total number of paintings is thirteen. The artist describes it as a contrast to the harmonious life of monkeys with travails of the human race.

Artwork: The J. Street Project

Artist: Susan Hiller

Year: 2005

The work of art is a recollection of photographs, video, and Susan Hiller’s artist’s book of historically evocative places in Germany. The art project fundamentally explores the landscape’s capacity to memorialize and bring up history into the present days. The product of Hiller’s travels across all the 303 roads, streets and paths in Germany, The J. Street Project brings a new perspective and approach to the enormity of the Holocaust in a completely fresh way. It succeeds in pulling the audience who otherwise could find the subject and the dialogue hard to engage in.

Artwork: The Unfinished Conversation

Artist: John Akomfrah

Year: 2012

As part of his Black Audio Film Collective project, John Akomfra’s“The Unfinished Conversation” is a large-scale installation. It comprises of three synchronized video projections and traces the life and work of the Jamaican-born cultural theorist and activist Stuart Hall. The film interweaves archival imagery that documents historical events. Such historical events include the post-World War II migration of about half a million Caribbean people to Britain, popularly known as the Windrush generation. These memories also incorporate images from personal moments in Hall’s life.

The film’s narrative, which ends in the late 1960s, also includes recent interviews with Hall, which illustrates Hall’s description of identity as belonging to both the future and the past. It also incorporates Hall’s view of identity as a matter of becoming, or even an “ever unfinished conversation.”

Artwork: September

Artist: Gerhard Richter

Year: 2005

The oil on canvas painting is a depiction of the disturbing moment during the Twin Towers attack on 11 September 2001. It shows the moment when the second passenger jet flew into the building and consumed it in a fireball. The painting is the size of the small TV screens that people were glued to on that fateful day. Symbolically, the image looks blurry and significantly interrupted, almost swiped away by paint. Therefore, recognizing the impossibility of comprehending the magnitude of the eventuality.

Artwork: Shibboleth

Artist: Doris Salcedo

Year: 2007

The medium-size digital photograph depicts the Turbine Hall of Tate Modern, London. It reveals a long narrow crack running along its floor. It zigzags down the ramp like a canyon or the remains of an earthquake. According to the Colombian artist, the artwork represents the borders, the experiences of segregation, racial hatred, and the experience of the immigrants. Further, the artwork depicts the knowledge of a Third World person who migrates to the heart of Europe, and the experience of marginalization that they endure.

Artwork: CabretCrusades

Artist: Wael Shawky

Year: 2015

The provocative work of art by the Egyptian artist Wael Shawky explores the complexities of the national, religious, and then artistic identity. He does so by use of the three-part film and performance, in which he restages the medieval upheaval between the members of the Muslim and Christian communities. He employs a cast of exquisitely crafted marionettes and a score that was derived from the Shia lamentation criers and the traditional Bahraini pearl fishing songs.

The significant work of art blends the film, theatre, literature, and music, and also adds a deep sense of historical touch to it. It goes beyond a simple retelling of the historical narrative to incorporate an ancient script to the imaginative world of marionettes. The resultant creation is the piece of art that WaelShawky describes as a surreal and mythical atmosphere that blends drama and cynicism.

Artwork: This Variation

Artist: Tino Sehgal

Year: 2012

“This Variation” is one of TinoSehgal’s most extensive and intricate works of art. The piece of art was performed in the dark in 2015at the Stedelijk. As an artist, he believes that artwork is a live encounter between the artwork and the viewer. Sehgal’s performance was one of the viewer’s favorite works of art during the year-long retrospective in 2015.

The work takes place in a dark room where the interpreters perform the work and plunge themselves into an ever-changing and also astonishingly beautiful landscape. The performance is magical as it impacts the alertness of the audience and human senses. This is demonstrated through the varying form and shifting of focus while watching the performance. The audience feels transformed into real actors on stage as opposed to mere viewers. It is this transformative and transporting element of the artwork that has made it popular among many.

Final Word: Notable Mentions

These are just but a few outstanding pieces of the 21st century. There are undoubtedly other jaw-dropping masterpieces made in the 21st century like:

·      Immersive Installations by Yayoi Kusama

  • Repurposed bicycle chain sculptures by Korean artist Young-Deok Seo
  • Immersive large-scale light-based installation by British artist Bruce Munro
  • Anamorphic art by Swiss artist Felice Varini


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