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Making Sense of Modern Art: The Late 20th Century

Making Sense of Modern Art offers an extensive and engaging guide to modern and contemporary works in SFMOMA's permanent collection. This section of the program explores developments in the art of the late 20th century by focusing on six contemporary artists and their varying approaches toward artistic media, methods, subject matter, and content.

In the 1980s and 1990s, artistic expression opened up to new vocabularies and new creative voices, cultures, and issues. At the same time, older artists continued to produce remarkable work. This period saw both a return to traditional, collectible modes of art like painting and a reaction against the explosion of the art market and forces of commodification. Questions about the goals and values of modernism raised in the late 1960s and 1970s reasserted themselves with a vengeance. Issues of authenticity and originality were paramount, and artists addressed questions about who gets to make art and who gets to be seen and heard. The continued relevance of painting and other traditional modes of art, the irruption of media-based forms such as text and photography into high art, and the creative possibilities of the cyber-landscape made for a rich and diverse dialogue on contemporary art that continues to be addressed today.