Selecting Contemporary Art

Choosing contemporary art for your office or home can seem daunting to art buyers. Those acquainted with biennials, fairs and museum shows might fear the scale, proportions or practically of modern installations - let alone the atmospheric impact of collected works within a space.


But here at Otomys, our consultants have put together this short guide for newcomers to the art scene to debunk some of these myths and get you started on your journey to buy an archival print, painting or sculpture to bring art to your walls at home.



What is contemporary art?

Contemporary art is a broad term with a wide connotation of meanings - and historians don’t even seem to agree about what this chronological movement means in terms of historiography. But in basic terms, contemporary art means pieces produced since the late ‘90s (largely within the same time period as our present-day audience) with themes and a visual vocabulary that is shared by the present.


Breaking down the contemporary


Thematically, contemporary art movements can be grouped into a few key categories. Some of these areas are focused on medium specificity (what type of instruments or genre work falls into), while others are more content-based preoccupations.


  • New media art: Developed following the Fluxus movement in the 70s, new media art is a term used to describe any pieces or artists who focus on ‘new’ methods of production — namely, works from the digital, Internet age.
  • Post-colonialism: Through the 1990s and 2000s, there was a large social and academic movement to diversify the Western canon and bring BIPOC to the fore of artistic production. From this period, street and graffiti art rose immensely in popularity (and subsequently, price), as did large-scale installations like those shown at fairs worldwide.
  • Abstraction: The most popular movement among young buyers and collectors of contemporary art prints. From the early 20th century onwards, painting (in particular) has moved to focus on hyper-detailed photorealism or complete gestural abstraction, as two opposites on the representative spectrum. Abstract is renowned for its psychological impact and apparent formlessness, but almost always invites audience speculation and participation for fulfilment.



What to look for in contemporary art

Whether you’re buying or simply looking at contemporary art, the conceptual charge of these artworks can be challenging for some viewers. As with anything new, there’s not sufficient history or interpretation to tell you ‘how’ to read a piece and thus what to feel about it. Instead, the viewer is invited to speculate and find their own value in the works before them.


We’ve put together a short list of concepts you can ask yourself when buying or viewing art.


  • Artistic intention: While it’s challenging for historians to establish artistic intention, one of the great things about collecting contemporary work is that the artists are still around to describe, explain and contribute to their magnum opus. Resonance with the intentionality of the artist whose work you’re looking at is a way to construct empathy and connection with the other side of the product.
  • Formal aspects: Formal qualities are the most visually evident (generally speaking), but they should not be discounted. Elements including shape and form, line, colour and palette are especially important when considering a purchase because you’ll have got make sure the works suit in situ.
  • Value: Value is a loaded term in the world, not simply because the market and the museum are continuously separated, but also because many would argue that the value of a piece is individualistic. While this is true, when you’re building a collection, it is important to consider the future of both individual pieces and their place in your curation.
December 1, 2021