Side Image: 

Juan Sánchez (American, b. 1954), Un Sueño Libre, 1987. Lithograph, 22 x 29 inches. Museum Purchase Fund. Collection of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. © Juan Sanchez/Guariken Arts, Inc.

What Do I See? Exploring Contemporary Art

Contemporary art is defined by its variability, scope, and diversity of artistic perspectives. Like its modern forebears, contemporary works of art represent an artist’s personal responses to the world and can reveal a society's attitudes and values. It also reflects a continuing interest among artists with themes found throughout Western art that include nature, portraiture, social commentary, and the commonplace.

What Do I See? Exploring Contemporary Art presents four works of art that exemplify these themes.  Thomas Cornell’s haunting image of a snapping turtle calls attention to the gracefulness of this often-maligned creature. The notion of nature as an artistic tradition includes animals as subject, as an expression of nature's purity and also as mediators between humanity and the natural world.

The examination of individual identity has been a major theme in contemporary art that expands upon the traditional portrait to include imagined beings, symbolic figures, and specific people from all aspects of society. Frances Myers puts a feminist twist on the pop-culture icon and superhero, Wonder Woman, portrayed here in a classical setting charged with tension and drama.

Juan Sañchez frames a photograph of three young girls with images of the Puerto Rican flag and text in Spanish that speaks of liberation and social justice. Art that critiques or invites reflection on the conditions of a society seeks to examine political structures seen as harmful, but it also celebrates the achievements of human communities and can poeticize everyday life.

Contemporary art has expanded the tradition of still life to include commonplace objects in new settings, including those drawn from industrial and popular cultures. Robert Cottingham renders a precise image of a corner restaurant that highlights through geometric precision an everyday scene in a modern city.