Expert Advice: What (and Who) Makes a Modern and Contemporary Master?

Artsy Collecting
Jul 9, 2013 8:45PM

On Artsy, we generally define “Old Masters” as the most recognized European artists—mostly painters—working between the Renaissance and 1800. But what makes a Modern Master?

“The reign of the Modern Master begins roughly at the turn of the last century,” Kim Heirston, an art advisor specializing in Post-War and Contemporary art, says. “I would nominate Picasso, Braque, Matisse, and Léger as the standouts from the era,” adding Kandinsky, Malevich, and Duchamp to her list. “It gets trickier when it comes to contemporary [art],” she cautions. “By definition, a contemporary master would be an artist who is still with us, such as Ellsworth Kelly and Jasper Johns.” These artists are masters because they, like their modern counterparts, have redefined the language of art history. “But what about Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol, who have passed away, but whose work feels so very much alive?”, she asks, but it seems she is able to answer her own question: “To my mind, a Modern Master is an artist who has redefined the language of art history.” Clearly, all of the above included.

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