Art has a unique ability to shine a light on what is hidden or in our lives. Some contemporary artists use their work to show us what is typically overlooked, unnoticed, or unseen. These seven artists approach the hidden realities of the modern world in unique and exciting ways while making viewers reconsider what they usually take for granted. As these artists reveal, even the objects we see every day can hide all kinds of secrets.
1) Barbara Kruger
Kruger uses her work to shed light on society’s unspoken rules. Kruger uses her iconic imagery, to make bold statements about parts of the modern world that are both hidden and taken for granted. Often the images she creates reveal the real messages she perceives to lie behind advertising, or exposes the hypocrisy behind our society. In this piece, “Untitled (I Shop Therefore I am),” Kruger takes aim at consumer culture and makes the subliminal messages behind the advertising we are confronted with daily the focus of the piece. The straightforwardness of her message manifests what is hidden before our eyes.
2) Tim de Vries
Tim de Vries draws on his party lifestyle to comment on what happens behind the scenes. His work draws on subjects that are both understood but unremarked upon in polite society. De Vries puts it all out on the table, quite literally, in his sculpture “Hangover Table.” Here, he embeds the remnants of a wild night out, including dollar bills, condom wrappers, and drug paraphernalia in epoxy resin. By hiding these items inside the clear surface of the table, he creates an ironic statement. While the objects are all quite visible, they are also impossible to touch, highlighting the tension between what we know and what we often aren’t permitted to talk about. De Vries utilizes this technique to make an edgy, in your face statement.
3) Chuck Close
Chuck Close is a painter who suffers from a condition known as prosopagnosia, or “Face blindness.” This condition makes it impossible for him to recognize or remember faces. Close uses his predicament to create unique art. Up close, his paintings appear to be made up of a series of abstract shapes, mimicking the artist’s struggle in perceiving human faces, but from a distance, the image is revealed to the viewer, and they take shape as portraiture. In this portrait of Close’s friend, the artist Philip Glass, the viewer can see how the abstract shapes, colors, and lines come together to form an image that is only revealed at a distance.
4) Mark Bradford
Mark Bradford unearths American history and explores how the past we often forget about influences or can be a commentary on current events and the state of society today. In his installation at the Hirshhorn National Museum in Washington DC, titled “Pickett’s Charge,” Bradford excavates a pivotal moment in the American civil war. Bradford’s technique of building up and scraping away layers of paper and other materials gives the three paintings that make up his installation a fascinating visual effect. The three paintings combined measure nearly 400 feet in total, creating an immersive experience for the viewer.
5) Doris Salcedo
Doris Salcedo is a Columbian artist who creates striking images that expose the history and impact of equality and injustice both in her own country and around the world. Her 2007 piece titled “Shibboleth” consists of a huge crack running through the floor of the Tate Modern in London. This simple but striking image highlights the way the world is divided between the haves and the have-nots, the advantaged and disadvantaged. Although it impacts the lives of every single person around the globe, inequality is often an uncomfortable topic. Salcedo, however, boldly brings it to the forefront with this simple but striking gesture.
6) Rachel Whiteread
7) James Turrell
James Turrell constructs pieces that train the viewer’s eye on what we often ignore, forget, or take for granted, although they surround us at every moment: space and light. Both are all around us and make up a vast amount of what we perceive, but often go unremarked upon, even by artists. Turrell’s installations, however, use space and light as their basic building blocks. Turrell’s installation at the MoMA PS1 in New York City, titled “Meeting,” uses the simple ingredients of a room in the museum and the sky above to create a beautiful and unearthly effect. Visitors to the museum enter Turrell’s piece and experience a moment of silent contemplation.