Home Magazine The art of the Century in 26 powerful movements

The History of Art, from antiquity to the present day, is crossed by movements, schools, theories and trends that alternate, eclipse and then re-emerge or evolve. We will focus on the currents of the last century, a golden age that has seen the total revolution of artistic languages with the first historical avant-garde and the second post-war neo-avant-garde movements.

But the starting point of this exciting and continuous journey, through emblematic worlds and images, will be Impressionism, which in turn, at the end of the 19th century, gave a radical transformation to Modern Art. We will see how each of these 26 movements, organized in chronological order, actually contains an element of continuity, rupture or re-elaboration of the past, albeit maintaining a radical autonomy of vision and exploration.


The name of this 19th Century art movement derives from the title Impression, Sunrise (1872), a work by french painter Claude Monet. At first glance, Impressionist paintings looks like sketches. Characterized by thin, yet vibrant brush strokes, candid composition, emphasis on accurate depiction of light in the passage of time, realistic scenes and unusual visual angles, all painted outdoors or en plein air, the impressionist paintings certainly questioned the academism of the official Salons.

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Claude Monet, Impression, soleil levant (Impression, Sunrise), 1872, oil on canvas, 48 cm × 63 cm (18.9 in × 24.8 in), © Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris



To be conceived more as a European cultural climate that involves all areas of research, Expressionism developed around 1905 in Germany with the group “Die Brücke" (The Bridge) and in France with “Fauves” (Beasts). Starting from criticism to Impressionist painting, Expressionism developed, on one side, a violence of forms, sign and color to the limit of deformation, and, on the other, a more vitalistic impetus. Discover artists on Kooness linked to Henry Matisse...


Henry Matisse, Le bonheur de vivre (The Joy of Life), 1905, oil on canvas, 176.5 cm × 240.7 cm (69.5 in × 94.75 in), © Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania



In Paris, in 1908, Pablo Picasso (b. 1881, Spain) and Georges Braque, with their research around the Pointillist painting of Cézanne and from the study of black sculpture, gave birth to Cubism, a questioning of the Renaissance perspective. Based on analysis and geometric synthesis, Cubism “treats nature by means of the cone, sphere and cylinder” represented on one level. 

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Discover the best available selection of prints by the artist Pablo Picasso


Pablo Picasso, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, Paris, June-July 1907, oil on canvas, 8' x 7' 8" (243.9 x 233.7 cm), Acquired through the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest (by exchange)
© 2020 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York



Futurism is the first avant-garde movement of the 20th Century, born in Milan in 1909 by a group of artists and literati, totally at odds with past and traditional values, considered static and moldy. Conceptual and formal dynamism becomes synonymous with modernity. “The magnificence of the world has been enriched by the beauty of speed of a roaring car”, the Futurists declare in their first manifesto.

Read our article Fortunato Depero, A Futurist Like No Other



Umberto Boccioni, La città che sale (The rising city), 1910-1911, oil on canvas, 199,3 × 301 cm, © Museum of Modern Art, New York.


Abstract Art

Starting in 1910, in the Northern European regions, Abstractionism is configured as a new language in the Arts, free from figurative representation, using instead pure formal elements: sign, color and surface. Artists like Paul Klee and Piet Mondrian evolve the principles of abstraction theorized by Wassily Kandinsky in his paintings and remarkable book “Concerning the spiritual in art”.

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Wassily Kandinsky, Untitled (First Abstract Watercolor), 1913, ink and watercolor drawing,  Donation Madame Nina Kandinsky, 1976
© Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France


Russian Avant-garde

The Russian avant-garde is an influential wave of modern art that flourished approximately from 1910 to 1920, resulting in three important movements: Rayism, Suprematism and Constructivism. Invoked as the “zero point of painting”, the iconic Black Square by the Suprematist artist Kazimir Malevich is a total reset of reality, in favor of pure sensitivity in painting. 

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Read more about Natalia Goncharova 


Natalia Goncharova, Cats (rayist percep.[tion] in rose, black, and yellow), 1913, oil on canvas, 33 1/2 x 33 3/4 inches (85.1 x 85.7 cm)
© Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York / 2018 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris


Metaphysical Art

The term “Metafisica” has been used by Italian artist and writer Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978), since 1910, to indicate an art that transcends physical reality, precisely metaphysical. To the dynamism of Futurism, the painter contrasts stillness, to the din of the engines silence or contemplation, without any immediate reference to defined places, contemporaneity and history’s events.

Discover more about Giorgio De Chirico 


Giorgio de Chirico, Ettore e Andromaca, 1969, oil on canvas, 90 x 60 cm, © Fondazione Giorgio e Isa de Chirico, Rome



Dada or Dadaism - a term of controversial origin - is an art movement born in Zurich in 1916, at Cabaret Voltaire during the First World War, then spread to New York and Berlin. Dada is everything and the opposite of everything, it is game, randomness and total freedom, with the desire to contrast all the artistic and social values of the time. Art as pure positive non-sense for an artist like Marcel Duchamp and his ready-mades.


Marcel Duchamp, The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass), 1915-1923, Oil, lead, dust and varnish on glass, 2775 × 1759 mm
© Estate of Richard Hamilton and Succession Marcel Duchamp/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2020



Founded by French writer and poet André Breton in 1924, Surrealism aims to transpose the psychoanalytic theories of Freud, the unconscious (the true dimension of existence) man's desires and his most secret drives, on canvas or sculpture. The Surrealists, Max Ernst and Salvador Dalì, say, claim that the work does not come from memory, but is itself a dream, which gives life to a set of freely associated signs and words.

Discover Surrealist René Magritte and the artworks of Salvador Dalí


Max Ernst, Attirement of the Bride (La Toilette de la mariée), 1940, oil on canvas, 51 x 37 7/8 inches (129.6 x 96.3 cm), The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, 1976,
© 2018 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris


Mexican Muralism

Mexico, since 1910, has experienced a real political and cultural revolution with intellectuals and artists intent on revitalizing the pre-Columbian past, swept away by European colonization. This is how imposing murals and popular prints are born, whose figuration draws from the history of Mexican civilization. impetuous, often tragic, narrations made with decisive strokes and a disruptive chromatism by artists such as Josè Clemente Orozco and Diego Rivera (Frida Kahlo’s Husband)

Read more about Mexico’s Contemporary Art: Mexico's Most Important Contemporary Artists-Viva la Vida. Frida Kahlo


Diego Rivera, Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Central), a mural for the restaurant of Del Prado Hotel in Mexico City, 1946–1947, photograph by bridgemanimages, © Sotheby’s

Abstract Expressionism

Abstract Expressionism is a term that was used, for the first time, by the critic Robert Coates in 1946 to indicate a cultural and existential condition, rather than a homogeneous movement, of New York-based artists such as Jackson Pollock, Willem De Kooning, Mark Rothko and many others. Common to all, is the new way of understanding the canvas which becomes a space of action in which to shake colors and gestures.

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Jackson Pollock, Blue Poles (Number 11), 1952, paintings, oil, enamel, aluminium paint, glass on canvas, 212.1 h x 488.9 w cm
© Pollock-Krasner Foundation. ARS/Copyright Agency


Art Brut

Art Brut is a concept linked to the idea of spontaneous art, operated outside any type of cultural and economic institution attributable to the artistic world. It is the French painter and sculptor Jean Dubuffet in 1945 to specify this formula: a sort of rebellious, “low art” made by mentally ill, old and hermits, with the most disparate materials, fierce signs and primary colors.

Read more about Jean Dubuffet 


Jean Dubuffet, L’extravagante, 1954, oil on canvas, 92 x 73 cm, © Private Collection, Paris



Informalism or Art Informel crossed Europe in the 1950s, involving the sphere of human existence. “Down with the formal, figurative and geometric patterns”: this new way of understanding art seems to be saying. A totally material painting that borrows from the real jute bags, pieces of wood, paper or burnt plastic, creating layers and overlaps as a metaphor for human ordeal.

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Find out more on “Informel" Italian artist Giò Pomodoro 

Alberto Burri, Rosso Plastica, 1962, plastic, acrylic and vinyl combustion on celotex, 32 x 23¾ in. (81.3 x 60.3 cm.) © Private collection, Los Angeles



With Happening - the forerunners of Performance - art opens up to reality, to life. Drawing on the Dada experiences of the Cabaret Voltaire, Happening's first action made its appearance on the American scene in 1954. 18 Happenings in 6 parts by the artist Allan Kaprow recalls, for certain aspects, the theatrical event, albeit developing according to variable patterns, simple elementary actions and an abundant dose of improvisation.



Allan Kaprow, 18 Happenings in 6 Parts, Reuben Gallery, New York, October 1959, photo by Fred W. McDarrah, Gelatin silver print, 18.8 × 18.8 cm, © 2020 Estate of Fred W. McDarrah



“Fluxus is not a movement, it is an idea, a way of life, an unsettled group of people who perform fluxusworks”: affirms the international art Fluxus in 1961. The founders George Maciunas - according to whom art must also deal with insignificant things and be fun, accessible to all - and Dick Higgins try to merge the most radical avant-garde models of the 20th century. The result is a “total art” in which multiple languages merge together.

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Joseph Beuys, Lightning with Stag in its Glare (Blitzschlag mit Lichtschein auf Hirsch), 1958-85, Lightning (Blitzschalg) Bronze, iron Stag (Hirsch) Aluminium Boothia Felix Bronze, iron Goat (Ziege) Bronze Primordial Animals (Urtiere) 35 Bronze casts, 39 parts Overall dimensions variable, Guggenheim Bilbao Museoa, © 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn



The Neo-Dadaists Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, in the early 1950s, in New York, experience an art-making very similar to some Dada experiences. Painting and sculpture combine with abandoned materials and objects belonging to reality and everyday life, as in the case of the Combine Paintings by Rauschenberg. But unlike their illustrious predecessors, the Neo-Dadaists assemble the waste with a certain logic and rhythm, as well as an innate compositional knowledge.

Robert Rauschenberg was one of the most famous New Dada artists read more
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Robert Rauschenberg, Monogram, 1955-59, Combine: oil, paper, fabric, printed paper, printed reproductions, metal, wood, rubber shoe heel, and tennis ball on canvas with oil and rubber tire on Angora goat on wood platform mounted on four casters, 42 x 63 1/4 x 64 1/2 inches (106.7 x 160.7 x 163.8 cm), Moderna Museet, Stockholm. Purchase 1965 with contribution from Moderna Museets Vänner/The Friends of Moderna Museet, © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation


Nouveau réalisme

The Nouveau réalisme manifesto, published in October 1960, continues the discourse of the convergence between art and reality. A group of artists, including Yves Klein, Arman, César, Christo and Mimmo Rotella, point out that all the techniques, images and objects dismissed by the world can be used to produce art. Advertising posters, meal remains, scrap iron are given new life to become an aesthetic event.

Read more about New realists Daniel Spoerri and César.


Christo, Package on a Table, 1961, Fabric, lacquer, rope and round wooden table, 42 1/4 x 16 1/2 x 16 1/2" (107.2 x 42 x 42 cm),
Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France, Photo: Eeva-Inkeri, © 1961 Christo


Op Art

The term "op art" (optical art) refers to that movement made up of European, American and South American artists who, in the mid-1950s, tried to found a new artistic language using geometric shapes and primary colors, scientific notions and tools. Victor Vasarely's visual-kinetic research, for example, suggests the movement of the picture plane by means of optical illusions that challenge our usual vision.

Have you ever wondered what Op Art is
Victor Vasarely’s artworks are available on Kooness 


Victor Vasarely, Dieuzeu, 1981, acrylic on cardboard laid on wood, in artist's frame, 68 by 58 cm. 26¾ by 22⅞ in, Private Collection, © Fondation Vasarely, Aix-en-Provence


Kinetic Art

Many of the works of Kinetic and Programmed Art, attentive to modern technologies and perceptual phenomena of optical derivation, presuppose a close relationship with the viewer, who is invited to activate mechanisms, press buttons and push levers. An active participation, once again open to reality, a mechanism-work available for infinite uses, both real and imaginary.

More about Kinetic artists on Kooness: Willem Van Weeghel- Marina Apollonio



Francois Morellet, Sphère-trames, 1962, stainless steel, 17 7/8 x 17 7/8 x 17 7/8 in. (45.2 x 45.2 x 45.2 cm.), Private collection, Illinois


Pop Art 

One of the most popular artistic movements of the 20th Century, Pop Art (popular art, indeed) begins to emerge in England and then developed in the United States by famous artists such as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. It is a critique of contemporary society and culture in relation to technology and mass communication, without however demonizing the goods - such as the images of Coca Cola or the cans of Tomato soup - but using them to create the work in a never-ending reproduction.

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Andy Warhol, Campbell’s Soup Cans, 1962, Acrylic with metallic enamel paint on canvas, 32 panels, Each canvas 20 x 16" (50.8 x 40.6 cm).
Overall installation with 3" between each panel is 97" high x 163" wide, © 2020 Andy Warhol Foundation / ARS, NY / TM Licensed by Campbell's Soup Co. All rights reserved


Minimal Art

The group of Minimal Art - a term coined by the critic Richard Wollheim in 1965 - develops, in the United States, almost simultaneously with Pop Art and works towards a reduction of the work of art in terms of image and color. Elementary geometric elements and industrial materials, towards a total synthesis of form, volume and chromatic rigor, unite the research of Donald Judd, Robert Morris and Dan Flavin.
Minimal artworks for sale on Kooness


Donald Judd. Untitled. 1968, Brass, 22 × 48 1/4 × 36", 240 lb. (55.9 × 122.6 × 91.4 cm, 108.9 kg). Gift of Philip Johnson. © 2020 Judd Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


Land Art

In the second half of the 60s, the works of the Land artists are charged with emotional value, use natural materials and relate to pristine places scattered throughout the American territory, while remaining minimalist works on a formal level. The intent of the Land artists is not simply to carry out deep excavations in the Nevada desert as Michael Heizer did in 1967, but to get in touch with nature more intensely. Discover more about Land Art.


Robert Smithson, Spiral Jetty, 1970, Great Salt Lake, Utah, Mud, precipitated salt crystals, rocks, water, Coil: 1,500 ft. (457.2 meters) long and 15 ft. wide (4.57 meters)
Collection of Dia Art Foundation, Photograph: Gianfranco Gorgoni, © Holt/Smithson Foundation and Dia Art Foundation/licensed by VAGA at ARS, New York


Conceptual Art

"Art is the definition of art", claims the pioneer of Conceptual Art Joseph Kosuth, meaning that art refers only to its language and that the idea of art, even if not concretely realized, is itself a work art. In One and Three Chairs (1965), Kosuth questions the linguistic definition of "chair", presenting a real chair, a photograph of it and a definition of the word “chair". It is an investigation into the immateriality of ideas in relation to the materiality of the world.

What do we mean by Conceptual Art
Conceptual artworks for sale on Kooness 


Joseph Kosuth, One and Three Chairs, 1965, Wood folding chair, mounted photograph of a chair, and mounted, photographic enlargement of the dictionary definition of “chair”, Chair 32 3/8 x 14 7/8 x 20 7/8" (82 x 37.8 x 53 cm), photographic panel 36 x 24 1/8" (91.5 x 61.1 cm), text panel 24 x 30" (61 x 76.2 cm), Larry Aldrich Foundation Fund, © 2020 Joseph Kosuth / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, Courtesy of the artist and Sean Kelly Gallery, New York


Body Art

Between the 60s and 70s, on an international level, the body was used as an "expressive material", no longer interpreted, but used as a material and as a subject. The performances of the Body artists are often violent and spectacular as in the case of the Viennese shareholders, linked to an inner but still visceral sphere those of Marina Abramovich, or plastically aesthetic the operations of the English Gilbert & George, who claim to be "living sculptures “.

Bruce Nauman’s research on Konness 
Related article 5 Reason for seeing Marina Abramović



Gilbert & George, The Singing Sculpture, Sonnabend Gallery, New York, 1991 © 2017 Gilbert & George.



A late 20th-century style and concept in the arts, architecture, and criticism, which proclaims the exhaustion of modern times. The traditional canons of modernity are contrasted by stylistic and linguistic multiplicity, complexity, contradictions, provisionality and nomadism. In art, there is a return to showy colors, decorative elements, emotional states and the artists take possession of canvas and brushes again towards a disenchanted image, taking their forms from pop, everyday culture like the artist Jeff Koons. 

Read more about Post-modernist Jeff Koons


Jeff Koons, Rabbit, 1985, stainless steel, 41 x 19 x 12 in. (104.1 x 48.3 x 30.5 cm.), © Ileana Sonnabend Gallery, New York


Graffiti Art

The phenomenon of Graffitism exploded in New York in the 80s. The artists practice a painting made of swarming and frenetic signs, symbols and signatures, first in unconventional spaces (walls of suburban neighborhoods, subway cars), then in galleries and museums. The most significant exponents of this movement are Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, defined as “frontier artists” in-between culture and nature, mass and elite.

Related articles: The last case of Keith Haring's mural-Well Beyond Lines. Keith Haring meets Jean Michel Basquiat-Urban Art or Street Art?-Is Blek le Rat still influencing Banksy?



Keith Haring, Ignorance = Fear, 1989 © Keith Haring Foundation Collection, Noirmontartproduction, Paris


Cover image: Henry Matisse, Le bonheur de vivre (The Joy of Life), 1905, oil on canvas, 176.5 cm × 240.7 cm (69.5 in × 94.75 in), © Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Written by Petra Chiodi

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