The term “contemporary art” lacks boundaries. If modern art has come to denote a period from the late nineteenth century through roughly the 1960s, what follows is a long contemporary. The features in our November/December issue break up that undifferentiated present by treating the first decade of the twenty-first century as a discrete period, one that is neither the present anymore, nor fully past.
In stories that continue on A.i.A.’s website, we examine how the era’s broad cultural landscape—marked by wars, economic calamities, but also strides toward global interconnection— establishes a foundation for the present. This examination of the early 2000s also has a personal dimension. Technically a Millennial, I wanted to better understand a formative period. As someone who owned a first-generation iPod, established an early Facebook account, and occasionally ate brunch at a restaurant (as is stereotypical of my cohort), I find the aughts to be steeped in nostalgia. It was time spent discovering the different facets of the New York art world: the painfully self-aware counterculture of Williamsburg, the political discussions at 16 Beaver, drinks at the Passerby bar in Chelsea. Andrew Russeth helps jolt me out of reverie with his critical look at the city’s amped-up and occasionally carnivalesque art scene. But even within the excess and borderline nihilism, Russeth finds an important undercurrent: artists pulling away from elite taste and seeking alignment with the culture at large.