30137 - History of Contemporary Art (LM)

Academic Year 2023/2024

Course contents

The Avantgarde and the art world

This course analyzes the spread of avant-garde movements in the 20th century. It focuses on how these movements were accepted and related to the system, and explores the ways in which their artwork and ideas were produced, circulated, and promoted.

Rather than examining the aesthetic values of avant-garde artists, the course takes a critical approach that investigates their success through exhibitions. Specifically, it looks at the exhibition formats, promotion strategies, and market innovations that emerged, as well as the emergence of a value system based on the 'exibitability' of the artwork.

Lessons focus on case studies that are presented chronologically, allowing students to concentrate on important moments in art history.

The course starts at the beginning of the twentieth century, when the 'dealer-critic system' emerged and the historical avantgardes gained popularity. After World War II, the concept of the avant-garde was rediscovered and connected to dissent, radicalism, and research. Artists and the market played a crucial role in interpreting the history of the avant-garde during this phase. The promotion of artists was largely driven by international gallerists who worked closely with institutions. Particular emphasis in examining this phase is given to the birth and planetary diffusion of institutions dedicated to emerging art, such as biennials and art fairs, and to the recent spread of the phenomenon of "private museums". Finally, the course will explore the most recent experiences that have replaced the avant-garde concept with the broader and more ambiguous notion of contemporaneity.

The course is designed to demonstrate the intricate conditions and scenarios that have shaped the art world from the 20th century until today. This ecosystem encompasses not only artists but also critics, gallery owners, patrons, curators, intellectuals, dealers, museum directors, and collectors. Students will learn fundamental concepts to comprehend the workings of the modern art market, including distinguishing between primary and secondary markets, comprehending auction procedures, and understanding the mechanisms behind ranking systems.

For each lesson, students are given scientific articles or book chapters to read. It is expected that students read the texts and actively participate in the subsequent discussion.


The proposed bibliography consists of scientific articles, essays and book chapters. The essays are made available to students via the 'teaching resources on virtuale' link.

Selected readings are taken from these and other volumes:

Alle origini dell
arte contemporanea, a cura di Giuseppe di Giacomo e Claudio Zambianchi, Editori Laterza 2008

Antonello Negri, L’arte in mostra. Una storia delle esposizioni, Bruno Mondadori 2011

Clarissa Ricci, Aperto 1980-1993, La mostra dei giovani artisti della Biennale di Venezia, Postmediabooks 2022


Non-attending students must contact the teacher in time and must integrate the readings with the following volumes:

David Joselit, After Art. Dopo l’Arte, Postmediabooks

Nathalie Heinich, Il paradigma dell’arte contemporanea. Strutture di una rivoluzione artistica, Johan & Levi

Olav Velthuis, Imaginary Economics. Quando l’arte sfida il capitalismo, Johan & Levi



Teaching methods

Lectures and seminar meetings.

Assessment methods

Oral Exam

Learning is assessed taking into account performance on an oral exam which is aimed at verifying the student’s knowledge of the material covered in the lessons and the readings assigned during the first part of the course. Therefore, questions will be asked both on the readings in the bibliography and on notes taken during the lessons.

Teaching tools

Interactive presentations, videos and PowerPoints

Office hours

See the website of Clarissa Ricci


Quality education Gender equality Industry, innovation and infrastructure Reduced inequalities

This teaching activity contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.