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Postmodernism describes not only a period but also a set of ideas, and can only be understood in relation to another equally complex term: modernism. Postmodernism is best understood as a questioning of the ideas and values associated with a form of modernism that believes in progress and innovation.
Modernism was a diverse art and cultural movement in the late 19th and early 20th centuries whose common thread was a break with tradition, epitomised by poet Ezra Pound’s 1934 injunction to “make it new! Modernism insists on a clear divide between art and popular culture.
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Daniel Palmer does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
If the language of postmodernism waned in the 1990s in favour of postcolonialism, the events of 9/11 in 2001 marked its exhaustion.
While the lessons of postmodernism continue to haunt, the term has become unfashionable, replaced by a combination of others such as globalisation, relational aesthetics and contemporaneity.After all, Andy Warhol was the direct progenitor of the kitsch consumerist art of Jeff Koons in the 1980s.Postmodernism can also be a project, revealing the cultural constructions we designate as truth and opening up a variety of repressed other histories of modernity.Theorists associated with postmodernism often used the term to mark a new cultural epoch in the West.For philosopher Jean-François Lyotard, the postmodern condition was defined as “incredulity towards metanarratives”; that is, a loss of faith in science and other emancipatory projects within modernity, such as Marxism.The discourse of postmodernism is associated with Australian artists such as Imants Tillers, Anne Zahalka and Tracey Moffatt.Australia has been theorised by Paul Taylor and Paul Foss, editors of the influential journal Art & Text, as already postmodern, by virtue of its culture of “second-degree” – its uniquely unoriginal, antipodal appropriations of European culture.But like modernism, postmodernism does not designate any one style of art or culture.On the contrary, it is often associated with pluralism and an abandonment of conventional ideas of originality and authorship in favour of a pastiche of “dead” styles.It represented an end to the avant-garde’s faith in originality and the progress of art.But the origins of these strategies lay with Dada artist Marcel Duchamp, and the Pop artists of the 1960s in whose work culture had become a raw material.