Post-Modernism emerged in the mid-1970s in art. It was initially called “Pluralism,” because there was no single, dominant avant-garde movement, such as Conceptual Art, that was universally recognized as creating the most significant art at the time. Instead, a series of alternatives coexisted, often changing each gallery season: Pattern and Decoration, Neo-Expressionism, Graffiti, Neo-Geo, and Neo-Conceptualism are all some of the fleeting “movements” that appeared in this period—generally lasting only a year or two at most.
What sets this period apart from Modernism was its relationship to popular culture. The aims of Post-Modernism begin with a reaction against Modern Architecture whose preoccupation with functionalism and economical building meant that ornaments were done away with and the buildings were cloaked in a stark rational appearance. Post-Modernists felt the buildings failed to meet the human need for comfort both for body and for the eye. Modernism did not account for the desire for beauty. Post-Modernism sought to cure this by reintroducing ornament and decoration for its own sake. Form was no longer to be defined solely by its functional requirements; it could be anything. The architect Robert Venturi introduced the idea of “Post-Modernism” with his book, Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, published in 1966.
Post-modern artists attempt to communicate their ideas to their audience in a humorous or witty way, and has a tendency to quote extensively from popular culture, past art styles, or through the assemblage of consumer objects—often all at the same time.
In breaking from Modernism, Post-Modern artists made works which are sometimes confrontational, and while they may present criticisms of popular culture or the museums where they’re shown, at the same time these criticisms have the quality of in-jokes between artist and audience.
Unlike Conceptual Art that rejected aesthetics and often left little for an audience to look at, Post-Modernism was specifically marked by the return to dominance of painting, and concerns with producing works that their audiences might consider “beautiful.”