art and architecture

World War II had changed the nature of the world, and after postwar reconstruction had finished, there were important new trends in art and architecture that were to influence the latter half of the 20th century and the first years of the 21st century.

From about 1950, a large number of artistic movements started flourishing in the United States and elsewhere. An early one was the abstract expressionism movement, which started in New York—the phrase first being coined by the art critic Robert Coates in 1946. Drawing from surrealism and also from Mexican social realists such as Diego Rivera and David Siqueiros, it was stylistically similar to some of the work of the Soviet artist Wassily Kandinsky. Abstract expressionism tended to rely on a spontaneous or subconscious creation, with early painters in this style being Jackson Pollock and Max Ernst. Mark Tobey from the northwest United States also produced paintings that developed further from some of Pollock’s style. Developing from abstract expressionism, and especially from the work of Jackson Pollock, the abstract style of color field painting involved covering canvases with large areas of solid color. The canvases, such as those by Mark Rothko, tended to be large, with other artists such as Clyfford Still, Hans Hofmann, Morris Louis, and Larry Zox using the same style.

The beginning of pop art emerged in Great Britain in the mid-1950s, and quickly spread to the United States. The term pop art was coined by the art critic Lawrence Alloway. As well as paintings, the field included advertising material and comics. Many pop art works were made from plastic, and subsequently become regarded as kitsch, being aimed at a large audience. Notable pop artists include David Hockney, Roy Lichtenstein, George Segal, and Andy Warhol. Developments in pop art often spring from the availability of new materials or old materials in new forms.

The name op art, derived from pop art but totally different in style, was a contraction of the term optical
art, which highlights styles in geometric abstraction, often developing interesting optical perspectives. This grew, in some ways, from the Bauhaus movement of the 1930s, with the term being first used in October

  1. The Hungarian-born artist Victor Vasarely was perhaps one of the better-known artists in this field. Op art used straight and curved edges, and the next trend was Hard-Edge painting, which was largely a reaction to abstract expressionism. With its creative center being California through the 1960s, artists include Lorse Feitelson, his wife Helen Lundeberg, and was heavily promoted by Peter Selz, a professor at Claremont College in California.

Minimal art was introduced in the late 1960s by Donald Judd, Carl Andre, Richard Serra, and others at the same time that Robert Bresson was directing films and Samuel Beckett was writing plays, also in a minimalist way. The trend toward minimalism continued through the early 1970s, being mirrored in architecture and design. The influence of minimalism led to a new trend of postminimalism, with grids and seriality adding a human element to the work. Tom Friedman, Eva Hesse, Anish Kapoor, Joel Shapiro, and Richard Tuttle were some whose work conveyed the essence of postminimalism.

From the late 1960s a new trend of lyrical abstraction started to emerge from the abstract art movement, primarily in New York and Los Angeles, developing in Toronto, Canada, and London. It drew from tachisme, which had been popular as a French art style from 1945 until 1960, and also from abstract impressionism, the term lyrical abstraction being first coined by Robert Pincus-Witten in 1969.

A greater environmental awareness from the late 1950s and early 1960s helped influence land art, which started in the late 1960s, whereby artworks were made from rocks, sticks, plants and soil from nature. Many of these works were made outdoors and have not survived, although they were recorded in photographs. Some artists were influenced by the photographs brought back from the Moon by Apollo missions, and there have been extensive outdoor projects by Latin American artists. Some ideas from this field have been expressed in conceptual art, which involved objects taking precedence over many aesthetic concerns. By the late 1960s the concept of photorealism

Campbell’s Soup Cans by Andy Warhol, 1962, displayed in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Warhol was an American artist who became a central figure in the movement known as Pop Art. painting saw a return to the styles of the 17th and 18th centuries, in trying to create the look of a photograph in a painting.

From the 1970s the trends were toward new fields called either contemporary art or postmodern art. This involved adapting the modernist ideas, and often incorporated some elements of popular culture, and even performance art, into newer designs or incorporating new material.


The period immediately after World War II saw the construction of many war memorials and the paint- ing of artwork commemorating sacrifice in war. Gradually this gave way to civil engineering projects for Olympic and other sporting occasions and also many ambitious airport complexes. Architects were also involved in designing large bridges, such as those over the Bosphorus (Turkey), the Tagus (Portugal), the Humber Bridge (UK), and from the Malaysian main- land to Penang Island. There has also been the construc- tion of large numbers of buildings for international organizations, such as the United Nations buildings in New York, the European Parliament in Strasbourg, the headquarters of UNESCO in Paris, Interpol in Paris, and the headquarters of the World Health Organization in Geneva. The period also saw many countries and cities competing to have the tallest habitable building, the tall- est telecommunications tower, the tallest mast, and even the highest public observatory. But New York remained the city with the most skyscrapers, followed by Chicago, and then Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tokyo, Houston, Singa- pore, Los Angeles, Dallas, and then Sydney, Australia.

The starting of UNESCO World Heritage listing helped preserve architecture in some parts of the world but did not prevent major damage to some important structures, such as the Mostar Bridge (Bosnia) in 1992 and the Bamiyan Buddhas (Afghanistan) in 2001. Mention should also be made of UNESCO’s involvement in the moving of ancient Egyptian structures at Abu Simbel to construct the Aswa¯n Dam, and the restoration of the Borobudur Buddhist monument in Java, Indonesia.


After World War II, there was a major change in British architecture. Many new buildings were required due to war damage. The government focused initially on schools, as only 50 of the 1,000 schools in London survived the war undamaged. Additionally, the private sector involved itself in what became known as dormitory suburbs such as Basildon, Crawley, Harlow and Stevenage. The building

After World War II, many buildings were built for international
organizations, such as the United Nations buildings in New York. of Slough, near Windsor, to the west of London, became celebrated when the British poet laureate Sir John Betjeman denounced the city, suggesting that the easiest way of improving it was to bomb it, writing poetry to that effect. Other developments at the time included Telford, a large conurbation to the west of Birmingham, bringing together a number of villages; and the council flat developments in many inner cities, including some in central Glasgow, Scotland; and the Poplar housing estate in London built after the Festival of Britain in 1951.

Gradually the trend became the construction of large numbers of modernist buildings. The four new cathedrals built in Britain incorporated much of the modern design, as seen in Liverpool Cathedral (started in 1903, completed in 1978, the architect Giles Gilbert Scott having died in 1960), Guildford Cathedral (started in 1936, consecrated in 1961), Coventry Cathedral (consecrated in 1962), and the Roman Catholic cathedral at Liverpool (consecrated in 1967). Sussex and York Universities were also functional in their design, with the stepped nature of parts of the University of East Anglia giving rise to it being known as the typewriter building. A reaction against this type of design arose in 1984 when Prince Charles was critical of a “ultra-modern wing” to be added to the National Gallery on London’s Trafalgar Square—he called it a “monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved friend”—resulting in an outcry from some architects who felt that Prince Charles should not have spoken out against the project and support from many people who disliked the new design. Other important landmark architectural projects in London include the Telecom Building, Canary Wharf, the London Eye, and the new Wembley Stadium.

British sculpture during this period revolved around Henry Moore (1898–1986), and a number of painters emerged, with the most famous probably being the Anglo-Irish figurative painter Francis Bacon (1909–92) and L. S. Lowry (1887–1976), who painted the industrial north of England. Peter Blake, R. B. Kitaj, and David Hockney became innovators in pop art.

In Europe, the designs ranged from the traditional to the modernist. In France, the most famous modern designs included the Pompidou Center, also known as the Centre Beaubourg. It was designed by architects Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers, and engineers Peter Rice and Edmund Happold. Named after the former president of France, it was opened in 1977 and is well known for its exterior. Also controversial was the glass pyramid that marks the entrance to the Louvre Museum, 21 meters tall, designed by the China-born American architect I. M. Pei. Other important architectural sites include the new National Library of France, opened in 1996; refurbishment of the Gare du Nord into a gallery; and the building of the satellite town and business district of La Défense to the west of Paris. In Brussels, the capital of Belgium, the Atomium, built for the 1958 Brussels World Fair, is unique.

In Spain, art and architecture were intensely conservative until the death of the dictator Francisco Franco in 1975. The Valle de los Caidos, outside Madrid, has a massive cross dominating a hill, with a basilica tunneled into the rocks at its base. A memorial to the dead of the Spanish civil war, it also became the resting place of Franco when he died. The entrance to the Queen Sophia Art Center in Madrid, where Picasso’s Guernica (1937) is displayed—the painting returning to Spain in 1981—is an example of post-Francoist modernism. The gallery also exhibits some of the more famous pictures by Salvador Dalí (1904–89). Work also began again on completing Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, before the Olympic Games in the city in 1992, and the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, designed by U.S. architect Frank Gehry, opened in September 1997 with both the building and its contents receiving much acclaim. In southern Spain, the tourist developments at Marbella, the Costa del Sol, and other places have also been an important part of Spain’s recent architectural development. Similar apartment complexes have also been built in Greece, Malta, and other tourist sites around the Mediterranean.

The postwar Italian governments have been active in urban development in many parts of the country, but have aimed at retaining the Renaissance core of cities such as Florence. The Palazzetto dello Sport and Stadio Flaminio, constructed for the 1960 Rome Olympics, are still used. The Pirelli Tower in Milan, built in 1958, and the tomb of Pope John XXIII (d. 1963) and Rome Railway Station are all important architectural statements. Pier Luigi Nervi, introducing the use of concrete reinforced with mesh, helped influence architectural design around the world. After World War II, the rebuilding of Monte Cassino was notable; and in recent years the cleaning of the Sistine Chapel, and the work on preserving early modern artwork such as Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper have been important. Mention should also be made of the art of the surrealist Giorgio de Chirico (1888–1978), Sandro Chia (b. 1946), and Francesco Clemente (b. 1952).

In Germany, the rebuilding of the country saw a large number of new buildings, many functional civic buildings, or repairs to others, such as the reconstruction of the Berlin Cathedral, opened again in 1993, and the rebuilding of the Reichstag with a glass dome completed in 1999, overseen by the architect British Norman Foster. After the end of Nazi rule, artwork became much freer, with the graffiti and painting on the Berlin Wall being part of the new expressive artistic climate. The construction of the Jewish Museum in Berlin, designed by Daniel Libeskind, incorporated many new architectural features aimed at not responding to functional requirements in the same manner as many other museums. In Austria, the maverick architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser worked in Vienna, where he applied his modernist principles in his design of the Hundertwasserhaus, an apartment block, trying to challenge existing architectural designs by not having straight lines. He has also been involved in painting and in designing some Austrian postage stamps.


In eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, devastated by World War II, the rebuilding of many of the cities required large housing estates to be hurriedly built. With the city planners in Moscow anxious to restrict the growth of the city, some of these apartment blocks were built taller than the original architects had planned. For civic buildings, there were many in what became known as Stalinist Gothic, the most famous outside the Soviet Union being the Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw. The most grandiose was undoubtedly the Palace of the People in Bucharest, Romania, which is one of the largest buildings in the world. Art during the Communist era hailed socialist endeavor or, within the exiled communities or underground, championed the resistance to the Communist government. In an effort to break away from this, there was a recent effort expended in Tiranë, Albania, to paint the graying apartment buildings in bright colors. The breakup of former Yugoslavia saw the shelling of Dubrovnik, which led to an international outcry—the international community contributing to the rebuilding of the Mostar Bridge.

In the Soviet Union, the Communist government embarked on massive building projects, with war memorials, television towers, and civic buildings, as well as apartment blocks being built throughout the country, often decorated with revolutionary art. The Motherland statue in Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad) is perhaps the most famous work of revolutionary art. Since the end of the Soviet Union and the collapse of communism, there has been a trend to adopt pre-1917 artistic styles. Great care and expense was lavished on restoring the czarist palaces and monuments, which, in Moscow, was reflected in the rebuilding of the Cathedral Church of Christ the Savior in the same style and on the same site as the building destroyed by Stalin.

ASIA In China, the victory of the Communists in the Chinese civil war saw major changes throughout the country, the first being the destruction of the city walls around Beijing and numerous other cities. Large numbers of hospitals, schools, and other modest buildings were constructed throughout the country, with a number of important Communist landmarks—the most famous being around Tiananmen Square—with the building of the new Chinese Parliament, the Great Hall of the People, on the west side of the square, and the Museum of the People on the east side, with Mao’s Mausoleum later built at the southern end. Other major projects included the building of the Beijing subway and the construction of the nuclear fallout tunnel system under Beijing. Communist revolutionary art was famous for its telling of the heroic efforts of Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-tung) and other Communist leaders, as well as important revolutionary actions.

From the late 1980s, Beijing, as with other cities in China, saw a massive building boom, with office buildings, apartment blocks, and hotels being constructed at a frenetic rate. For Shanghai, Pudong, which had been the location of many market gardens, was transformed with skyscrapers dwarfing those on the Bund, which they face across the river. The Oriental Pearl Tower, located there, is now the tallest building in Asia and the third-tallest in the world. Many of the designs in the skyscrapers throughout China can trace their roots to the massive urban development of Hong Kong from the 1960s. The Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong, designed by I. M. Pei, built in 1989, is important. Mention should also be made of the new Hong Kong Airport, and airports throughout China, as well as tourist sites such as the Tianjin History Museum. Many new buildings are being constructed for the Beijing Olympics. In Taiwan, the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial in Taipei and the National Palace Museum are two of the outstanding architectural sites on the island.

During the Korean War (1950–53), much of the Korean Peninsula was devastated, and after the war both Pyongyang and Seoul needed extensive reconstruction. In Pyongyang, massive edifices were built such as the Kumsusan Memorial Palace, formerly the residence of the North Korean leader Kim Il Sung, now his resting place. The Mansudae Grand Monument, the Monument to the Juche Idea, the Great People’s Study House (the library), and the unfinished Ryugyong Hotel (now the tallest unoccupied building in the world) are all important architectural projects. Artists in North Korea not only produce communist propaganda art but also have been involved in working on Western animated films such as The Lion King (1994).

In Japan, the rebuilding after the war was quickly dwarfed by the property boom of the 1970s and the 1980s, which saw massive buildings constructed in all of Japan’s major cities. Architects in Japan have long been involved in designing buildings to withstand earthquakes, and this was shown to have been important during the Kobe earthquake of 1995.

In Southeast Asia, Vietnam has seen the construction of the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi, and the functional modernist Presidential Palace in Saigon (the scene of the final surrender of the South Vietnamese government). The Cu Chi Tunnels outside Saigon are also great architectural feats from the Vietnam War, which saw the destruction of much of the country, including large sections of the Imperial Palace at Hue. In Thailand, the tourist boom and the wealth that flowed into the country from the 1960s saw the construction of massive hotel complexes and condominiums in Bangkok and some other cities, leading to major traffic problems and pollution. Artwork in Thailand has tended to remain rather traditional, and much appeals to the tourist market, with paintings by elephants now becoming popular.

In Malaysia, the incredible wealth in the country from the 1980s led to the construction of the Petronas Towers (1996), the Masjid Wilayah Persekutuan (Federal Territory Mosque) in Kuala Lumpur (1998–2000), and the massive national expressway through western Malaysia. The Kuala Lumpur airport was also, for a short period, the largest airport in the world. In Singapore, the 1950s saw the start of the construction of many apartment blocks throughout the island by the Singapore Housing and Development Board. During the 1970s “Garden Cities” were created, and during the 1980s many skyscrapers were built, the two most well-known ones being possibly the UOB Building and the OCBC Building, both headquarters for banks. In Brunei, the Istana Nurul Iman in Bandar Seri Begawen, the official residence of the sultan, is larger than the Vatican—and is the largest residential palace in the world—designed by Filipino architect Leandro V. Locsin, and boasts 1,788 rooms. The Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque, also in Brunei, was built in 1958 by a Malay architectural firm from Kuala Lumpur and dominates the central part of Bandar Seri Begawen.

In Indonesia, the Monas Tower in Jakarta—built from 1961 until 1975 in Italian marble—and many civic buildings throughout the country demonstrate the increasing prosperity of the country, with Jakarta International Airport being designed in the traditional Javanese style (with heavy use of carved wooden features). The tourist boom has also seen a large number of hotels and guest houses of varying designs in Bali and in other places. The Imax Cinemas at Keong Mas in Jakarta once had the largest Imax screen in the world, taking its name the Golden Snail Theatre from its shape. The Komodo Natural History Museum—in the shape of its residents, Komodo dragons— is also worth mentioning. In Manila, the capital of the Philippines, the “Metro Manila” phase of the 1970s saw First Lady Imelda Marcos being responsible for the construction of massive buildings, with critics claiming that she was suffering from an “edifice complex.” There has even been a recent upsurge in building in Myanmar (formerly Burma), where Naypyidaw became the country’s capital on November 6, 2005.


Artistic endeavor in India has followed the traditional Hindu myths, with Rama, Sita, and other characters from the Ramayana remaining popular, but also artwork which portrays India as a regional power. The massive wealth of India has seen the emergence of large areas of apartments and lavish homes, with the billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s 173-meter tower in Mumbai (formerly Bombay) being perhaps the most extravagant. In Pakistan the major architectural projects in the country centered on the moving of the country’s capital from Karachi to Rawalpindi and then to Islamabad, the project designed by the Greek architect and urban planner Constantinos A. Doxiadis.

In Australia, the most famous building built during this period was the Sydney Opera House, designed by Jørn Utzon and opened in 1973. The Eureka Tower in Melbourne, opened in 2006, is now the tallest residential building in the world. On the art scene, aboriginal art has become extremely popular both within Australia and also overseas.

The incredible wealth in the Middle East from oil led to Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain affording some of the best architects in the world and building iconic structures such as the Kuwait Towers and the Burj Al Aran Hotel in Dubai. In Baghdad, Iraq, the massive swords across the main road celebrating Saddam Hussein’s achievements outlived him, as did the shah’s monumental arch in Tehran, Iran.

Throughout Africa, many European and indigenous architects have worked on the numerous civic buildings that were constructed by the newly emerging nations. The Cairo Tower in Egypt, built by Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1956–61, remains an important site in central Cairo. The construction of numerous civic buildings and presidential palaces throughout the continent is also worth mentioning, as is the Sun City complex in South Africa.

In the United States, countless skyscrapers have been built, the most famous being the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York, designed by Minoru Yamasaki, completed in 1972, and destroyed on September 11, 2001. Other important landmarks include Chicago’s Sears Tower—at one point the world’s tallest building—completed in 1974, and Seattle’s Space Needle, built in 1962 for the Seattle World’s Fair. Mention should also be made of the Glass Cathedral of Oral Roberts and the strange deconstructionist cityscape of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Stata Center. For art, in the United States many artists have turned to episodes in U.S. history, with countless scenes of the Native Americans, the American Revolutionary War (especially around the anniversary in 1976), and the American Civil War. Commemorations of more recent conflicts, such as the U.S.M.C. War Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., have risen as well.

In Latin America, the massive enlargement of the cities of Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, and Chile has seen architects designing apartments and also civic amenities.

The moving of the Brazilian capital to Brasília in 1960, with plans designed by the architect Oscar Niemeyer, the landscape architect Burle Max, and the urban planner Lucio Costahas, is one example. From the 1980s there has also been the construction of large parliament buildings, such as the Chilean parliament in Valparaíso and the Paraguayan parliament in Asunción. In terms of art, many painters return to traditional themes, but there have also been many new painting techniques, exemplified by the later works of Diego Rivera (1886– 1957) and the surrealist style of David Siqueiros (1896– 1974), both from Mexico, which have influenced many artists throughout Latin America.


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