Labels like “modern” and “postmodern,” and trying to pinpoint start and end dates for each period, sometimes irk art historians and curators. “I have heard all kinds of theories,” says Ho. “I think the truth is that modernity didn’t happen at a particular date. It was this gradual transformation that happened over a couple hundred of years.” Of course, the two times that, for practical reasons, dates need to be set are when teaching art history courses and organizing museums. In Ho’s experience, modern art typically starts around the 1860s, while the postmodern period takes root at the end of the 1950s.
The term “contemporary” is not attached to a historical period, as are modern and postmodern, but instead simply describes art “of our moment.” At this point, though, work dating back to about 1970 is often considered contemporary. The inevitable problem with this is that it makes for an ever-expanding body of contemporary work for which professors and curators are responsible. “You just have to keep an eye on how these things are going,” advises Ho. “I think they are going to get redefined.”