Art in the Twenty-First Century

Season 4

Season 4 reveals the inspiration, vision and techniques behind the creative works of 17 contemporary artists. Art21 travels across the country and abroad to film painters, sculptors, photographers, and filmmakers in their own spaces and in their own words. Viewers are invited behind-the-scenes to see artists at work in their studios, homes, communities, and in sites as diverse as an old-growth forest near Seattle, a military base in California, a theater academy in Warsaw, and a film set, in addition to galleries and museums. The artists profiled speak directly to the audience, describing their passions, impulses and methods.

Included in the season are artists Robert Adams, Allora & Calzadilla, Mark Bradford, Mark Dion, Jenny Holzer, Pierre Huyghe, Alfredo Jaar, An-My Lê, Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, Judy Pfaff, Lari Pittman, Robert Ryman, Laurie Simmons, Nancy Spero, Catherine Sullivan, and Ursula von Rydingsvard.

Broadcast Episodes


  • 53:39
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    How do contemporary artists respond to traditionally romantic ideals such as sentimentality, pathos, and the philosophy of art for art’s sake? This episode poses questions about the value of pleasure in art and features artists whose works are extended meditations on mortality, love, reality and make-believe. Romance is shot on location in New York, New York, Tivoli, New York; Kingston, New York; Los Angeles, California; Berlin, Germany; London, England; and Paris, France.

  • 53:36
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    This episode delves into the work of four artists who explore the relationship of nature and culture, including the submission of wilderness to civilization, the foundations of scientific knowledge, the impact of technology on biology, and our relationship to the earth forged by working the land.

    Ecology was shot on location in New York, New York; Los Angeles, California; Chicago, Illinois; Rochester, Minnesota; Seattle, Washington; Astoria, Oregon; Cape Disappointment, Washington; King County, Washington; Beach Lake, PA; and Williamstown, Massachusetts.

  • 53:28
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    This episode examines the ways in which contemporary artists picture and question war, express outrage, and empathize with the suffering of others. Whether bearing witness to tragic events, presenting alternative histories, or engaging in activism, the artists interviewed in Protest use visual art as a means to provoke personal transformations and question social revolutions. Protest is shot on location in New York, New York; Hoosick Falls, New York; Wappingers Falls, New York; Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California; and Santiago, Chile.

  • 54:25
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    The artists in this episode investigate the boundaries between abstraction and representation, fact and fiction, order and chaos. Creating juxtapositions that are at times disorienting, playful, and unexpected, these artists engage with the uncertain and plumb accepted assumptions of meaning in art.

    Paradox was shot on location in New York, New York; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Los Angeles, California; Chicago, Illinois; Miami, Florida; San Juan, Puerto Rico; São Paulo, Brazil; Warsaw, Poland; Paris, France; and Avignon, France.