Contemporary Art History is a specialization focusing on visual, process-based, and digital art since the 1960s. Far from being restricted to the classical art forms of painting, sculpture, and graphics, today’s art includes installation art and site-specific projects, digital or new media art (interactive installations, locative media works, software art, networked art, electronic art and video art), performative and activist projects and artistic research.

What unites these art forms is that they directly address the complexity of today’s society, within which information technologies and globalization play an ever-increasing role, leading to networked forms of artistic practice that transgress national and cultural borders. At the same time, artists are very aware of the heritage they build upon, deconstructing, commenting on, or appropriating art history, leading to various attempts to describe contemporary art with terms such as post-modern, post-conceptual, post-medium, and more recently even post-internet and post-digital – and post-contemporary...

Contemporary Art History trains you as an art historian who is equipped to deal with the challenges of tackling this complex but fascinating field. After having followed this program, you will have a solid knowledge of today’s visual, process-based, and digital art, and be equipped with the means to research, present, and write about the latter, enabling you to pursue a career in the cultural sector (museums, festivals, art galleries, archives), as an art critic, or freelance cultural entrepreneur.

Study Program

Mandatory classes

You will kick off your first semester by self-critically questioning your role as an art historian with a specific interest in contemporary art by following a class on ‘Methods and Theories of Art History’ in the first period. Parallel to this, you will follow a research seminar dedicated to a specific topic within contemporary art, in order to immediately get started in developing your knowledge of the field and to improve your research and writing skills. While this class continues in the second period, the second period will also allow you to delve into the depth of digital and process-based art while following a class specifically dedicated to new media art.

While the major part of the second semester will be dedicated to supporting you in writing your MA thesis, in period four you will follow a class on art criticism to further develop your skills in writing and in critically assessing contemporary art. You’ll also follow our Arts & Culture Lecture Series class (Trending Topics), inviting you to reflect on recent issues in our field by listening to renowned international guest speakers and discussing their writing with fellow students from different specializations. Last but not least, you’ll go on a field trip to a foreign country, to prove and further develop your analytical skills onsite.


Furthermore, you can select a class from a range of electives, such as the classes ‘Reading Concepts of Intermediality’, ‘Crossmedial Exhibitions’, or ‘The Art of Comparison’ offered in the framework of the CAMS program. You can also choose from the specializations ‘Kunst, Markt, en Connaisseurschap’ (in Dutch) or ‘Design Cultures’ or a class on ‘Collecting and Display, as well as further electives from Philosophy or Literary Studies.

Why Study at VU?

  • Study the art of the present

In selecting this specialization you devote your attention to what is at stake now – to artworks that take on the challenges of the globalized information society. You do so from a firm basis in an established discipline that has much to offer, but also to continuously adapt in seeking to keep up with the art of the present.

  • Unique in the Netherlands and ideally located in Amsterdam

Contemporary Art History is unique in the Netherlands in allowing students to research digital and process-based art in the broader context of contemporary art history. The Netherlands, and Amsterdam especially, has been a pioneer in supporting the contemporary artistic practice, and new media art in particular. You can profit from the extensive archives and digital collections on-site, such as the collection of the Netherlands Institute for Media Art (at LIMA) or the video art collections of the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and De Appel Arts Center. You can attend festivals such as Sonic Acts, FIBER, or IMPAKT and the various public programs offered all year round by Dutch contemporary art institutions to experience performative and digital practices first-hand, and frequent exhibitions of new media art all around the Netherlands. The same is true for contemporary art in general, with Amsterdam as a central hub for art and culture.

  • Profit from top-quality researchers as your teachers

The staff members teaching within the MA program are top-quality researchers with a strong national and international profile, particularly in the field of contemporary art. They draw on a firm background in art history but have broadened their involvement in neighboring fields such as media theory, performance studies, and critical theory.

  • Further, define the focus of your study through the choice of electives

By choosing electives from other specializations within and beyond the MA Arts & Culture, you can tailor your study program to your specific interests and profit from the expert knowledge of staff members in the areas of film, games, television, curatorial studies, (early) modern art history, the art market, design, media theory, literature, history, and philosophy.

  • Become a member of a vibrant student community and profit from the offers of our Graduate School and Research Institutes

Not only via the mandatory Arts & Culture lecture series class and your choice of electives, but also through various events and seminars offered by the Graduate School and by our Interfaculty Research Institutes (CLUE+ and Network Institute), you will study in close contact with students and staff across the faculty. As Contemporary Art History is taught in English, you will be part of an international classroom environment, in contact with students from all over the world.

Your Future Career

Prepare for a career in the cultural sector, art festivals, exhibitions, and galleries, art journalism, or the creative industries. Contemporary Art History equips you with skills and critical insight to be able to comment on, judge, present, and write about art in the information age in an independent and critical manner. The program thereby prepares you for a position in which substantial knowledge and research skills in the field of contemporary and digital art are required, such as organizing exhibitions, events, or festivals, writing about art for newspapers, magazines or online-media, working in public programming or educational departments of museums, the city council, festival organizations, in public or private archives, or pursue research on a freelance basis or within academia.

Program taught in:
  • English

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Last updated August 6, 2019
This course is Campus based
Start Date
Sep 1, 2019
1 year
2,083 EUR
for EEA-EU students.
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