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Art Since 1900: Modernism, Antimodernism, Postmodernism

3.1 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0500238189
ISBN-10: 0500238189
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Here's an exceptional rarity: a large, sweeping art history text book so well-done it almost makes the reader wish she or he were back in school. It's rather amazing that it took so long for a book like Art Since 1900: Modernism, Antimodernism, and Postmodernism to exist: a balanced, seven hundred page historical tome written with multiple perspectives in mind. As any undergrad knows, H.W. Janson's ubiquitous History of Art was written as if art history were some sort of race to colonize ideas and imagery; you'll likely not miss Janson's fetish for pointing out who did what first. Penned by a nimble crew who all teach at Ivy League universities, Art Since 1900, which mirrors the development of psychoanalysis and the creation of a huge international art scene, is on a smaller scale a history of contemporary theory and the art world almost as much as it is the art itself. Attention is paid throughout to important exhibits and texts, pointing out the rippling effect throughout the art community of these mirrors and portals. The book is arranged so that there are one or two essays per year. In such a novel format, often undervalued movements are given as much respect as Cubism and Minimalism. There are entire chapters here on Fluxus, feminist art, the Assemblage movement, Lettrism, the Independent Group, Gutai, Kineticism, the Harlem Renaissance, Aktionism, earthworks, video art, and the aesthetics of ACT UP. As with any history, there are personalities whose works are emphasized over that of others; the scant attention given to Jean-Michel Basquiat, for instance, is a rather large question mark. Quibbles aside, it's a very important, and nearly immaculate, work. --Mike McGonigal

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From Publishers Weekly

This history, coming soon to a college survey class near you, is like the period of art it covers: as often obscure and frustrating as it is dazzling and insightful. The authors, four prominent art history professors, offer a work that is beyond reproach with regard to thoroughness and accuracy but, despite the rich pageant of ideas on parade, they rarely illuminate their subject with even the faintest spark of excitement. Art is presented as a series of problems (the problem of figuration, the problem of post-colonialism, the problem of history), as if the ideas behind art were interchangeable with art itself. Painter Paul Gauguin, for example, is dissected solely in terms of his ill-conceived notions of the primitive purity of non-Western cultures, which is a bit like judging a fine meal only by its cholesterol content. The book's rigorously academic prose often sounds like a debate the reader has happened into the middle of: e.g., "Any attempt to transform autonomy into a transhistorical, if not ontological precondition of aesthetic experience, however, is profoundly problematic." Despite these defects, the volume manages to be fast moving thanks to its snappy format-107 short chapters, each broken up by subheadings, illustrations and sidebars-and it cannot fail to impress through the sheer vigor and profusion of the ideas on display, from Cubism to Chris Burden. Indeed, the book is a kind of intellectual tilt-a-whirl, with no comforting H.W. Janson-style master narrative at its center. The authors leave their own authority in deconstructed shards in the first paragraph of the introduction, which invites readers to arrange the book's "puzzle pieces" according to individual need. It may be a lively ride to those already familiar with its terms, but to the uninitiated, this book will likely remain a series of broken conversations.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 704 pages
  • Publisher: Thames & Hudson (March 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0500238189
  • ISBN-13: 978-0500238189
  • Product Dimensions: 11.3 x 8.8 x 2.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,066,273 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Although I have read only the first half of "Art Since 1900," I feel compelled by the negative comments offered by other readers to express my considerable admiration for this book. Because I am not an academic or other art world insider, I have no axe to grind regarding which artists or movements may be under or over-represented in the text. After reading a number of books on modern art, I have found this one to be, on the whole, head and shoulders above the rest. For example, "The Shock of the New" by Robert Hughes is a fine book, but it is very superficial by comparison with this one. What impresses me most about "Art Since 1900" is the incorporation of ideas from other disciplines dealing with modernity, including philosophy, psychology, sociology, anthropology, linguistics, and literary theory, which provides a broader context for the subject than is usually presented in art history texts. For the benefit of those who are not already familiar with the intellectual history of the twentieth century, the authors include four introductory chapters and a glossary that help to familiarize readers with concepts of marxism, critical theory, psychoanalysis, formalism, structuralism, post-structuralism, and postmodernism. While the introductory chapters are not a substitute for wider reading on those topics, the authors succeed very admirably in making "highbrow" ideas accessible to "middlebrow" readers. But it is not necessary to master the contents of the introductory chapters in order to obtain a great deal of benefit from the remainder of the book.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
Art Since 1900 probably shouldn't be read by artists, younger ones at least. Here is where all your sincerity, all your peer support, all your sudden joy in thinking you've finally got it right this time, goes to die, splattered like meaningless bracken against the wall of Context, of History. Probably what's enraged so many people so much about this book is that its authors, scholars of 20th century art if there ever were any, aren't in the least afraid to make judgements, to call a bad idea a bad idea, to explore the limits of an artwork's relevance to the question: can art still matter? The criticisms of the book all seem to want to posit some grand democracy of artistic endeavor, or better still an anarchy, all the while ignoring the fact that we've already gone past the point of anarchy and moved into pure spectacle, which can only exist within the disavowal of history, and of judgement. Utopia's already here, but this book wants to mean more than that. Ultimately its message seems to be, simply: not making crap takes hard work. Read it and suffer.
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Format: Hardcover
Face it, for better or worse, this is a crew we have to deal with. They've got their October power, and look at the author listings, all of them big-deal academics with a name after their name. Now they've tried to come down off the mountaintop to write for a less in-crowd than they usually bother with, and the book they've put together has all the blindness and insight everyone might expect. There's some great stuff on mainstream avant-garde movements (irony intended). But it's mostly European and American, and the readings are kind of limited: nothing political seems to have happened in 1968, and so on. However, the biggest downside is the weak section on contemporary art. Foster wrote most of the entries on the 90's, and they look like he was just going through the motions. He doesn't seem to connect with the new stuff the way he did in his prime in the 80's. Maybe they should have gotten some of those younger October editors onto the job (unless the farm team is too full of clones). And considering their attempt for a general audience, the glossary is hilarious. Even so, the entries through the 80's make this an important, although narrow, take on our dearly departed 20th century.
1 Comment 56 of 68 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Hardcover
I suspect that a number of these comments were inspired by a scathing review in the Wall Street Journal by Eric Gibson (the "culture war" ones at least). But maybe not...

I would have liked to write a more critical review of this book, although, or perhaps, because I liked it so much, but with all of these rather "blunt" opinions, it is hard to do anything but just praise it. Still, I'll throw out a couple of points of critique:

1. It is obvious that the authors are trying to create a kind of definitive history of 20th century art. This is in part based on their particular take, and indeed, sometimes this is more evident than others (esp. the closer you get to the present), but in general it is a very thorough book (presenting numerous positions). That they were among the founding editors of October should make it more interesting to read than otherwise. Needless to say, it should also be read in this way. There is definitely a certain direction to this work. But isn't that what writing and scholarship is all about? See also point 3.

2. I do wish that they would call into question some more of their own philosophical and political "foundations." For the most part, much like in October, their critique and development of Marxism, structuralism, psychoanalysis, "post-structuralism" etc. all seem to focus on a historical or art historical USE of these fields rather than going to the "heart of the matter" and maybe trying to address them on a philosophical or for that matter on a "real-political" level. It would be nice to be able to read the work from a philosophical or political vantage point too, not just an art historical one...
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