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
Images from Art Since 1900
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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