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Medieval Modern: Art out of Time [Hardcover]

Alexander Nagel
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

December 15, 2012 0500238979 978-0500238974 1

Rich collisions and fresh perspectives illuminate the profound continuities of thought and practice that have marked Western art through the ages

This groundbreaking study offers a radical new reading of art since the Middle Ages. Moving across the familiar period lines set out in conventional histories, Alexander Nagel explores the deep connections between modern and premodern art to reveal the underlying patterns and ideas traversing centuries of artistic practice.

In a series of episodic chapters, he reconsiders from an innovative double perspective a number of key issues in the history of art, from iconoclasm and idolatry to installation and the museum as institution. He shows how the central tenets of modernism – serial production, site-specificity, collage, the readymade, and the questioning of the nature of art and authorship – were all features of earlier times before modernity, revived by recent generations.

Nagel examines, among other things, the importance of medieval cathedrals to the 1920s Bauhaus movement, the parallels between Renaissance altarpieces and modern preoccupations with surface and structure; the relevance of Byzantine models to Minimalist artists; the affinities between ancient holy sites and early earthworks; and the similarities between the sacred relic and the modern readymade. Alongside the work of leading 20th-century medievalist writes such as Walter Benjamin, Marshall McLuhan, Leo Steinberg, and Duchamp, Kurt Schwitters, Robert Smithson, and Damien Hirst.

The effect of these encounters goes in two directions at once: each age offers new insights into the other, deepening our understanding of both past and present, and providing a new set of reference points that reframe the history of art itself.
134 illustrations, 104 in color

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Medieval Modern: Art out of Time + Anachronic Renaissance + The Controversy of Renaissance Art
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Editorial Reviews


“Alexander Nagel, one of the luminaries of Renaissance art history . . . set[s] out to provide a theoretical framework . . . to link the old and the new.” (Artforum)

“Both erudite and imaginative, Nagel's study challenges conventional wisdom and erects new frames of reference for understanding critical developments in art history.” (Publishers Weekly)

“Nagel argues the fascinating thesis that medieval and modern art should be considered in concert to better understand the latter. This lengthy scholarly work discusses structural analogies between medieval and modern art, for example, discussing both eras' emphasis on the placement of art in specific real-world sites, as well as on surfaces and the art object itself. . . . Provides a readable argument and offers wide-ranging examples.” (Library Journal)

“Nagel presents a readable, compelling, original thesis and a creative methodological model for future art historical scholarship. . . . Highly recommended.” (Choice)

“Nagel boldly forges and uncovers intellectual and formal relationships between . . . art objects and practices from the medieval and modern eras.” (The Marginalia Review of Books)

About the Author

Alexander Nagel is Professor Fine Arts at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. He lectures and writes widely on Renaissance and modern art, both for academic journals and art magazines such as Cabinet, ARTNews and Artforum. His books include Michelangelo and the Reform of Art winner of the 2002 Gordan Prize for Renaissance Studies, Anachronic Renaissance (co-authored with Christopher Wood) and The Controversy of Renaissance Art, winner of the Charles Rufus Morey Book Award.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Thames & Hudson; 1 edition (December 15, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0500238979
  • ISBN-13: 978-0500238974
  • Product Dimensions: 1.3 x 6.8 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #253,848 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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15 of 20 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Subjective musings January 14, 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Arguably, Meyer Schapiro was the greatest art historian ever produced in America. His two fields of concentration were medieval and modern art. This pairing was not accidental, for Schapiro recognized that the two periods share a common disregard for illusionism and the cult of beauty, principles inaugurated by the ancient Greeks and revived during the Renaissance. In a word, medieval and modern art are both anticlassical.

In this light there has long been a need for a systematic account of the felt affinity of medieval and modern art. Unfortunately, this book does not meet that need. Nagel conveys no sense of the historical sequence of medieval civilization, a complicated matter in which most readers will need guidance to thread their way through the historical narrative. Yet the author rejects periods in favor of a kind of an "episodic" approach, hopping from one topic to another. Moreover, he complicates the Middle Ages by adding such figures as Michelangelo and Titian, Parmigianino and Bruegel--artists who can in no sense be characterized as medieval.

The author's sense of modern art is almost as muddled. Unaccountably, he fails to discuss the evocation of medieval buildings by Monet (Rouen Cathedral), Matisse (Notre-Dame de Paris), Delaunay (Laon Cathedral; and St.-Severin) and O'Keeffe (Taos church). In each case these works were important milestones in the individual artist's development.

Setting these deficits aside, what does one actually get from Nagel's book? It is a kind of grab-bag of aperçus and speculations, generally proceeding from some casual encounter with a modern or contemporary work. The effect is one of blundering into a room in which the speaker conducts an endless grasshopper conversation.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Medieval Modern: the spirit of inquiry March 31, 2013
Other reviews here have focused on the topics covered by Medieval Modern. What I most took away is the author's obvious enthusiasm for the subject and the spirit of adventure with which he pursues his inquiry.

My favorite part of the book is Nagel's analysis of Enseigne de Gersaint by Watteau in Chapter 15 (Inside and Out) - if you read nothing else, seek out this passage. The author reveals the ways in which this work reaches outward to reference dramatic changes in the social structure occurring at the time and then goes on to deconstruct the artist's technical orchestration of the work. The next bit of analysis puts the painting in its historical context by showing its reference to other works being created at the same time. If this were where the discussion had stopped, I'd've been pleased to have read a commanding monograph on the work. But Nagel takes it further. The analysis of Watteau generates consideration of Jasper Johns and the tension in this modern artist's body of work between what is internal and what is external, and how the two works are part of discussion across time regarding what it means to be outside versus inside. This is the imaginative leap of an original mind and the unique contribution of this book.

A note: a book that is operating at the level of making these connections must pick its battles. It is not intended to educate the reader on the basics, nor is it intended to be an all-inclusive reference for connections between the two time periods. I found its focus around the central argument to be a real pleasure to follow and a strength of the work. An excellent read.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and free of dogma March 13, 2013
Medieval Modern is written from a perspective of much needed detachment from established dogma regarding the relationship between modern and pre-modern art.

The central project of Medieval Modern is to establish, and point to, various connections between pre-modern, modern and post-modern art. It does not seek to establish a new, linear narrative of the history of art. Rather what the book does is to allow for various unexpected connections, such as the comparison of Robert Smithson's non-site displacements of dirt from New Jersey with the Jerusalem chapel in Santa Croce in Gerusalemme in Rome. Another is how Giotto's Capella Scrovegni in Padua was the inspiration behind Heiner Friedrich establishing the Dia Art Foundation to present long-term site-specific artworks.

It's important not to read the book as an attempt at "explaining" these connections, or saying that these works are somehow essentially linked. Often the works share a similar logic, but they were conceived of for completely different reasons. The most important thing about these connections is how they offer us different views of similar interests, similar aesthetic or intellectual effects, and similar experiences.

What is fascinating about this is how, for the contemporary viewer of art, these experiences can now be had by engaging with works of art from what we've considered almost disparate historical periods.

Perhaps the most important part of the book is the idea that although art history (as an academic discipline/ mode of historical and art theoretical writing) has given us some very good stories of linear development, these are not the only stories worth telling.
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