The discipline of conventional history has attempted over the years to classify the trajectory of the art world into neatly constructed movements and cleanly articulated themes. But in reality, the advancement of art has been multidirectional and disconnected, with disparate artists and movements coexisting as Matisse and Seurat, or Ingres and Delacroix.
The past 25 years of contemporary art have proved particularly complex. Artists have continued to evade any and all attempts at being defined into a corner by critics, existing in a period unrestricted by style, media, and time. In this environment of decentralized and contradictory work, making sense of art is rarely an easy task. But that is what the new book on Phaidon Press, "Defining Contemporary Art," endeavors to do. Written by eight of the art world’s leading curators, the book encompasses 200 decisive works of art from the last quarter century. The works from all mediums are detailed in chronological order - no other form of classification is used - with each curator selecting and contextualizing 25 separate pieces.
The book is definitely comprehensive in its scope, including already-studied works by Cindy Sherman, Jeff Koons, Marina Abramovic and Ai Weiwei as well as lesser known pieces that have been equally provocative in their aesthetic. The more well-known artists are situated beside the “quietly influential,” positioning all the works as equally indispensable in terms of their influence on the course of art. Each author also takes on a single, noteworthy year that he or she views as a particularly pivotal period of artistic development, and the years are presented in essays sprinkled throughout the book in chronological order. This culminates in a round-table discussion, in which the curators synthesize their choices and debate the historical conditions and emerging trends.
All in all, the reader is tempted with an array of dazzling images and supporting essays to tease out their own grand narratives. Whether you are an art historian, a collector or a casual art-peruser, this survey of the past 25 years from a curatorial perspective is certainly a feast for the eyes. Check out some of the greats included in the book in a slideshow below!
More Love Hours Than Can Ever Be Repaid
Mike Kelley, 1987, Handmade craft items and afghans sewn onto canvas.
A Thousand Years
Damien Hirst, 1990, glass, flies, maggots, MDF, Insect-O-Cutor, cow's head, sugar, water.
Matthew Barney, 1994, 35 mm film. Colour, sound 42 min.
100 Years Ago
Peter Doig, 2000, Oil on canvas.
Tiger Licking Girl's Butt
Nathalie Djurberg, 2004, Digital video (clay animation). Colour, sound, 2 min. 15 sec. Music by Hans Berg.
Seven Easy Pieces
Marina Abramović, 2005, 7 performances, each 7 hr. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.
Ai Weiwei, 2007, 1001 Chinese visitors, 1,001 Qing dynasty wooden chairs (1644-1911), luggage, dormitories. Documenta 12, Kassel, Germany.
Defining Contemporary Art
Defining Contemporary Art: 25 Years in 200 Pivotal Artworks by Daniel Birnbaum, Cornelia Butler, Suzanne Cotter, Bice Curigier, Okwui Enzwezor, Massimiliano Gioni, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Bob Nickas, $75.00/ $79.95 CAN, Phaidon 2011 www.phaidon.com.
"Defining Contemporary Art: 25 Years in 200 Pivotal Artworks" by Daniel Birnbaum, Cornelia Butler, Suzanne Cotter, Bice Curigier, Okwui Enzwezor, Massimiliano Gioni, Hans Ulrich Obrist, and Bob Nickas is available on Phaidon Press.