Contemporary art in the early twenty-first century is often discussed as though it were a radically new phenomenon unmoored from history. Yet all works of art were once contemporary to the artist and culture that produced them. In What Was Contemporary Art? Richard Meyer reclaims the contemporary from historical amnesia, exploring episodes in the study, exhibition, and reception of early twentieth-century art and visual culture.
Light Show explores the experiential and sculptural nature of light, tracing a historical trajectory of artwork that uses light to create specific conditions of viewership. The book, which accompanies an exhibition originating at the Hayward Gallery, London, showcases more than twenty dramatic installations and sculptures from the 1960s to the present, pictured in 150 illustrations, most in color.
Although it lasted only twenty-three years (1933-1956) and enrolled fewer than 1,200 students, Black Mountain College was one of the most fabled experimental institutions in art education and practice. Faculty members included Anni Albers, Josef Albers, Ilya Bolotowsky, John Cage, Harry Callahan, Merce Cunningham, Buckminster Fuller, Walter Gropius, Clement Greenberg, Lou Harrison, Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning, Jacob Lawrence, Robert Motherwell, Roger Sessions, Ben Shahn, Aaron Siskind, Esteban Vicente, and Stefan Wolpe.
Louise Lawler has devoted her art practice to investigating the life cycle of art objects. Her photographs depict art in the collector’s home, the museum, the auction house, and the commercial gallery, on loading docks, and in storage closets. Her work offers a sustained meditation on the strategies of display that shape art’s reception and distribution. The cumulative effect of Lawler’s photographs is a silent insistence that context is the primary shaper of art’s meaning.
For more than half a century, Erwin Panofsky’s Perspective as Symbolic Form has dominated studies of visual representation. Despite the hegemony of central projection, or perspective, other equally important methods of representation have much to tell us. Parallel projection can be found on classical Greek vases, in Pompeiian frescoes, in Byzantine mosaics; it returned in works of the historical avant-garde, and remains the dominant form of representation in China.
The human figure made a spectacular return in visual art and literature in the 1920s. Following modernism’s withdrawal, nonobjective painting gave way to realistic depictions of the body and experimental literary techniques were abandoned for novels with powerfully individuated characters. But the celebrated return of the human in the interwar years was not as straightforward as it may seem. In Realism after Modernism, Devin Fore challenges the widely accepted view that this period represented a return to traditional realist representation and its humanist postulates.
Dan Graham’s Rock My Religion (1982–1984) is a video essay populated by punk and rock performers (Patti Smith, Jim Morrison, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Eddie Cochran) and historical figures (including Ann Lee, founder of the Shakers). It represented a coming together of narrative voice-overs, singing and shouting voices, and jarring sounds and overlaid texts that proposed a historical genealogy of rock music and an ambitious thesis about the origins of North America’s popular culture.
In The Bowery in two inadequate descriptive systems (1974–1975) Martha Rosler bridged the concerns of conceptual art with those of political documentary. The work, a series of twenty-one black-and-white photographs, twenty-four text panels and three blank panels, embraces the codes of the photo-text experiments of the late 1960s and applies them to the social reality of New York’s Lower East Side. The prevailing critical view of The Bowery focuses on its implicit rejection, or critique, of established modes of documentary.
From late medieval reenactments of the Deposition from the Cross to Sol Lewitt’s Buried Cube, Depositions is about taking down images and about images that anticipate being taken down. Foretelling their own depositions, as well as their re-elevations in contexts far from those in which they were made, the images studied in this book reveal themselves to be untimely--no truer to their first appearance than to their later reappearances.