Customer Review

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Certainly gets a reaction...., 31 Oct. 2012
This review is from: Why Your Five Year Old Could Not Have Done That: Modern Art Explained (Paperback)
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This is a great little book, skitting around modern art, rushing hither and thither. Contemporary art is not so much about making something beautiful as provoking a reaction and making you think. This book does exactly that. The reaction may vary between agreement and angry disagreement, but will never be neutral or bland.
Susan Hodge seems to have collected an armful of facts with an ambition to introduce people to contemporary art. They are shoe horned in with breathless enthusiasm, with one morsel following swiftly on to the next.
This could have been a large explanatory tome that would have discouraged many. The structure adopted makes it masterfully concise. 100 art pieces are reproduced with high quality graphics. These are grouped into 6 thematic chapters such as 'Expressions/scribbles' and 'Provocation/tantrums'. The work appears as the focus of a two page spread which also includes a brief explanation of the artist and the work. Assorted trivia are grouped around this, colour coded as technique/context/location/incidental information/similar works.
The range included is extensive and varied and in addition to the above does of course explain why a child couldn't have produced the work. In fact in most cases there is a grudging admission that a child could have produced the work, or certainly might have produced something very similar. The difference often appears in the artist's own explanation of the work and its context. We are for instance invited to note that Flavin's ''Monument' for V. Tatlin' (which consists of several vertically arranged fluorescent tubes) contrasts Tatlin's use of advanced and complex technologies in spiral structure design on a vast scale with the simple and linear art work. Now if anyone could look at the tubes and deduce that from them I'd be astonished; clearly the art work itself doesn't stand alone and only becomes understandable with explanation. It's that added complexity that a child couldn't produce, the knights move link between one item and another. Enthusiasts for modern art will relish these novel links and the flights of ideas that flow. Others will think that if you can't see the message in the work, if it doesn't speak directly, then it is indeed nothing more than a childlike and childish work.
In the end then the book is unlikely to convert skeptics en mass; the arguments will be filtered through the lens of your own pre-conception.
The brief facts presented boldy and without explanation can be apparently contradictory and somewhat confusing. For instance in discussing Warhol's work we learn that, 'Pop Art developed.... in opposition to Abstract Expressionism', but on the next page we find that Eva Hess's work displays, 'Evidence of Pop Art, Abstract Expression....'. Eh? Does that mean she produced a contradictory body of work, were the two in fact not after all opposed, did Hesse manage some clever reconciliation of the two, and if so then how did that work?
The book then contains some incomplete explanations if not contradictions and is unlikely to convince those that think all modern art could made by children that they are mistaken. However, it is a thought provoking romp through a range of art, with both well produced reproductions and great factual density that is likely to appeal to the budding enthusiast, and whilst lacking in depth explanation may add interesting details for the expert.
Finally, and perhaps irreverently, it's two page by two page layout and staccato facts make it a great book for browsing intermittently; a sure fire winner as a loo book!
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3.7 out of 5 stars (41 customer reviews)
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