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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful but overreaching collection of recent art, 16 Dec 2013
This review is from: 100 Works of Art That Will Define Our Age (Hardcover)
In his introduction to this substantial book, author Kelly Grovier admits that the task he has set himself is probably impossible. All the art featured here is too recently made for critical judgement to have settled. We can only speculate about what future generations may value, and what they may think of 'our time'; and we can't be sure that the last twenty years will even be viewed as a coherent period. Add to that the fact that each of any given dozen pundits would most likely select a different hundred works - though there might be more agreement on the significant artists - and Grovier's project seems set up to irritate or disappoint. And so it does, a little: but there is enough here to be worth the reader's attention.

I found that the book was best read by dipping rather than by reading in a linear fashion. There is no real narrative here. The book is divided rather arbitrarily into thematic sections that seek to offer provisional answers to such questions as 'Can art go too far?' and 'Can art and life ever be in sync?' For me, the interest of the individual artworks can't really save the larger project from its implicit incoherence.

Nonetheless, the art is well presented - each work gets a full page or page-and-ahalf illustration, plus text - and Grovier is an enthusiastic, literate and intelligent guide (he is an academic and a published poet, as well as a writer on more general subjects). Nonetheless, these qualities at times rather work against him here. There is an evident sense of strain in the some of the accompanying text, as though a great deal of intellectual heavy lifting were being done to sustain a rather fragile sense of significance in some ultimately underwhelming and derivative work. The book is very much a celebration. I would have welcomed a more sceptical turn of mind.

If the art that the author has chosen says anything in particular about our time, it's in the emphasis on attention-grabbing large-scale installations, performance art and the showy use of novel materials; and perhaps in the fact that so little of this art can be trusted to speak directly to the viewer, without extensive interpretation. Every reader is likely to have a different idea about what may have been left out, but Grovier has covered most of the obvious candidates, and it isn't his fault if so much of what has appeared recently may seem to a less convinced observer uncommunicative, cynical, clunkingly obvious, self-regarding or second-hand. This is partly the problem of the sheer newness of the art - time has not yet performed its winnowing function - but with perhaps unintended humour may also be an accurate reflection of the nature of 'our age'.

The book would make a handsome present for anybody looking for a representative collection of very recent art, beautifully presented and coherently introduced.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 5 Jan 2014 19:35:24 GMT
N. Bowring says:
Excellent review. You said everything I felt but didn't know how to say.

In reply to an earlier post on 6 Jan 2014 13:12:41 GMT
Paul Bowes says:
Thanks for your kind remarks.
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