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To be avoided by those who are actually looking for a very short introduction
on 10 December 2013
As other reviewers have already pointed out, this book is not in any way a "very short introduction" to contemporary art. Nevertheless, others have given the book a pretty high appreciation on the grounds that it offers an interesting perspective, and, (I cite one of the reviews) it tackles all the main issues "in a clear and easy to understand manner".
It doesn't. I struggled with Stallabras's writing style, which obfuscates rather than clarifies. As a text, it is squarely aimed at those already familiar with contemportary art writing, including the jargon and key underpinning perspectives. The reader who doesn't have that background is left scratching his head while wading through paragraph after paragraph of a highly convoluted writing style that offers very little in the way of an analytical framework or even attempt to shine a light on the nature of contemporary art. Instead, the book is a series of connected essays that describe market forces and political developments and ideologies as they influence art, and commentary on contemporary art critics and academics and their perspectives, and how these in turn influence contemporary art.
I take the view that a book should be assessed based on what it sets out to achieve, and wouldn't want to judge it against a set of criteria that were not part of the writing brief. Reading OUP's overall brief ("These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly. Our expert authors [...] make interesting and challenging topics highly readable"), I can only conclude that this booklet has failed spectacularly.