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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 16 November 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I saw Will Gompertz talking about this book at the Cheltenham Literature Festival this year and he was a very engaging speaker, bringing humour and passion to what could have been a very dry subject. Some people have commented that Gompertz's book replaces Ernst Gombrich's 'The Story of Art' as the definitive art history book but Gombrich has a much a much wider scope going right back to the Renaissance. As someone who was an art student in the 1960s our History of Art text was Gombrich and I would have loved to have had this book instead being much more modern and relevant to a young art student. However, Gombrich gave us that much greater background and now I'm really grateful for that although at the time I had no interest in Baroque, Rococo or Mannerism. I'm sure this book will be popular with modern art students but I think that they also need a 'Gombrich-style' book as well to give them that more historical perspective.

The book is also full of humour, including cartoons, but I thought that it was a bit short on illustrations - considering that this is a book about art. The book is organised in chapters dealing with all the major art movements of the period - expressionism, pop art etc and also includes a chapter on the Bauhaus before finishing with 'art now'. It is well written in clear, straight-forward English and Will manages to be relatively objective for someone who is obviously so passionate about 'modern art. There is also a useful comprehensive index, a list of illustrations and a list of artworks by location (country, gallery etc.).
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I have to admit that it was rather a chore for me to read this; not because its bad, or uninteresting - its actually very good and well conceived for what it is - it simply didn't really tell me anything I hadn't already read in other art books. But in my defence, I have been reading about this stuff for more than 30 years.
To be scrupulously fair; Gompertz writes fluently and explains his topics well and with wit; he hasn't the insight that someone like the late Robert Hughes could bring to his writings, but he does a fair job. He manages to avoid the pitfalls of artspeak and the easy acceptance of some of the more pretentious ideas other art commentators can be guilty of.
Where he does have an edge is by being "in the now"; for example, he can quote the wisdom of Hockney on Cézanne and the links to past art in the work of more contemporary artists is now much more apparent, time having worked in its favour.
Up to the "Post-modern" chapter, his narrative is solid enough; he stops short of pointing out that many of the YBA generation are viewed as sell-outs by today's artists - perhaps he's unaware of this - having made what appeared to be un-sellable, edgy, challenging work commercial and becoming wealthy establishment figures in the process. This view isn't entirely justified - the "aesthetics of the white cube" and the rampant, commodity-driven art market created this, the artists are just the all-too-willing beneficiaries of it; but the rise of "celebrity" artists and the often tricksy, "ironic" - or banal - work some of this generation produced has led to a dominance of the obscure and often trivial academicism favoured by our art institutions which currently have a stranglehold on which kinds of art are considered valid. This has led to a period of hiatus Gompertz is aware of but doesn't have an answer to, hence his final chapter which considers the vacuum that has existed for the last 25 years as no obvious movement has arisen as the "Next Big Thing". Gompertz hints at a possible direction in street-art which is as good a predictive stab at a new direction as anyone can come up with. (My money's on Low-Art; the figurative, catch-all movement embracing neo-pop, neo-surrealism and alternative culture, which - unsurprisingly - isn't mentioned anywhere in the book).

Though Gombrich and Hughes remain my first recommendations, Gombertz`s book does what it sets out to do and is recommendable enough if you are unfamiliar with Modern Art. It does fall down considerably in its lack of illustrations - I don`t care if its on the internet, this is a serious inconvenience to any reader and does the author no favours, no matter how good his descriptions of artworks are. The book loses half a star for this - I`d give it 3 ½ if I could, but I`m being generous.
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on 26 September 2012
So much modern art can look like kids scribble or something you could knock up in your garage in ten minutes. And in some cases it is. In this highly readable book, Will Gompertz looks at art in a really accessible and enjoyable way. Once he presents the history and the reasons things are as they are it leads to a deeper understanding of the scribble or the junk modelling. Sure, you may not like what you see but this book isn't really about that. Its about how we got to where we are.

It's an easy and entertaining read and well illustrated. I recomend it to anyone who has scoffed at modern art. You may still scoff but at least you can do so with some background knowledge!
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VINE VOICEon 27 January 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
There is no doubt Will Gompertz knows his subject on the of modern art and can talk for ages on it.
The text is also very readable and gives a sound history of the subject.
However, there are not a great deal of illustrations to give examples of what he is talking about but the whole enterprise is comprehensive and well-worth a read.
Not essential but worth it.
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on 2 January 2013
Decent enough introduction to modern art, but nothing at all compared to Gombrich's classic.

Gompertz is best when sticking to the straight historical accounting of modern art and he does a good job of placing the different movements in their historical context. However, he often deviates from this, giving fake historical accounts of conversations between famous artists, his own modern-day interpretations of things, and his own personal views on various issues and this is where the book becomes quite annoying. Here, you often get the sense that the book is more about him than about his subject matter. He spends too much time trying to be witty, insightful and entertaining and his self-consciousness is evident in his writing.

Also, one of the best things about Gombrich's book (at least the edition that I read) is that every bit of artwork that was discussed was represented in full-page, full-colour photos. It is EXTREMELY annoying that almost none of the artworks mentioned in Gompertz book have accompanying pictures. Only a dozen or so get the colour treatment, a few others low-quality black and white photos and the rest nothing at all. Hearing Gompertz describe the 'business' of Mondrian's Composition No. 1 does so little to describe the painting that it is almost useless. It would be infinitely better to have the actual artwork depicted. Hopefully other editions of this book feature all of the plates, and if so I encourage you to buy one of those!
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VINE VOICEon 30 October 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I love art, ancient and modern. I know what I like, but I don't know enough about most of it to set it into context properly, especially modern art. This is where this book comes in, and Gompertz is the perfect guide through the web of all the 'isms' of modern art. He is an expert in his field, but unlike many others is not po-faced at all and explains everything in clear language with a great sense of humour.

After an anecdotal sketch outlining the first true avant-garde act of modern art - Duchamp's urinal, 'Fountain' - we divert back to the Impressionists, the previous band of art rebels, to set the scene. From then on it's a broadly chronological journey up to the present day. A helpful fold out 'tube map' of the isms and key artists shows how all the different schools of modern art grew out of each other and how they interlink, and a handful of colour plates and a few monochrome pictures help elucidate the key works described.

While I know this is not per se a picture book, a few more illustrations scattered through the text would have been welcome, (or a website showing them?). I'm lucky enough to have seen works by many of the artists mentioned, so I could visualise most of the broad styles from Gompertz's great descriptions. Of course, going to see them is better, and now I've read this book, my next visit to the Tate Modern will be a very different experience - which is what the author hopes we'll do having read his book.
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on 17 November 2015
Ideal,for people wanting to understand modern art while not necessarily actually liking it.....but willing to change their opinion. Briskly paced, easy to read and written with humour as well as bags of information.
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on 28 January 2016
Indispensable for students, artists and anyone who wants to make sense of where modern art has come from. Easy to read and much more enlightening than many of the more academic and stodgy Art History chroniclers.
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VINE VOICEon 30 September 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is an excellent book for anyone like me who looks at a pile of junk in Tate Modern and wonders just who first identified this as 'great art'. Or anyone who has stood in front of a large canvas which contains only a rather wonkily painted square in a rather unpleasant colour and has thought, 'my 5 year old could do better than that!'
Gompertz attempts to explain these two phenomena and does so with great passion and a good deal of sense - however, despite his best efforts, if a cleaner mops up a dirty mark because s/he doesn't realise it's a work of art, then, in my opinion, the artist has failed.
Art is supposed to 'speak' to each of us in possibly a slightly individual way, depending on our personal tastes, our previous experience of art, etc.
Quite a lot of modern art simply baffles us instead.
Quite a lot of modern artists don't seem to have any artistic ability at all and some even get other people to make up their works or simply assemble things that other people have made (Damien Hurst is particularly good at this - I still haven't got over seeing a row of glass shelves with large tropical shells placed on them - a 'work of art' by Hurst that was displayed in the Tate Modern).
However, while reading this excellent book, I was temporarily converted by Gompertz and could see the 'point' of many of the examples he gives.
However, I cling to my assertion that if I can derive no pleasure or insight from a piece of work, then it has, in some way failed as a work of art. If there is no skill involved in the production of the art-work and the only cleverness is in the fact that no-one else thought of doing it first, then, again, I consider it has failed and I will probably never appreciate it as a work of art.
I shall give you an example; Kasimir Malevich's 'Black Square' 1915, p.171. It's a painted black square that occupies most of the canvas. Nothing else. According to Gompertz, 'the unconscious mind would be able to 'see' that the artist was presenting the entire cosmos, and all life within it, in his small, square, simple painting.'
Sorry, Gompertz, but when I look at it, all I see is a rather scruffy black square that conveys nothing at all - if I need an expert to explain the art work, then it's failed in what (possibly) the artist intended to do - because I suspect very much that many 'modern' artists are taking the Mickey rather than consciously attempting to present the entire cosmos in a black square on a white background!
Anyway - despite my reservations over its content, this is a fascinating, well written and well worth reading book, illustrated with colour plates of some of the 'art work' Gompertz describes and explains.
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VINE VOICEon 19 November 2012
I love looking at Modern Art and enjoy learning about how to understand/appreciate it even more. Whether or not I like a piece is a matter of taste but it is always interesting.
Will Gompertz does a very good job with this book. He tells a story about the development of Modern Art, managing not to be opinionated whilst still allowing his enthusiasm to come across in bucket loads. It is not an academic text and some parts of the stories early on are embellished for effect, this adds to the overall chatty effect which results in the book being accessible and enjoyable. Don't be under any illusion that this is art for dummies though, it does take a significant amount of time to read but will pay back in a deeper understanding.
The 20 chapters (The Fountain, PreImpressionism, Impressionism, etc) all have great openings. So, if you are getting weary with a particular period (although that is probably unlikely), your attention will be dragged back again with the start of the next chapter.
There are many pictures (colour and black/white) shown in the book but I found it useful to have my iPad to hand while I was reading so I could look up the many pieces of art referred to but not shown. He could not show every piece of art or else the book would be an unmanageable size - i think he has arrived at a good balance.
Anyone picking this up will probably have some knowledge of Art but I guarantee that this book will fill in gaps and provide links that you didn't know were there.
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