If you are ordering this book, make very sure that you are selecting the right size. Some of the reviews here relate to the 'mini' version, people being disappointed that it was so small or advising that it could be taken around the gallery with you as it is the right size to pop in your pocket. The only way to get this edition around the gallery easily would be if the floors had been highly polished and the book could be pulled around on a blanket.
Published in 1996 and, therefore, being slightly premature this book includes 500 oil paintings, sculpture, collage, ready-made objects, installations and videos, the four latter being characteristic of the 20th-century. Perhaps works on paper might have been included for completeness? The graphic artist, Frans Masereel, is just one artist who deserves to be included – replacing such derivative works as, for example, Yong Ping Huang’s “The History of Chinese Art and a Concise History of Modern Art after Two Minutes in the Washing Machine”, 1987. Copies of both books, the latter in an English translation, were put through a short cycle, the combined pulp placed in a tatty, old wooden box and displayed as a [tatty?] work of art. Huang’s art, burning works and exhibiting junk and other found objects, sometimes ‘created’ with colleagues from the ‘Xiamen-Dada Happenings’ have led to censorship from official art museums and exhibitions. If only Monet had possessed this genius then he could have accomplished his ‘Waterlily’ and other cycles very much more speedily.
The book reproduces each work as a full-colour plate that is accompanied by a brief text, typically 150 words, that ‘sheds light on the work shown and its creator’, or ‘creators’ in the case of Gilbert and George, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Ulay and Abramovic, Komar and Melamid, and Tim Rollins and his collaborative group Kids of Survival, for example. A feature of the book is that each artist is cross-referenced to artists of a a similar style, matter or medium – thus Naum Gabo is linked to Domela, Hepworth, Lissitsky, Nicholson and Tatlin, whilst Joan Mitchell is linked with Gorky, Kline, De Kooning, Krasner, Mondrian and Rothko. It would have been helpful to have been told something about the selection and/or sifting procedures.
There are glossaries of terms [‘Abstract/Abstraction’ to ‘Watercolour’], artistic movements [‘Abstract Expressionism’ and ‘Art Informel’ to ‘Tachisme’ and ‘Vorticism’], museums and galleries [Australia and Austria to Uruguay and Venezuela]. The latter actually relate to the locations of the art works illustrated and, for the UK, these are Peter Stuyvesant Foundation Limited, Aylesbury; Fitzwilliam Museum, Scottish National Museum of Art; Cotton’s Atrium, London; Courtauld Institute Galleries; National Gallery; Saatchi Collection; Tate Gallery; Henry Moore Foundation, Much Hadham; City Art Gallery, Nottingham; Lady Lever Art Gallery, Wirral; Salford Art Gallery and Museum, and Southampton City Art Gallery.
However, the diversity of artistic mediums from the last century really required a short over-arching Introduction. As it stands the reader is plunged straight into Vito Acconci, Bas Jan Ader, Eileen Agar and Craigie Aitchison and the collection does not let up until Andrew Wyeth, Jack Butler Yeats, Jiro Yoshihara and Gilberto Zorio. The artists come from Argentina to Zaire, Yugoslavia to Armenia.
The enjoyment of this collection is the juxtaposition of very different works, works by known and unknown artists and acknowledged masterpieces. It also allows one to make knee-jerk responses to works like that of Huang, above. However, although colourful, ‘comprehensive’ and [if your coffee-table is strong enough] a focus for perusal and animated discussion, ultimately I found it rather unsatisfying.