Every now and then I read a book that upsets my equilibrium and I can't quite think straight until I figure out which book it was and why. This was that book for 2011. Sometime in the mid-90's I decided I could not go on muttering about how the new art of the time wasn't "really art" and made a conscious effort to understand what was going on. I read some books, I read the critics, I read Art Monthly and Modern Painters, I went on the Contemporary Art Society's magic bus Saturdays now and again. I figured I learned enough to spot the real thing, the frauds, the copyists, the chancers and the genuine-but-minor.
So this book confused me. It's well put-together; the works, I assume, are chosen by the artists' galleries to best represent them; the interviews are pure art-school theory-babble, which is an acquired minor delight to read when you're in the mood. The photography and printing is excellent. Francesca Gavin is the Visual Arts Editor at Dazed and Confused, no less, so she knows what's new and who's happening. She knows how to be a good member of the artworld, and exercises good citizenship here.
But I wasn't educated, enthralled or excited. Most of what Francesca Gavin shows us is just plain ordinary, if not actually derivative (no names, no pack-drill). When Ed Kienholz did creepy sculptures with ordinary objects back in the day, it was a Statement and and Experiment. For some reason no-one yet understands, while statues in stone don't feel derivative, fluorescent tubes in flower-pots do. Maybe the stone doesn't get in the way of the subject, but the household objects do. Of the artists in the book, I like Richard Mosse's and Anita Moure's photography, Sayre Gomez' graphics and Alex Plademunt's installations. I'm sure there are some people who can go for a sculptural spider with a radio for a head, but I'm not one of them. There's a little bit of multi-cultural box-ticking, but then, why not, since it's not just Western artists who can produce ordinary conceptual art.
I'm guessing that 100 New Artists is as competent and representative a review of new artwork by young artists as anyone could put together. I like that there's strong representation of European and World artists and not just this year's New Yorkers'. If you haven't seen this kind of work before, this is a useful book to read. If you can spot a Basqiuat copyist as readily as an over-ripe tomato, then you don't need to read it.
It's the book that's four-star, not the art. That's the confusion I can't quite untangle.