24 February 2016 § Leave a comment
I am usually rather sceptical about anything featuring numbered selections. Nowadays hardly anything seems to reach the pages of a magazine or a TV screen without being reduced to a seemingly arbitrary list. At best it can be of modest help where information has been distilled from something extensive or complex but at worst is simply a pointless exercise made with minimal critical judgement. The title of 100 Works Of Art That Will Define Our Age therefore aroused suspicion. How much selection was there? Was there really a nice round number? Could, or should, ’100’ just have been left off?
Numerical gripes aside this is an exceptional book. It is a formidable task to attempt to scroll forwards in time and make a judgement on how a future population will have judged art of the present day or indeed judge the art of your own era. It would also be easy to get bogged down in an almost endless series of semantic or philosophical questions but Grovier however delicately navigates this minefield with humour and skill.
He notes that Vincent Van Gogh’s contemporary view of his own ’Starry Night’ was that it was a dreadful ‘failure’ and by slipping in frequent insights such as this Grovier lets us glimpse at how the defining views of the art of the past and present are ever fluid.
We see how the artists of today continually draw from the past and how meanings flow in two directions. Great art never finishes but instead forever participates having the power to alter the art of the past as well as to influence the future.
Grover actually creates a definition of ‘Our Age’ by selecting art from about 1990 to 2010 leaving a certain amount of critical weight to have already been applied. The notorious Saatchi Sensation exhibition from 1997 already seems an age ago and a handful of works like Damien Hirst’s ‘Shark’ and Marc Quinn’s Self are naturally included. Many others like Olafur Eliasson’s Weather Project for the Tate Turbine Hall, Jeff Koons’ Puppy, Marina Abramovic The Artist is Present and Tracey Emin’s ‘Bed’ seem natural choices, neatly included in sections with titles like ‘Is All Art Nostalgic’ and ‘Can Art and Life ever be in Sync?’.
At the same time one does wonder whether the likes of Jeff Wall, Cristina Iglesias, Walid Raad, Sean Scully and Sheela Gowda really define our age. I dont think so, and it is a stretch to think that as many as a hundred works can possibly define an age. If we look back another thirty years to Pop art how far do we see beyond a handful of names like say, Warhol and Lichtenstein? Who knows even if the period 1990 to 2010 will ever make its mark on history or fade in to a forgotten mist?
However, as one progressed through the book, the pleasure in looking back at some of the great works of our era and reading Grovier’s beautifully written and insightful analyses will dissolve all doubts. It reads easily and gently expands our appreciation of works that we perhaps doubted or misunderstood. It may, or may not, in the end include the works that define our age but perhaps it is best viewed simply as an exemplary record of memorable recent art.
For more information visit www.thamesandhudson.com