Thursday, January 14, 2016

Art Visionaries - a review

I have a problem with contemporary art. I always feel like I need a map to navigate what's happened in the last 100 years. There's just so many different artists and so many different art movements - and I find it very difficult to sort out who's important and who's not.

This week Laurence King published a book called Art Visionaries which might well provide a resource to fill the gaps in my knowledge of contemporary art.  It's both well written and well presented.

Art Visionaries published by Laurence King
Paperback | 340 colour illustrations | 312 pages | 290 x 200 mm
ISBN 9781780675770 Published January 2016
Essentially the premise of the book is that it covers 75 of the most influential artists of the 20th and 21st centuries.  They are characterised as artists who defined art in the 20th century and the choice reflects the changes in art during this time

  • from representative of the visible world to include abstraction
  • from painting and sculpture to include collage, performance, photography and installations etc 
  • from traditional materials to include iron and steel, neon tubing fibreglass, textiles
  • from an art world which largely revolved around Paris to one which expanded into the USA

Any selection is going to be idiosyncratic and reflect the view of the authors. To me the selection came across as overwhelmingly male and seems to lean very much towards both a Western perspective and artists with a European background irrespective of where they ended up living.  There is one Japanese, one Korean and no Chinese artists. There's also rather a lot of sculpture, installations and land art.

I have to say I was somewhat surprised by some of the artists who were included - and excluded. Some of those who are included who I have never heard of seem to have become known for one particular approach to making art - even when this approach has not necessarily had a major impact on the art of others.  Oddly artists like Hockney who have had an eclectic approach and keep reinventing their art get left out on this criteria.

You can see who is included on the contents page on the "look inside" on Amazon.

Here's a small selection of who is included according to nationality

  • Russian artists - Kandinsky, Malevich, Chagall, 
  • French artists - Matisse, Leger, Braque, Duchamp, 
  • Belgian artists - Magritte
  • Dutch artists - Mondrian
  • Spanish artists - Picasso, Miro, Dali
  • Italia artists - Morandi
  • German artists - Otto Dix, George Grosz, Gerhard Richter, Anselm Kiefer
  • Swiss artists - Klee, Giacometti
  • British artists - Henry Moore, Francis Bacon, Andy Goldsworthy, Anish Kapoor, Rachel Whiteread and Damien Hirst (but no Lucian Freud, David Hockney or Tracy Emin - which just seems weird!)
  • American artists - Edward Hopper, Alexander Calder, Rothko, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Cindy Sherman, Jeff Koons (but no O'Keeffe)
  • European artists who came to America - de Kooning, Abramovic,
Some of the names of some of the other artists meant nothing to me - and I guess that's why this book is going to be educational.

The book works its way through the artists chronologically based on the birthdate of the artist. There's no attempt to group them together within different movements. 

The book is very heavily visual with large images. The format is identical for each artist - they each get:
  • two double page spreads
  • an intelligently curated and articulate bio which:
    • summarises key aspects of their life (and leaves out the boring bits!) 
    • highlights the reason they are important and counted as 'Art Visionaries'
  • a portrait pic and then images of their work
  • a timeline for how their career developed - down the vertical edge of the page or across the bottom of the double page spread
I'm a huge fan of timelines - they help me make sense of art in the context of what was happening in the world and how a career has developed over time.

The other thing that is very helpful about adopting a strictly chronological approach is that you get to see the diversity in art that occurred during the same period and also which years seemed to generate a lot of good artists. My birth year was a good one! :)

All in all it's a jolly useful book - and very accessible. I'm going to be filling in the gaps in my knowledge!


Note: I was sent a copy of this book by the publisher - however this is an independent review. 

2 comments:

Johnny said...

Was Francis Bacon Irish? I've seen some his interviews on TV and he certainly has an Irish accent.

Catherine Ingleby ART said...

I agree, I studied Aesthetics at Uni, and wrote a thesis on modern art, and some days still feel none the wiser - book purchased, will look forward to reading it!

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