100 Works of Art That Will Define Our Age

/>Kelly Grovier, Thames & Hudson, £35

Every now and then a book about contemporary art appears which informs it audience

in ways that neither the author nor the publisher probably quite intended. This seems to be the case with Kelly Grovier’s 100 Works of Art That Will Define Our Age, newly published by Thames & Hudson, just in time for this year’s Frieze Art Fair. This is, without a doubt, a
book that


one interested in contemporary artistic manifestations should ignore. /* 9-970x90 */ Adorned with a cover that suggests the


blurred double vision one suffers after a bad knock on the head, it has a comprehensive suite of illustrations, well reproduced in good colour. The choice of names is extremely


informative src="//pagead2.googlesyndication.com/pagead/show_ads.js"> concerning the state of the art world right now. It is
perhaps a little more difficult to be complimentary about the text. The flavour of google_ad_client = "ca-pub-3967079123942817"; this is well illustrated by this, the final paragraph of Grovier’s description of Damien Hirst’s diamond encrusted skull, For the Love of God:

“What a strange geometrical hinge Hirst’s outrageous jaw is. It defines our age eloquently, an era of recycled retro that forgot it was retro. When the skull was first unveiled as part of the British artist’s exhibition ‘Beyond Belief’, the lavish security it enjoyed as though it were the rediscovered crown jewels of a

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legendary realm, led google_ad_slot = "6023194682"; many to attach to it an invincibility that could laugh in the face of time’s ravaging, as though a work of art that could conquer death had at last been found. Others may have seen little more than a gaudy trick, which the

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slightest wrinkle of a gallery rug might send smashing into eight thousand
broken engagement rings.”

This at least avoids the

was born in Dortmund, travelled restlessly, and died in Vienna. Other celebrated German artists are absent – Baselitz, Immendorf, Penck, Fettting.

of the North, and Rachel Whiteread’s Nameless Library, Holocaust Memorial at the Judenplatz in Vienna.

There are several points to

be made about current installation art. First, it is extremely dependent on official support – it is representative, in most of

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its manifestations, of that paradoxical entity, the ‘official avant-garde’. Many of the installations celebrated here have been presented at major museums of contemporary art, or as part of major google_ad_client = "ca-pub-3967079123942817"; art biennials. That is, they are an accepted component – the ‘circuses’ – of our present ‘bread and circuses’ official culture, characteristic of Western European democracies and also of the United States, but not so prevalent or firmly established elsewhere. The installations are also physically ephemeral for the most part. That is, if you missed them when they were initially shown, you will probably never now catch up with

are almost childishly simple, such as Martin Creed’s The Lights Going On and Off. This means that these art works can only ‘define our age’ through the operation of perhaps unreliable individual memory. Who, in any case, can have managed to see them all at first

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The only way most of us can hope to see them now is through books such as this one, which also attempt

​ to tell us what opinions we should form. Yet wait – there

is another paradox here. The conventional art book, text and illustrations on paper, is not nearly as efficient in conveying information about large, often labyrinthine three dimensional objects as film. Meanwhile hybrid art ‘books’ – so called – are increasingly available on portable tablet computers through the use of Apple’s iBook software. If these forty installations were all visible on an iBook, each represented by google_ad_client = "ca-pub-3967079123942817"; a film clip or a series of film clips, one would have a much better idea of what they are really like, and therefore of both their strengths and


their deficiencies as google_ad_height = 90; works of art. This is dinosaur technology inefficiently trying to convey information about what is proclaimed to be a new age.

I called this a bad book, yet also said that it was a book that no one interested in contemporary art should miss. The reasons are twofold. First, it does undoubtedly offer a lot of information about

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the current state of contemporary art, though not always information that tends to raise
one’s enthusiasm for the subject, nor one’s respect for the artists concerned, nor for the curators and institutions who promote this vision of what the art
world should currently be doing. Secondly, the information it offers is radically skewed, but skewed in an interesting way.

The implicit claim here is that Britain, London in particular, is now the google_ad_width = 970; unchallenged centre of the contemporary art world. Bold of Thames & Hudson to publish an ambitious book that says this, as their important

market is not going to like it. Yet the fact that over 30% of the artists included in the book are British or British resident is enough to certify that this is
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the direction it takes. Accumulating evidence shows that the claim


may possibly be true. London has the great museums, the major public spaces for contemporary art, art dealers of all kinds, trusts that supply studio spaces. It also has an
enormous number of gifted younger artists, some born here, some foreign. Nevertheless, trying to certify Britain’s new status by a celebration of the fast fading YBAs doesn’t help to make the case. In fact, it
tends to undermine it.

Further, the official

museum-supported avant-garde that Kelly Grovier seems keen to celebrate is bizarrely akin, certainly in organizational terms, to the world of the great official Salons, dominant during the closing years google_ad_height = 90; of the //--> 19th century. Did Bouguereau and Alma-Tadema src="//pagead2.googlesyndication.com/pagead/show_ads.js"> define the art of their time? Yes, in a way that’s just what they


Reviewed by Edward Lucie-Smith

The Jackdaw, October 2013