What Was Contemporary Art?

Richard Meyer, Author
Richard Meyer. MIT, $35 (360p) ISBN 978-0-262-13508-5
Reviewed on: 03/25/2013
Release date: 02/01/2013
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Meyer (Outlaw Representation) seeks to put the contemporary art world in honest conversation with its past, presenting the study and making of art as a "relation between an ever-shifting present and the volatile force of history." His triptych congeals around three moments in 20th century American art: the first college course on contemporary art, taught at Wellesley College in 1927 by Alfred H. Barr; the 1937 exhibit Prehistoric Rock Pictures in Europe and Africa, mounted at the Museum of Modern Art, also by Barr; and the 1948 controversy surrounding the name change of Boston's Institute of Modern Art to the Institute of Contemporary Art. Hard-hitting critical concerns blend into the narrative, the minutia of historical debates providing an opportunity to broaden our own art-historical moment and consider its possibilities. An extended introduction and afterword frame Meyer's story, the latter of which focuses on artist Glenn Ligon's recent work—ostensibly to solidify earlier arguments regarding the slipperiness of time and the potentials that come from diachronic art-making. Like Barr before him, Meyer finds room for the historical in the contemporary and the contemporary in the historical, all the while convincing us it's in the art world's as well as the layperson's best interest to do so. Color illustrations. (Mar.)
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