What you need to know about contemporary art

The superb new Art of the Twentieth Century by Taschen

Art of the Twentieth Century
Editors Marc Scheps and Evelyn Weiss
Museum Ludwig Cologne
Published by Taschen
RRP $79.99


There are a number of books on the history of modern art, and most of them provide intelligent approaches in providing an understanding of how art has evolved.

The way in which that history is told keeps changing as we interpret and re-interpret the past and come to grips with the present. New histories are always important and always seem to shed new light on art and artists.

The new Taschen work Art of the Twentieth Century, edited by Marc Scheps and Evelyn Weiss, is a superb new addition to our understanding of how modern art has developed along with the changes in culture and society.

Taschen is one of the leading publishers of high-quality art books and has done much to make art, particularly contemporary art, accessible, with an emphasis on great illustrations and readible texts.

Has a fresh take

Art of the Twentieth Century may traverse areas which have been written about such as Cubism but the book manages to have a fresh take on artists and art, which makes for rewarding reading. There are occasional passages which are a bit dense and obscure, but for the most part the writing is clear and informative.

The editors have managed to bring together the history of the art and artists of the last 100 years, as well as incorporating political and social issues, drawing together several threads to provide a story which stretches across the decades as well across divides of countries and art movements.

Most comprehensive texts take a fairly linear approach to the history of art but this book is a bit different in having themes and sub-themes which allow the authors to include artists who often fall through the net.

Within these sub-themes they are able to have heading such as Paris, You, My Second Vitebsk, which allows them to look at Marc Chagall (born in Vitebsk) and other Jewish outsider artists of the early part of the century, including Modigliani and Soutine.

In talking about Mexican art they feature Diego Rivera and Freda Kahlo but they are also able to include other artists like Renato Guttuso with his then novel brand of socialist realism.

Several of the works are little known, such as the impressive sculptural installation Homage to Walter Benjamin by Dani Karavan which hangs above the bay at Port Bou in Spain, a memorial to the assassinated writer.

With complex artists like Picasso, who often seem to have a stylistic arbitrariness, the authors are able to provide a logical process of development showing the greatness and depth of the artist.

Other artists are almost dismissed, as with Damien Hirst, where the authors note about his shark and half cows that galleries are becoming fairgrounds and sideshows for the idea of undecaying eternity.

There are excellent chapters on photography, including discussion on art, fashion and photography, and a chapter on War; the Father of all photography.

It is a formidable book of 840 pages featuring more than 700 paintings by nearly 350 artists. There are some great page layouts with large images. In addition to the main text there is an alphabetically arranged section with biographical detail on the artists, meaning the main text is not filled with such unnecessary detail.

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