Industry and Intelligence: Contemporary Art Since 1820
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The history of modern art is often told through aesthetic breakthroughs that sync well with profound cultural and political change. Monet’s riotous landscapes, Picasso’s fractured forms, Pollock’s insolent splatters, Warhol’s proliferating soup cansthese examples track with the disruptions of industrialization, fascism, revolution, and war, among other influences. But filtering modern art only through catastrophic events cannot account for the subtle interrogations that inform so many contemporary works.
The conceptual artist Liam Gillick writes the holistic genealogy of contemporary art that we need to appreciate its engagement with history, even when it seems apathetic or blind to current events. Rather than focus on dominant works or special cases, Gillick takes a broad view of artistic creation from 1820 to today, underscoring the industry and intelligence of artists as they have responded to incremental developments in science, politics, and technology. The great innovations and dislocations of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have their place in this timeline, but their traces are alternately amplified and diminished as Gillick moves through artistic reactions to liberalism, mass manufacturing, psychology, nuclear physics, automobiles, and a host of other advances. He intimately ties the origins of contemporary art to the social and technological adjustments of modern life, which artists struggled to incorporate truthfully into their works.