publication date: 2012
This book was a wonderful introduction to modern art. It described, in loosely chronological order, the most influential art pieces in the modern art world from the mid-nineteenth century to the present. I say “loosely” chronological because the art was not presented in a strictly chronological fashion. Instead, Brad Finger would introduce a piece of art and, after a thorough discussion, describe several later works that were influenced by the subject art piece. This format made the book interesting and thought-provoking.
Additionally, the book was filled with lush and thrilling images. Nearly every page contained a crisp and perfectly-colored image. Further, the image captions were informative and helpful.
Although the images were probably the best part of the book, the discussion was almost as impressive. I don’t know much about art, and the sensible and interesting content made Modern Art an ideal primer. Because the structure was logical and enlightening, I was able to understand Finger’s analysis of the art pieces and I was able to make connections and conclusions about the artworks and modern art in general.
Finger also included anecdotes about artists. One of my favorites was this discussion of Marcel Duchamp, which showed how irreverent Duchamp could be:
For Duchamp, in fact, an over-reliance on manual craftmanship could produce shallow “retinal art,” or art made purely “to please the retina, to be judged for the retinal effect of the picture.”
Finger relayed these anecdotes in a dispassionate and neutral way, but that didn’t conceal the eccentricities inherent in some modern art. For example, I love this account of what artist Yves Klein did in his attempt to elevate the importance of empty space in an exhibition:
Klein [developed] a new kind of ritual performance. It involved a “commercial” transaction, where Klein “exchanged” a piece of immaterial space – what he called a “zone of immaterial pictorial sensibility” – for a predetermined amount of pure gold. When the “payment” was made, Klein gave the buyer a signed receipt from a specially-produced receipt book.
Finger tried to report this story with a straight face, but how ridiculous is it to imagine some rich guy buying nondescript empty air for a bar of gold?!
The only major flaw of the book was Finger’s decision to clog the space at the top of each page with a confusing and irrelevant time line. The time line was seemingly arbitrarily split into four sections and each section would repeat itself every few pages. At first I thought the time lines corresponded with each artist or artwork, but after several pages of incongruous dates running across the header, I just gave up and stopped reading it.
4/6: worth reading
The only other reviews of this book online that I could find were on goodreads.