Originally published in Artlog. ◊◊
Defining Contemporary Art: 25 Years in 200 Pivotal Artworks takes an innovative approach to surveying the art of the last quarter century, which is notoriously difficult to periodize or define. Eschewing grand narratives, Phaidon asked for individual artwork selections from eight of today’s most influential curators: Daniel Birnbaum, Connie Butler, Suzanne Cotter, Bice Curiger, Okwui Enwezor, Massimiliano Gioni, Bob Nickas, and Hans Ulrich Obrist. The resulting volume not only addresses the obstacle of pinning down the nebulous term “contemporary art,” but also manges to pull off a legible presentation of it in a single book.
The project never aspired to be a comprehensive or canonical text, and in fact, its self-imposed limitations make it particularly effective. The strict parameters read almost like the playful rules of a game: each curator picks twenty-five works made between 1985 and 2010; no artist can be featured twice in the entire volume (though there were two exceptions); and each curator must select one of the years to write about at length. Craig Garrett, the editor and coordinator of the project, wanted the curators to think anecdotally by picking works they would look at now and say, “After this, everything has changed.” Ultimately, Defining Contemporary Art functions as both a demonstration of contemporary curation and a poly-contextualized historical review.
Images courtesy of Phaidon.