Art and Today

By ELEANOR HEARTNEY

Art and Today is the most comprehensive survey of contemporary art. Full stop. There simply isn?t anything else out there that compares to this book?s breadth: nearly 500 oversized full-color pages, representing more than 400 international artists of the past three decades. Rather than presenting these artists as a chronological progression of like-minded members of movements, this survey ditches the isms and substitutes 16 loose categories, in which many artists appear multiple times. An introductory text briefly covers the earlier part of the 21st century (Clement Greenberg, modernism, Warhol), then deposits us in 1980. The YBAs (Young British Artists) Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin, graffiti artists Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, and Japanese artist Takashi Murakami show up in the “After Warhol” section; ready-made art includes work by Barbara Kruger and Jeff Koons. Abstraction is represented by Brice Marsden, Ellsworth Kelly, and Sol Le Witt, while Chuck Close, Vik Muniz, Elizabeth Peyton, and Gerhard Richter hang out in the realist corner. Artists who work with narrative — like Cindy Sherman and Matthew Barney — are in something called “postmodern storytelling,” while a section devoted to technology-based art gives us Nancy Burson?s age-progression software and Eduardo Kac?s experiments with DNA. Let?s not forget Kiki Smith, Bill Viola, Kara Walker, John Cage, Bruce Nauman, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Lorna Simpson. If they make art, and they made it in the last 30 years, they?re in here. As with any survey, each artist is represented by only a handful of images. But Heartley does an admirable job of weaving it all together.