Help me learn about Modern art
March 8, 2013 12:26 PM   Subscribe

I used to think I was fairly knowledgeable about art, but now I'm working with walking art encyclopedias and I'm finding holes in my knowledge. In particular, I don't really know about Modern art in any detail. Mefites, help me do a deep dive of Modern art and art criticism?

So, I've taken an overview Art History course, so I know all of the major artists and movements and could fill in a timeline of Art History. My favorite has always been Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, so I can tell you the difference between Monet and Manet, but couldn't tell you anything about Remedios Varo. I have some knowledge of Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism, so assume I am conversant in the fundamentals of Modern art. I know who Picasso is. I know who Jackson Pollock is. I've been to the Museum of Modern Art. I just don't know the poet-critics of the 1950's and 1960's, or American critics, or American art (except Pollock and Krasner) really. I know about surrealism, but from a major works of literature perspective. I need context and influencers and criticism, preferably in engaging book form. I'd appreciate a list of helpful Wikipedia entries, because otherwise I'll fall into an infinite loop. Think Modern Art 201, not 101 or thesis level monographs. Thank you, art lovers of AskMe.
posted by blueskiesinside to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Sounds like you need to watch Shock of the New. Dunno if it's available online somehwere, though.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:38 PM on March 8, 2013 [4 favorites]

Just a few books I've enjoyed:

Marjorie Perloff, The Futurist Moment
Maurice Nadeau, The History of Surrealism
Greil Marcus, Lipstick Traces

That would be a nice 201-level intro to Dada, Futurism, Surrealism, Situationism, and incidentally Punk.

But nothing really beats reading avant-gardist manifestos. There are lots of anthologies of them, e.g. the one Mary Ann Caws put together if you can find it.

I'll also toss out Andy Warhol's (partially? ghost-written) The Philosophy of Andy Warhol, because it's hilarious and insightful--again, great reading for sophomore art history.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 12:46 PM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Hans Richter's Art and Anti-Art is a terrific insider's view of Dada, and its relation to Surrealism as well as to the postwar movements (Pop, Fluxus, etc.) that drew on it.
posted by scody at 12:46 PM on March 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

You're in NYC according to your profile, so go to the Armory Show this weekend. It's a modern and contemporary art exhibition.

(I know it's not a book, but the timing is pretty right.)
posted by griphus at 12:55 PM on March 8, 2013

If you're looking for poet-critics of the 60s (and after), the person you're looking for is Arthur Danto. I would probably start with the Transfiguration of the Commonplace and then go to The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art.
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:02 PM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

It seems counter-intuitive in a way to recommend this book (What's Wrong With Contemporary Art? by Peter Timms) but I found it a very interesting read. As part of his larger argument on the "marketplace" which dominates modern art, the author "walks through" a few of pieces explaining in detail the symbolism and effects (good and bad) of the works.
posted by moxiequz at 1:36 PM on March 8, 2013

Check out A Brief History of Curating which is a series of interviews with important modern (some very modernist) museum directors and curators that influenced much of the contemporary art landscape. It's very good and a very easy read, and the interviews are conducted by Hans Ulrich Obrist, who is arguably one of the most influential curators today.

A World History of Art has a relatively concise overview of modern and contemporary art. Might not be worth buying the book for but if you manage to borrow a copy somewhere, it's a good read.

This is also an important book in helping with contemporary art.

In general though, I wouldn't get too worried, the type of knowledge you're looking for takes time to accumulate and can't happen from a single source. Start checking out stuff like e-flux on occasion as well, and other magazines like dot dot dot and cabinet which are good examples of the kind of critical engagement necessary nowadays in dealing with contemporary art. Start going to (assuming you live in NY seeing as you mentioned the MoMA) influential contemporary galleries; more experimental and avantgarde ones like gavin brown but also more commercial ones like gagosian. Other interesting places are artist's space and the artist institute. Even if you don't live in NY (I don't), there must still be plenty of contemporary art around you. Just engage and checkout stuff often, no book will replace actually seeing something (take this with a grain of salt though).

Hope this helps; while it might seem heavy on the contemporary side of things, informing yourself on anything contemporary automatically nets you an understanding of modernist principles and basically everything 1960's and 1970's because we all just love being so nostalgic and spill references.
posted by ahtlast93 at 2:05 PM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Great thread!!! Here's my suggestion: Go to the largest bookstore you can find with a few hours to kill and do some serious browsing. You'll be amazed as you discover the things that catch your eye, including all sorts of things you'd never have expected. It's great to have titles to start with, but I learned the most about my own tastes and interests through random browsing. It gave me a great starting point for learning more since I knew I wanted more things "like this."
posted by 2oh1 at 5:46 PM on March 8, 2013

Shock of the New is also a great book. And another great PBS series would be Art21. Additionally, if you have Netflix, there are usually lots of great documentaries rotating on and off the streaming titles list.
posted by PaulaSchultz at 9:13 PM on March 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've been to the Museum of Modern Art.

Maybe this is obvious, but keep doing that. You aren't supposed to run through once and call it a done thing. Become a member ($85 at the moment)
Unlimited free admission to MoMA without waiting in ticket lines. Members-only gallery talks, exhibition previews, $5 guest tickets, free films, great discounts, exclusive digital content, and more!
and then go at least once a season, four times a year. If there's something especially interesting, go a few times. Take a friend with you on your discount.
posted by pracowity at 11:35 PM on March 8, 2013

Shock of the New is a classic, from there you can easily move ahead.
posted by mumimor at 11:05 AM on March 9, 2013

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