Art since 1900: Modernism, Antimodernism, Postmodernism

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Interventions Reviews Art since 1900: Modernism, Antimodernism, Postmodernism London: Thames and Hudson, 2005. 2 vols.: vol. 1, 1900-1944, 352 pp., 210 color ills., 106 b/w. $46.88; vol. 2, 19452003, 424 pp.. 236 color ills., 128 b/w. $46.88; both vols. $84.38. Also available in one vol.: 704 pp.; 413 color ills., 224 b/w. $95.00

Who among those of us assigned to tearh the survey of art history has not struggled with the very concept of the comprehensive overview? In many colleges and universities, a foundational survey nevertheless remains the bread and butter of the art history program, the centerpiece of a disciplinary practice taht Henri Zerner described two dozen years ago as "an uninspired professional routine feeding a busy academic machine."1 The survey text has been the indispensable corollary to this deeply entrenched yet problematic curricular offering. According to Mitchell Schwarzer in 1995, "The survey text is art history at its most grandiose, promising to reveal the complex truths of humanity through art. It is also," he continued, "art history at its most political, reducing cultural and individual differences to questionable hierarchies and generalities."'' When. live years earlier, Bradford Collins had addressed the challenge posed by the survey text, he, like Schwar/er, was writing about books thai seek to present works of an in relation to the vasl sweep of world history, and he noted, "The writing of a completely acceptable overview of art's history, impossible under any circumstance, has iK'en rendered even more absurd by the growing pluralism within our IiHd. which is why I think it may be time to rethink the entire introductory enterprise."1 The solution that Collins proposed, "a collection of separate, lengthy and in-depth analyses of major monuments, a book that would leave the issues of continuity to the individual instructor," introduces the possibility of an intellectually rigorous alternative to the dominant evolutionary paradigm, one that could be adapted to the most general of surveys or to a particular field within the history of art. "I can imagine, loo," Collins wrote, "thai such a book might include essays that offer competing points of view on a given work or monument. . . . Perhaps what we need in this area, given the methodological diversity within our field, is a range of quite different options."4 Some years later, Mark Miller Graham argued for a radical dcconsimction of the traditional survey, which he condemned for its ties to "the authority of the panoplie gaze and the privileged perspective."'1 First on his list of remedies is this advice: "Stop using the present generation of survey textbooks. . . . Those who teach the course must gel hold of its agenda." Graham's list continues with calls to "stop fetishizing completeness"; "eject the canon and thematize the content"; "embody and engender the discipline of art history": and. finally, "teach the conflicts . . . the actual debate and disagreement that constitute the scholarlv process."6

The authors of Art since 1900: Minimum, Antimodernism, Postmodernism have produced a survey text that responds surprisingly closely to many (but not all) of these prescriptions, establishing an ambitious new paradigm that solves some of the most egregious problems of the survey genre by challenging the reader to become actively engaged with the critical debates that are highlighted in the book. (Although the publication is available in a single volume, it can also be purchased as two separate volumes, the first of which deals with the period to 1944, while the second Ix-gins with 194"). My remarks here are prompted bv volume 1, though many would be applicable to volume 2 as well.) That an actively engaged reader is being called fortli becomes immediately apparent in (he instructions-"How to use this book"-with which the book opens (pp. 10-11). Here, two text pages are reproduced with additional graphic signs pointing out features of the layout and organization that are intended to help the reader "follow the development of art through the twentieth century and up to the present day. …