FRANCIS FRANSCINA, NIGEL BLAKE, BRIONY FER, TAMAR GARB, AND CHARLES HARRISON Modernity and Modernism: French Painting in the Nineteenth Century New Haven: Yale University Press in association with the Open University, 1993. 304 pp.; 50 color ills., 200 b/w. $50.00; $25.00 paper
CHARLES HARRISON, FRANCIS FRASCINA, AND GILL PERRY Primitivism, Cubism, Abstraction: The Early Twentieth Century New Haven: Yale University Press in association with the Open University, 1993. 280 pp.; 48 color ills., 182 b/w. $50.00; $25.00 paper
BRIONY FER, DAVID BATCHELOR, AND PAUL WOOD Realism, Rationalism, Surrealism: Art between the Wars New Haven: Yale University Press in association with the Open University, 1993. 371 pp.; 64 color ills., 240 b/w. $50.00; $25.00 paper
PAUL WOOD, FRANCIS FRASCINA, JONATHAN HARRIS, AND CHARLES HARRISON Modernism in Dispute: Art since the Forties New Haven: Yale University Press in association with the Open University, 1993. 283 pp.; 48 color ills.; 180 b/w. $50.00; $25.00 paper
For those who constantly reconsider what to assign for required readings in 19th- and 20th-century art surveys, the publication of the Yale University Press/Open University series offers a difficult yet in many respects rewarding solution. This series of four independent and interdependent books--referred to here for convenience as volumes, numbered in chronological order--constitutes the first revisionist account of modernity in the visual arts designed as much for classroom use as for the "general reader" (vol. 1, preface). The chief virtue of the series is the authors' self-conscious and strategic integration of historical texts, of exhibition reviews and criticism that, together with more recent research, serve to readdress particular contexts for he practices of modernist art. Finally, we have textbooks that question as much as they survey our received critical history of formal priorities in the visual arts and that more effectively realize the practical aims of course packets and published anthologies of critical texts. As several of the writers involved in the Open University project have themselves edited the latest such anthologies (most recently Charles Harrison and Paul Wood, Art in Theory, 1900-1990, Oxford: Blackwell Press, 1992, cited throughout all four volumes of the Yale/Open University series), one can fully appreciate the extent to which the series draws on this experience. Indeed, instructors who choose these books for classroom use will be strongly motivated by the theoretical orientation of the writing; this is an introductory survey that responds consistently to historical modernist and recent postmodernist criticism. My review, for reasons of space, will address the aims and content of the series in connection with pedagogical issues now confronting instructors here in the United States.
The publication of this series is important to university teaching, not least because a number of anthologies have provided, in a more fragmentary way, opportunities for exposing students to theoretical and method-sensitive historical interpretation. The Yale/Open University series improves on this by enabling instructors to test students with many of the same essays and theories (presented in anthologies) in specific historical or visual analytical contexts, which are then integrated into a coherent narrative--structured as chapter and book. The shift in the direction of survey textbooks that these four volumes represent toward critical readings of both modernist art and modernist-art historiography is long overdue, given our various pedagogical interests in representing theory and in maintaining a consciousness of the methods used to interpret works of art. Exposing the intersections between modernist criticism and the construction of a history of modernist art has become an obligation that no one would want to sidestep, and these books fully address this requirement of teaching in the late 20th century. …