What has much of contemporary art got to do with the art of the past? The last hundred years or more seem marked by the propensity to experiment, break free from art's past, explore new media, materials and technology. Duchamp's ready-mades, Christo's cloaking of buildings and landscapes in material, Tony Cragg's sculptures made from discarded plastic, the video installation pieces of Bruce Nauman, to name but a few, can all seem worlds away from the preoccupations of traditional visual art. Yet is this really so?
Take Gillian Wearing's Signs That Say What You Want Them to Say and Not Signs That Say What Someone Else Wants You to Say (1992-5). It's made up of a series of photographs of people holding up placards of what they were thinking, an example being a smooth, city slicker type whose sign reads 'I'm Desperate.' Wearing approached the individuals, who were complete strangers,