| Interpreting Contemporary Art
Book by HarperCollins, 1991
This volume of specially commissioned essays on contemporary art is intended to open doors and not to close them. By the editors' decision, it does not take its stand on any particular critical ideology. None the less, it could be said to have a clear and discernible unity. This is in part because of the particular brief which was given to our contributors, as a result of our own conviction that the time was ripe for a volume which would approach a select number of contemporary works with adequate seriousness and comprehensiveness.
Of course, it is also, very largely, because of the way in which our contributors responded to their brief, reinforcing our sense that the criticism of the present day is well equipped to deal with a period in which outstanding works of art continue to be produced on all sides - even though the art world itself often appears to be terminally afflicted. It can be said of all these essayists, we feel, that they are enthusiasts for their chosen subject. That is a far from insignificant fact, if we measure it against the carping and dogmatic criticism that was all too often the rule no more than a decade ago.
The brief which we offered was that contributors should write about one work in particular (though this need not exclude a group of related works or a set of contrasted examples) and that the work (which could be in any medium whatsoever) should date from after 1970. As it has turned out, the range of works selected has extended over the last two decades with a reasonable regularity: Robert Motherwell's Riverrun (1972.) is the first in date, while Michael Newman's survey of the sculpture of Richard Deacon includes one example from 1990 and concentrates on a work from the previous year. Our definition of the contemporary was certainly not intended to be a prescriptive one.
The important thing was that the work would not have to be contextualized historically (although it might have to be contextualized in other ways) before the critic attempted to come to terms with it. Or to put it in a more positive way, it was to be the challenge of looking at something new - which was, thus, likely to pose special problems of interpretation - that grounded the critical enterprise. An incidental point here is that wemade no special attempt to achieve a balance between genres of work or to distribute the featured artists across various geographical categories (except in so far as this was...