10 reasons why you should read ‘100 Works of Art That Will Define Our Age’

ONE – TIME FRAME ‘Drawing attention to the vision, skill and passion of a wide range of artists from every corner of the world, the present book dares to nominate one hundred works of contemporary art – whether painting, sculptures, photographs, drawings, tapestries, installations, performances, multimedia pieces or video – that have earned the nod of history and have the creative propulsion to endure.’ Kelly Grovier takes 1989 as a starting point relating to Robert Hughes’s survey of modern art – ‘The Shock of the New: Art and the Century of Change’ (from 1991) and selects works created until 2012. Appraisal of art from such a short time perspective seems a kind of an open question but on the other hand it’s very exciting to read about creations from literally now. We remember some of the shows, we visited some of them, we know exactly the context of the works, it all makes the reading very thrilling.

TWO – THE SELECTION Kelly Grovier selects 100 works by 100 artists. Fairly proportionate concerning mediums, nationalities, perhaps less when speaking of genders (only a few women artists). A couple of choices are perhaps a bit too obvious, like Barbara Kruger’s ‘Your Body is a battleground’ or Damien Hirst’s ‘For the Love of God’. In some cases like Marina Abramović (opening the list due to the alphabetical order) or Jenny Holzer, the author presents the concepts explored across many pieces rather than a particular performance. I agree, each of us has their favorite artists and even more cherished works by them. So it may happen that you would place another piece in this pantheon. I personally would select another canvas by Peter Doig or a different sculpture by Jeff Koons, but that’s not an issue here I guess. Being slightly tired of compilations about art now, updated every now and then, this one is very refreshing, mainly  due to…

THREE – TEXTS … interesting texts capturing the essence. I really like all those eye-opening comments on all works. They are more than analyzes, the author sketches the context of each piece of art using insightful, but not hermetic, language. There are also many clever references to history, philosophy, literature or pop culture, some really surprising and witty. Grovier guides us through the maze of contemporary art with a fantastic…

FOUR – … APPROACH And that is to gain knowledge not about the works but from them – ‘The aim is not merely to learn about the works but from them – to explore them for what they can reveal to us about ourselves, our age and the meaning of art today’ (which reminds me of the ‘Global Art Compass’ previously reviewed). Activating the reader/viewer instead of bombarding them with the facts, we like it!

FIVE - PHOTOS Another important point is that typically for Thames & Hudson, we receive a book with fabulous illustrations, which emphasizes the fact that the works of art selected for the book are stunning. So either you know them or not, you will really enjoy them.

SIX – APPENDIX I also find useful including some biographical information and suggestions for further reading (both general and for each artist). It’s concise but recommending worthy books.

SEVEN – ECHOES OF HISTORY As for the perspective, I like the way the author links many contemporary works with the old masters, showing awareness of today’s artists of the past whether they work in painting, sculpture or any other medium. Grayson Perry VS Rogier van der Weyden or Jenny Saville VS Peter Paul Rubens. I’m sure all those interesting references, will make thinking of contemporary art much wider. Especially to the skeptics claiming that present creations are like no men’s islands which they cannot understand. 

EIGHT – BIG INSTALLATIONS Imagine – one third of all works presented in the book is bigger than a traditional gallery space or would take its total size in the best case. As the author says, ‘few venues can adequately accommodate this growing gigantism of expression’. Kelly Grovier justifies why he favoured some galleries, like TATE Modern Gallery, but I think it’s great he did it because the Unilever Series Presented in TATE’s Turbine Hall is truly exceptional and produced many works that are difficult to recreate. The lucky ones of us saw some of the installations, but for all others it’s a great opportunity to look closer at many exciting projects and amazing pieces this series resulted in.

NINE – DIVERSITY I also like the book for the array it presents. The diversity of voices is definitely impressive and stimulating. Now, in the era of globalization, Internet, when artists work in so many places around the globe, follow numerous theories and inspirations and explore various mediums (or mix them) it’s good to have open-minded guide offering many perspectives, like Grovier’s book does, which lead us to the conclusion:

TEN – BIG QUESTIONS Last but not least the book leaves us with challenging questions: “The individual works selected here have been chosen for their ability to resonate as metaphors of our time and for their durability in crystallizing reflections on where the story of art has thus far reached – and where it may lead from here.” It is a very apt issue indeed. We can all interpret it in our own way, especially now, if we’re equipped in Kelly Grovier’s book which is a very good tool. “Every age is defined by the art it inspires.” Sure, but the game is not over! Let’s keep our eyes wide open.

100 Works of Art That Will Define Our Age, Kelly Grovier, Thames & Hudson