June 27, 2019

Have we moved Beyond Contemporary Art?

Beyond Contemporary Art is a tactile book of 240 glossy pages which focuses on artists’ work from the last decade. As the author Etan Jonathan Ilfeld says in his introductory essay, the book is for anyone ‘curious about the trends that are challenging and expanding the boundaries of contemporary art’. Beyond Contemporary Art is very image-driven and takes an alphabetical look at over ninety artists from Marina Abramovic to Daniel Young, by way of old favourites like Damien Hirst and cross-media creatives like Bjork. Indeed the blurring of artistic boundaries becomes something of a theme.

Etan Jonathan Ilfeld is himself a digital artist, and he writes about the digital revolution that contemporary art has undergone. The digital editioned artworks offered by s[edition] and iphone and other apps jostle in the new art world with super-traditional media such as Grayson Perry’s ceramics. The artists in the book cover all types of fine art from drawing and sculpture to graffiti and kinetic installations and with such an array of artists on display it is hard to find a significant thread that neatly links them all. Indeed Ilfeld claims that his main thesis is that contemporary art is almost indefinable – the reason for listing the artists by name rather than artificially categorising them.

That art has changed in the last ten years is undeniable. Like all of life digital technology has infiltrated everywhere and the use of such technology is the biggest change from a similar survey written ten years ago. Even those artists that are not digitalists per se are often using digital technology in their practice. An example is Jeremy Wood, who uses GPS to track his own travels, presenting the resulting maps of his movements around London and the world. Eduardo Kac is another, working with biotechnological and transgenic art. He used nanotechnology to produce Aromapoetry, the first poetry book written just with smell, not to mention commissioning a luminous rabbit…

Contemporary artists are of course still using the old techniques, albeit with a twist or two. Banksy is one of the street artists who represents old-school painting. His work is witty and well-known, but Ilfeld points out that he is also a conceptual artist and film maker, who was nominated for an oscar for best documentary. He is a prime exhibit in the argument that contemporary artists are now spreading themselves over a wider sphere of working practice than has been the case in the past.

Beyond Contemporary Art is an interesting look at the last few years in the art world. It reminds us that Tate Modern has only existed since 2000. Contemporary art has now achieved a wide-spread acceptance, with artists routinely crossing over between popular and art culture. The suggestion that we have moved beyond it may work in the sense that contemporary art no longer is separate from other forms of culture.

With 150 images Beyond Contemporary Art brings the work to the fore. Well-known artists like Weiwei and Hirst are covered but there are plenty of less well-known faces whose work deserves the examination. Random page turns bring up David McCandless, Pierre Huyghe and Aram Bartholl – and there are lots more artists to explore. Ilfeld notes an increased democratization in contemporary art over the last decade and that is one theme that does resonant throughout the artists chosen for the book. New forms of practice have appeared and will do so in the future. It is no longer easy to differentiate between popular culture and contemporary art and Beyond Contemporary Art includes practitioners that fall into both camps. As such it is an early document of an important era in contemporary art.

Beyond Contemporary art is published by Vivays Publishing and is available to buy here:
Beyond Contemporary Art

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