by Frances Guerin. University of Minnesota Press, January 2018. 352 p. ill. ISBN 9781517900458 (pbk), $29.95.
Reviewed September 2018
In The Truth is Always Grey: A History of Modernist Painting, author Frances Guerin makes the case for the color grey. She posits that the use of grey is “undervalued” and that its place in modernism is not fully acknowledged, and Guerin also rejects the pervasive notion that the color grey is boring and unappealing and argues for the symbolic weight of the color. She writes that grey lends itself to modernism due to its flexibility and its representation of the industrial advancements of the period. Guerin argues that modern artists used grey to interact with painting and pose questions to the art form.
The author goes on to introduce the history of the color grey by examining what has been written about it over time, both in the history of art and in the wider world. She also examines the influence of photography and cinema on painters who used grey at the time and, in turn, their influence on modernism. Guerin dedicates two chapters to an overview of the use of grey in abstract painting, first as a medium in post–World War II America, and then as an engagement in social and political realms. Discussion of contemporary writings provides the works a critical context. The author devotes considerable time to the work of Gerhard Richter and concludes the volume with a discussion of grey in contemporary art.
The sparsely illustrated volume includes a short section of color plates; however, it features extensive notes and references. The volume is well written and clear, but readers should already possess significant art historical knowledge before picking up The Truth is Always Grey. This title is recommended for libraries in colleges and universities that teach art history at the graduate level, but it may be suitable for advanced undergraduate students, as well.