by Terry Smith. Duke University Press, September 2019. 456 p. ill. ISBN 9781478003052 (pbk.), $29.95.
Reviewed January 2020
Carling Spinney, Reference Assistant, Queen’s University Libraries, firstname.lastname@example.org
Art to Come is a thoughtful meditation on the paradox of contemporary art and its histories. The author confronts this contradiction in terms (“contemporary” vs. “historical”) and contends that art yet to come should be viewed through a historical lens. In this publication, Smith attempts to chart a course of his ideas about contemporary art, considering its temporal ambivalence alongside what he terms “contemporary contemporaneity.” Smith takes great care to differentiate, arguing that contemporary art arises within the conditions of contemporaneity. His unique outlook does not subscribe to notions of contemporary art as an epochal art movement or even as having any particular defining character.
Smith is a highly regarded expert on contemporary art. As the Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Contemporary Art History and Theory (University of Pittsburgh) and Professor in the Division of Philosophy, Art, and Critical Thought (European Graduate School), he has written and presented extensively on the topic of contemporary art. As such, several chapters are extracted from the author’s previous work, others are largely revised, and four chapters were written specifically for this publication. This softcover publication is divided into four main sections: “Introduction,” “Part I – Thinking Contemporary Art,” “Part II – Art Historiography: Conjectures and Refutations,” and “Conclusion.” In broad strokes, Part I focuses on the author’s writings about histories of contemporary art – as it was and as it is. Part II proposes and assesses how histories of contemporary art can and should be written. Black and white images of medium quality (no gloss, some images are quite low contrast), are interspersed throughout. Of course, such image production contributes to the publication’s overall affordability and should not be weighed too heavily. Art to Come also contains a list of illustrations, endnotes (with a wealth of further resources), and an index. Smith draws on various supporting examples as he explores concepts such as architecture and its relationship to visual arts, Chinese contemporary artists, colonialism and decolonization, placemaking, Aboriginal Australian art, planetarity, and more.
At times, philosophical ruminations may prove too advanced for novices to the field, yet this publication is well suited for graduate students and faculty who specialize in contemporary art, curatorial studies, art writing, art criticism, or art theory. This publication is recommended for academic and museum libraries. Collections already containing recent publications by Smith (for example, One and Five Ideas: On Conceptual Art and Conceptualism or Talking Contemporary Curating) may not find this work to be a “must-have.” However, those lacking recent holdings by the author will find this publication an excellent choice.