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A Dictionary of Modern and Contemporary Art


A Dictionary of 20th-Century Art by Ian Chilvers appeared in 1998 and was widely welcomed for its breadth of coverage and accessible style. Ten years on, however, the world of art has changed—and so the book must change if it is to continue to be useful. It is with this in mind that I set out to make a full‐scale revision and updating of the original text, still with the intention of covering artistic practice since about 1900. The result is, in total, about a fifth longer than the original, although the quantity of new and substantially revised material is considerably larger, amounting to about a third of the book. Obviously there are artists present who could not have been included in the first edition because their work or reputations were not then of sufficient substance. However, I have also sought to change the overall balance of the book towards developments still likely to be in the living memory of readers and, further, to reflect a more international viewpoint, appropriate to an age of easier travel and the internet. To achieve this it has been necessary to abridge or cut altogether certain entries in the first edition, but I have tried, as far as possible, to ensure that these fall where material is less likely to be of interest to a reader today or on entries which deal with matters covered elsewhere in the book.

A particular issue that I have had to consider has been the inclusion of photography. It would seem inconceivable to me and, I should imagine, most readers, if this book were to have no entries on, for instance, Cindy Sherman or Jeff Wall. Photographically based work has had a growing role in fine art practice since the 1970s and there is no question of excluding it here. More problematic is the inclusion of photography in its more traditional role as something considered as having a value in its own right but rather apart from the traditional media. My solution has been to provide entries on those figures most likely to be of interest to readers concerned with the visual arts generally: I have included especially those who, I would judge, would be as likely to be sought for in a book labelled ‘art’ as in one labelled ‘photography’.

The issue of photography is but one aspect of a larger one which some readers may find still more contentious. To many observers of the contemporary art scene—here I include myself—it is no longer plausible to define art in terms of particular media. This is not to say that painting, sculpture, and printmaking have no further value, only that they are but an aspect of what we now mean by ‘art’. Especially in the last forty years or so, since the emergence of Conceptual and Minimal art, much, though not all, of what has made the greatest impact has departed from traditional media. When giving a basic description to begin a biographical entry, it seemed most appropriate in many cases simply to say ‘artist’, rather than painter, sculptor, or even ‘installation artist’. The most relevant terms for characterizing the practice of many artists are now to be found not in the medium with which they work or in the style or tendency with which they might be identified, but in the themes with which they engage. A recent book, Art & Today (2008) by Eleanor Heartney, is typical of current thinking. Instead of categorizing contemporary art by reference to ‘isms’ or to geography, it is organized into chapters with titles such as ‘Art & popular culture’, ‘Art & the quotidian object’, and so forth.

While the boundaries of art may be hard to define, books, alas even very long ones, must have an end. Inclusions and exclusions will inevitably raise hackles: in this field personal feelings can be bruised; even financial and professional interests may be marginally affected. My principle and that of my predecessor has been to be guided by what we believe will be of interest to the likely reader, even if the results may not appear ‘fair’ to certain artists and their supporters. I have not consciously excluded any artist because I dislike or disapprove of their work, although I admit that, in the more marginal decisions about inclusion, personal preferences might have played a small part. As with anything else today, artists’ reputations are measured in ‘league tables’, which can be (and are) constructed by counting exhibitions, presence in public collections, and published references. The problem with using such systems as the basis for a book of this type is that the results tend to be so counter‐intuitive that one would be tempted to ‘correct’ them anyway. The reason is not hard to find: what is ‘measured’ is actually no more than current standing in the professional modern art world. This is certainly of interest to the assiduous gallery goer, but it is only one among several kinds of reputation. An artist may have considerable fame or notoriety with a wide public because of coverage in non‐specialist media. An artist may have a popularity with private collectors not reflected in public collections. An artist who is not currently ‘hot’ may nonetheless have some appreciable historical significance or still be remembered by older observers of the modern art scene. An artist's reputation may derive primarily from work in public spaces. An artist may not be feted by critics or public but have some standing as an ‘artist's artist’. Any of these kinds of reputation might cause a reader to wish to look the artist up. Some kind of formula that takes account of all these factors might, in theory, be possible to devise but would probably still lead to strange anomalies. Therefore I have tended to rely in my choices on a certain intuition, although I hope it is a well-informed one, combined with the aim of trying to cover a wide variety of artistic practices from the conservative to the avant‐garde. The problem of selection becomes more acute the nearer we approach the present day, but I consider that it is worth taking the risk of annoying some readers with my choices and of appearing dated in years to come, so as to give proper coverage to contemporary practice. Therefore I have not employed any cut-off date to exclude younger artists: I have simply considered whether a reputation was well enough grounded for an artist to remain of interest to readers in the near future. For the record, the youngest artist in the book is Cao Fei (born 1978), which seems appropriate in view of the brilliant contribution made by Chinese artists in recent years.

My predecessor was commendably open about his preference for more traditional forms of art and his distaste for many aspects of the contemporary art scene. I owe it to readers to be equally frank about my own views, which are in marked contrast, and which may affect what I have written, if not what I have decided to write about. Tradition in art has, I believe, no value for its own sake: Balthus, Edward Hopper, Käthe Kollwitz, and more recently Paula Rego are of significance not because they draw on figurative skills but because of the way they deploy those skills to illuminate the condition of their times. Video, Performance, and installation are vital aspects of the contemporary scene and must be considered fully and seriously. It may be a cliché that what is most challenging today is what is classic tomorrow, but it is one that is borne out by the experience of all those who have had a long engagement with the art of their time. When dealing with controversial art I have tried to give, within the limitations of space, an honest indication of just why a particular kind of work might cause heated debate, whatever my own opinion. Where some personal comment intrudes, the reader will, I trust, find dissent and agreement equally enjoyable.

A few words of explanation are necessary about certain usages. Cross-references from one entry to another are indicated by an asterisk (*) within the main part of the text or by the use of small capitals when the formula ‘see so-and-so’ is used. Names of all people who have their own entries are automatically asterisked on their first mention in another entry, and this is also the policy with groups and movements, but cross-references are used more selectively for art media, technical terms, etc., and given only when further elucidation under that heading might be helpful. Locations are usually given for works of art cited, but with recent art it is not always practical or useful to do so. There are examples in which works belong to a series, dispersed among various collections, whilst others, such as sculptures and photographs, may not be unique pieces. Installation and performance works may have a purely ephemeral existence. The increasing tendency for museums of modern art to become brands as much as buildings makes precision about location more difficult. A work owned by Tate might be displayed in London (at Tate Britain or Tate Modern), Liverpool, or St Ives. At the time of writing a branch of the Pompidou Centre is due to open in Metz.

I owe a great debt to Ian Chilvers, who initially suggested this new edition and who has been a constant support. He has provided detailed and sometimes astringent comments on my efforts, giving me the benefit of his high professional standards and years of experience. Nonetheless, I take final responsibility: the extra weight given to more experimental and avant‐garde forms and the more academic tone of certain entries are entirely my decisions. I must also thank Joanna Harris, Rebecca Lane, and Chantal Peacock of Oxford University Press for their encouragement, assistance, and above all patience: the book has taken longer and the new material is far more extensive than originally anticipated. I am likewise indebted to the proofreader, Diana Artley: she worked unflaggingly on the very long text (almost 600,000 words) and in addition to correcting errors and ironing out inconsistencies, she made numerous suggestions for improvements to clarity and style. The internet has reduced the dependence of the writer of reference works on extended correspondence for routine fact checking. I am nonetheless grateful to Professor Michael Craig‐Martin, the Gagosian Gallery, the Barbara Gross Gallery, and Charles‐Hossein Zenderoudi for providing information. My father and stepmother, Frank and Ursula Glaves‐Smith, have been enormously supportive, as has my sister, Ann Glaves‐Smith, whose provision of hospitality in London has considerably aided the research process. Jules Glaves‐Smith has taken in good heart his father's absorption in the task and cheerfully accepted that the computer has often been ‘out of bounds'. The book is dedicated to him.

John Glaves‐Smith

Burslem May 2009