Modernism’s Future

Jon Whiteley

  • The Meanings of Modern Art by John Russell
    Thames and Hudson, 429 pp, £18.00, October 1981, ISBN 0 500 27248 4
  • The Oxford Companion to 20th-Century Art edited by Harold Osborne
    Oxford, 656 pp, £19.50, November 1981, ISBN 0 19 866119 3
  • Abstract Expressionism: The Formative Years by Robert Hobbs and Gail Levin
    Cornell, 137 pp, £17.50, November 1981, ISBN 0 8014 1365 6

Has the art of our century an identity of its own? Is it consistent? Has it common interests? The Oxford Companion to Art, published in 1970, is not helpful in answering these questions. It has no entry for ‘Modern Art’ while the title of the new companion, the Oxford Companion to 20th-Century Art, also edited by Harold Osborne, cautiously avoids the issue. Yet 90 per cent of the artists mentioned inside the recent book (although not, of course, 90 per cent of 20th-century artists) are the spiritual progeny of two or three French artists working at the turn of the century. Not a movement, perhaps, but certainly a family. The founding fathers of the High Renaissance never had success like this. In a century from now, when the nature of ‘Modernism’ will be clearer, the pundits may, after all, decide that ‘Modern Art’ (as distinct from Cubism, Surrealism, Minimalism and the many lesser eddies all conscientiously described by Harold Osborne) is no more useful as a term than Romanticism or Classicism have been in helping us to understand the art of the past.

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