In “The Big Picture: Contemporary Art in 10 Works by 10 Artists,” Matthew Israel, Artsy’s Curator at Large, examines 10 artworks that trace the development of contemporary art. Below are a series of excerpts from his book, out March 28th from Prestel.
Contemporary art is notoriously difficult to understand and can be quite intimidating. For one, unlike past movements, the range of artistic styles of the present haven’t been digested by critics, curators, and art historians and don’t lend themselves to easy categorization.
The Big Picture offers an approachable and accessible overview of contemporary art since the millennium, through just 10 works by 10 artists. Drawn from the fields of photography, painting, performance, sculpture, installation, video, film, and public art, the works selected range widely—from Andreas Gursky’s large-scale color photograph of the Rhine to Ai Weiwei’s installation of children’s backpacks following the 2008 Sichuan earthquake to Kara Walker’s massive sugar sculpture in Brooklyn’s former Domino Sugar refinery.
Each artwork has its own story, but also reflects larger tendencies in the world of contemporary art. These 10 works are importantly not meant to be a “greatest hits” list, but a strategic choice of artworks in recent history that allow discussion of some of the most influential approaches in contemporary art today. The sharp focus on 10 works is also meant to emphasize the attention needed for contemporary art and show how close looking can reveal the depth and power of works of art.