Terry Smith: What is Contemporary Art?

February 2011, no. 328

Terry Smith: What is Contemporary Art?

February 2011, no. 328

Czars of the contemporary

Joanna Mendelssohn


What Is Contemporary Art?
by Terry Smith
University of Chicago Press (Footprint Books), $39.95 pb, 329 pp, 9780226764313


At the beginning of his new book, Terry Smith writes that one of the fundamental qualities ‘of the contemporary: [is] its contemporaneousness’. He writes of the contemporary, contemporaries, contemporaneity, contemporaneous, noncontemporaries, cotemporality, cotemporalities, and cotemporal. It is a kind of tautological word game that goes down well in academic conferenceville, which is where some of this book first appeared. The function is to distinguish art of the last two decades, called ‘contemporary’, as distinct from that of earlier periods, labelled ‘postmodern’ and ‘modern’.

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Comments (2)

  • Very much agree. As an Indigenous woman, I was confused by the quote: we might seek “a room of one’s own.” These early steps modify existing connection with proximate worlds by establishing boundaries. There seems no direct reference to the quote from Woolf's 1929 "A Room of One's Own" or any other feminist writings on this, so if that is what he was referring to, why not just pop that forward? It threw me off, as that room is so important, that was not expressed, so I wonder why use the quote?
    Posted by Samantha Houben
    30 June 2021
  • My ladies art group can't put a description on what is contemporary and whats abstract. please answer in the most easily understood english. Thanks
    Posted by Lyn Hewitt
    02 July 2013

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