PRINT May 2010


Terry Smith’s What Is Contemporary Art?

Terry Smith, What is Contemporary Art? (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009), 344 pages.

TO THE TITULAR QUESTION “What is contemporary art?,” Terry Smith’s answer is appropriately elusive. A professor of contemporary art history and theory at the University of Pittsburgh, Smith writes with an assured and fair hand, even as he withholds any snap definition in favor of a series of hypotheses. In its most basic and banal formulation, contemporary art is simply “art that is being made now”—but this is a truism that, Smith contends, fails to account for contemporary art’s relation to modernism and postmodernism, much less to particularize the pluralism of the contemporary or offer an ontology of the present.

It becomes clear, however, that Smith’s initial evasion is deliberate. His role is that of a seeker as much as an instructor: a protagonist who interrogates, undergoes, and makes

to keep reading

Artforum print subscribers have full access to this article. Please sign in below.

Not registered for Register here.

SUBSCRIBE NOW and save up to 65% off the newsstand price for full online access to this issue and our archive.

Order the PRINT EDITION of the May 2010 issue for $17 or the ONLINE EDITION for $5.99.

* This rate applies to U.S. domestic subscriptions.