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Peter Osborne’s Anywhere or Not at All

Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel ceiling (detail), 1508–12, plaster fresco, gold, 133 x 46'.

Anywhere or Not at All: Philosophy of Contemporary Art, by Peter Osborne. London: Verso, 2013. 282 pages.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE CONTEMPORARY? As a rule, it means to miss a great deal. A visitor to the Sistine Chapel circa 1525—barely a decade after Michelangelo finished painting it—referred in his diary to what is today perhaps the most famous image in the Western world as one “of an old man, in the middle of the ceiling, who is represented in the act of flying through the air.” The diarist in question (the bishop of Nocera) should not be judged harshly for not recognizing God, since, in 1525, God was not yet old, or rather, was not depicted as old. As with all truly new things, the elderly God took some getting used to; and, as is always the case for contemporaries, being close does not necessarily help one see clearly.

Looking back at the history of being contemporary

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