Nov 7, 2011

REVIEW | USA Today | Norman Rosenthal and Meghan Dailey | 2007

Josephine Meckseper, Pyromaniac 2, 2003, C-print. 

USA Today is a book written by Norman Rosenthal and Meghan Dailey. This book is a review of an emerging generation of artists who together represent the challenging variety of work being produced in the 21st century. It is pretty lengthy at exactly 400 pages long. It features 40 contemporary artists and 250 works from the Saatchi Gallery in London, England. The cover of the book has a young attractive woman with perfectly curled red hair who has a lighted match in her lips, and at first glance it looks as though she were smoking a cigarette.

The beginning of this book starts off with two essays by the authors. Rosenthal’s essay begins by stating that the US is still the only true superpower and explains how it determines the political and economic agendas of the rest of the world. After the demise of the school of Paris, New York became the center of the art world.  Rosenthal says that another title for this book could have been “Mapping America.” He says how some of the artists in this book, such as Jules de Balincourt, Marc Handelman and Aleksandra Mir show moments of mapping that introduce a sense of political edge and anger mixed with nostalgia. He says that it is important for artists to be aware of the culture of the past and the culture that is all around them. There is a great sense of patriotism in his essay. Dailey’s essay focuses on how there are so many diverse artists and explains how they all use different media and different techniques. The end of a linear, art historical mode of thinking has vanished. Art no longer moves from one art movement to the next, it is all intertwined now. She specifically notes that Josephine Meckseper’s work suggests the uneasy coexistence of upbeat consumer culture and social discontent that marks the mood of contemporary America.

The inside of this book is organized by displaying a picture of the artist and summarizing who the artist is, what their body of work is about, and what kinds of mediums they use, followed by examples of some of their works. The book moves along from one artist to the next.

When examining this book, the very first thing I noticed is that the authors are very proud to live in the United States, they seem very patriotic. They are also very aware of social and political art, and tend to talk about the artists in this book who have the most political artwork. Both authors talk about Balincourt, Mir, and Mc Millian, who are only three out of the 40 artists in this book. I believe that these two essays would have been more interesting if the essays took different views on the same subject or if they talked about different issues, rather than the same ones.  Even though the author’s essays only talk about a limited variety of subjects in art, the actual artists in this book have artwork that stems from consumerism, sexuality, gender, race, poverty, inequality, and environmental problems, along with many other issues that occur not only in the United States but around the world. An example of inequality is depicted in Jules de Balincourt’s painting, People who Play and the People Who Pay, depicting a Miami Beach hotel scene and the white middle class lounging by the pool, while in the bedrooms in the background black servants passively make up their beds.

There is a really good sense of theme throughout this book, which is of a political, cultural and social nature. The author’s essays at the beginning of the book create the theme. It is also ironic that these works of art were all displayed in the Saatchi Gallery which is located in London, while this whole book focuses on United States art. There are also many references to war, which could also be a reoccurring theme. Wangechi Mutu is one artist who makes collages that modify bodies, grotesquely echoing atrocities of war or self inflicted “improvements” of plastic surgery. There are also many references to the Bush administration and  the Iraq war in the first two essays. One artist by the name of Banks Violette displays the dark side of American culture, such as murder and how death metal can instigate real life violence and teen suicide.

Despite the many spelling mistakes found throughout the book, the authors definitely conveyed their voice and opinion about how they feel towards the United States when it comes to the art world. The very first two images in this book are of the World Trade Center towers and Jasper John’s American Flag. USA Today has a strong theme of patriotism, socialism, and American culture, among other themes. The artists in this book leave no subject in their artworks unturned. They are the future leaders of the art world. There will always be newer electronic media and contemporary popular music and film, but the old fashioned worlds of painting and sculpture refuse to go away.

-Katrina Runge


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