Tony Godfrey, Phaidon Press, $75, 448 pages, hardcover
Every painting student within the last 40 years has been told painting is dead. But we continue to surround ourselves with paintings, to visit museums and galleries, and to read books filled with images of paintings. And the market still values paintings — Yue Minjun’s Execution, painted in 1985 and originally sold for $5,000 is now worth almost $6 million.
Author Tony Godfrey picks up on Art Today’s tradition, of using the prestige and magic of print, to effectively create a timeless capsule of paintings from the last forty years. His collection of paintings, arranged by theme, act as an introduction to the major movements in contemporary painting. His writing aims to pose as many questions as it does answer. A question like “Why do we surround ourselves with paintings?” is followed by brief but insightful backgrounds to the work presented. Godfrey shares Philip Guston’s history with the holocaust lending a new meaning to his cartoon characters clad in Klan masks. He points to the literary motivations behind Cy Twombly’s paintings and their initially enigmatic scrawls of writing.
Godfrey themes deal with the obvious: figure, still life, abstraction, and landscape. But they also deal with the subtle: painting space (mental and physical space as experienced through time in a Franz Ackermann installation), and death and life (Dana Schutz’s painting of Michael Jackson’s autopsy). His writing is bold and positive, but scholastically humble and approachable. He writes in a section titled Painting Tomorrow, “we need words to help explain, enjoy and muse on painting, but we need always to keep coming back to the actual experience,” illustrating his passion for criticism but the importance of seeing a painting. Painting Today offers both.
Chris Force is the founder and editor of ALARM Magazine. You can follow him on Twitter.