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Whitechapel: Documents of Contemporary Art

In 2006 London's famous Whitechapel Gallery and the MIT Press formed an editorial alliance to produce a new series of books. Documents of Contemporay Art combines affordable paperback prices, good design, and impeccable editorial content. Each volume in the series is a definitive anthology on a particular theme, practice, or concern that is of central significance to contemporary visual culture. The aritsts and writers included in these books, like the guest editors who conceive them, represent the diversity of perspctives, generations, and voices defining art today.

In the late 1950s, experiments such as the cybernetic sculptures of Nicolas Schöffer or the programmatic music compositions of John Cage and Iannis Xenakis transposed systems theory from the sciences to the arts. By the 1960s, artists as diverse as Roy Ascott, Hans Haacke, Robert Morris, Sonia Sheridan, and Stephen Willats were breaking with accepted aesthetics to embrace open systems that emphasized organism over mechanism, dynamic processes of interaction among elements, and the observer’s role as an inextricable part of the system.

Edited by Walead Beshty

The boundary of a contemporary art object or project is no longer something that exists only in physical space; it also exists in social, political, and ethical space. Art has opened up to transnational networks of producers and audiences, migrating into the sphere of social and distributive systems, whether in the form of “relational aesthetics” or other critical reinventions of practice. Art has thus become increasingly implicated in questions of ethics.

Edited by Amelia Jones

It has been argued, most notably in psychoanalytic and modernist art discourse, that the production of works of art is fundamentally driven by sexual desire. It has been further argued, particularly since the early 1970s, that sexual drives and desires also condition the distribution, display and reception of art.

Edited by Lucy Steeds

This anthology provides a multivocal critique of the exhibition of contemporary art, bringing together the writings of artists, curators, and theorists. Collectively these diverse perspectives are united by the notion that although the focus for modernist discussion was individual works of art, it is the exhibition that is the prime cultural carrier of contemporaneity.

Edited by Antony Hudek

Artists increasingly refer to “post-object-based" work while theorists engage with material artifacts in culture. A focus on “object-based" learning treats objects as vectors for dialogue across disciplines. Virtual imaging enables the object to be abstracted or circumvented, while immaterial forms of labor challenge materialist theories. This anthology surveys such reappraisals of what constitutes the “objectness" of production, with art as its focus.

Edited by Natasha Degen

Transnational markets hold sway over all aspects of contemporary culture, and that has transformed the environment of recent art, blurring the previously discrete realms of price and value, capital and creativity. Artists have responded not only critically but imaginatively to the many issues this raises, including the treatment of artworks as analogous to capital goods, the assertion that art’s value is best measured by the market, and the notion that art and money share an internal logic.

Edited by Amelia Groom

What does ‘contemporary’ actually mean? This is among the fundamental questions about the nature and politics of time that philosophers, artists and more recently curators have investigated over the past two decades. If clock time—a linear measurement that can be unified, followed and owned—is largely the invention of capitalist modernity and binds us to its strictures, how can we extricate ourselves and discover alternative possibilities of experiencing time?

Edited by Maria Lind

This anthology reconsiders crucial aspects of abstraction’s resurgence in contemporary art, exploring three equally significant strategies explored in current practice: formal abstraction, economic abstraction, and social abstraction. In the 1960s, movements as diverse as Latin American neo-concretism, op art and “eccentric abstraction” disrupted the homogeneity, universality, and rationality associated with abstraction.

After a long period in eclipse, documentary has undergone a marked revival in recent art. This has been spurred by two phenomena: the exhibition of photographic and video work on political issues at Documenta and numerous biennials; and increasing attention to issues of injustice, violence, and trauma in the war zones of the endemically conflict-ridden twenty-first century. The renewed attention to photography and video in the gallery and museum world has helped make documentary one of the most prominent modes of art-making today.

Edited by Ian Farr

This anthology investigates the turn in art not only towards archives and histories, the relics of modernities past, but toward the phenomena, in themselves, of “haunting” and the activation of memory. It looks at a wide array of artistic relationships to memory association, repetition and reappearance, as well as forms of “active” forgetting.

Edited by André Lepecki

This collection surveys the choreographic turn in the artistic imagination from the 1950s onwards, and in doing so outlines the philosophies of movement instrumental to the development of experimental dance. By introducing and discussing the concepts of embodiment and corporeality, choreopolitics, and the notion of dance in an expanded field, Dance establishes the aesthetics and politics of dance as a major impetus in contemporary culture. It offers testimonies and writings by influential visual artists whose work has taken inspiration from dance and choreography.

Edited by Jens Hoffmann

With the emergence of conceptual art in the mid-1960s, the traditional notion of the studio became at least partly obsolete. Other sites emerged for the generation of art, leading to the idea of “post-studio practice.” But the studio never went away; it was continually reinvented in response to new realities. This collection, expanding on current critical interest in issues of production and situation, looks at the evolution of studio--and “post-studio”--practice over the last half century.

Edited by Jeffrey Kastner

Nature, as both subject and object, has been repeatedly rejected and reclaimed by artists over the last half century. With the dislocation of disciplinary boundaries in visual culture, art that is engaged with nature has also forged connections with a new range of scientific, historical, and philosophical ideas. Developing technologies make our interventions into natural systems both increasingly refined and profound. Advances in biological and telecommunication technology continually modify the way we present ourselves.

Edited by Felicity Allen

This book will be an original and indispensable resource for all who believe in the importance of art in the wider educational realm. Framing the recent "educational turn" in the arts within a broad historical and social context, this anthology raises fundamental questions about how and what should be taught in an era of distributive rather than media-based practices.

Edited by Brian Dillon

The "ruins" of the modern era are the landmarks of recent art’s turn toward site and situation, history and memory. The abiding interest of artists in ruination and decay has led in particular to the concept of the modern ruin--an ambiguous site of artistic and architectural modernism, personal and collective memories, and the cultural afterlife of eras such as those of state communism and colonialism.

Edited by Terry R Myers

The "death of painting" and its subsequent resurrection in transformed conditions is a leitmotif of the modern era. Painting’s postconceptual resurgence at the start of the 1980s began a dramatic expansion of its field. If painting remains important today, it is because its contradictions have been acknowledged as artists have radically diversified the components of its production and presentation.

Edited by Caleb Kelly

The "sonic turn" in recent art reflects a wider cultural awareness that sight no longer dominates our perception or understanding of contemporary reality. The background buzz of myriad mechanically reproduced sounds increasingly mediates our lives. Tuning into this incessant auditory stimulus, some of our most influential artists have investigated the corporeal, cultural, and political resonance of sound.

Edited by Lisa Le Feuvre

Amid the global uncertainties of our times, failure has become a central subject of investigation in recent art. Celebrating failed promises and myths of the avant-garde, or setting out to realize seemingly impossible tasks, artists have actively claimed the space of failure to propose a resistant view of the world. Here success is deemed overrated, doubt embraced, experimentation encouraged, and risk considered a viable strategy.

The chance situation or random event—whether as a strategy or as a subject of investigation—has been central to many artists' practices across a multiplicity of forms, including expressionism, automatism, the readymade, collage, surrealist and conceptual photography, fluxus event scores, film, audio and video, performance, and participatory artworks. But why—a century after Dada and Surrealism's first systematic enquiries—does chance remain a key strategy in artists' investigations into the contemporary world?

Edited by Simon Morley

In the contemporary world, where technology, spectacle, and excess seem to eclipse nature, the individual, and society, what might be the characteristics of a contemporary sublime? If there is any consensus, it is in the idea that the sublime represents a testing of limits to the point at which fixities begin to fragment. This anthology examines how contemporary artists and theorists explore ideas of the sublime, in relation to the unpresentable, transcendence, terror, nature, technology, the uncanny, and altered states.

Edited by Claire Doherty

Situation—a unique set of conditions produced in both space and time and ranging across material, social, political, and economic relations—has become a key concept in twenty-first-century art. Rooted in artistic practices of the 1960s and 1970s, the idea of situation has evolved and transcended these in the current context of globalization.

Edited by Richard Noble

Throughout its diverse manifestations, the utopian entails two related but contradictory elements: the aspiration to a better world, and the acknowledgment that its form may only ever live in our imaginations. Furthermore, we are as haunted by the failures of utopian enterprise as we are inspired by the desire to repair the failed and build the new. Contemporary art reflects this general ambivalence.

Edited by David Evans

Scavenging, replicating, or remixing, many influential artists today reinvent a legacy of "stealing" images and forms from other makers. Among the diverse, often contestatory strategies included under the heading "appropriation" are the readymade, détournement, pastiche, rephotography, recombination, simulation and parody.

Edited by Dave Beech

Beauty has emerged as one of the most hotly contested subjects in current discussions on art and culture. After more than half a century of suspicion and interrogation, beauty's resurgence in visual practice and discourse since the late 1980s has engaged some of the most influential artists and writers on art.

Numerous international exhibitions and biennials have borne witness to the range of contemporary art engaged with the everyday and its antecedents in the work of Surrealists, Situationists, the Fluxus group, and conceptual and feminist artists of the 1960s and 1970s. This art shows a recognition of ordinary dignity or the accidentally miraculous, an engagement with a new kind of anthropology, an immersion in the pleasures of popular culture, or a meditation on what happens when nothing happens.

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