What Is Contemporary Art?

frozenbanana_moma_wica3Over the years I’ve seen many books that try to somehow “explain” art to children, and from my opinion, “What Is Contemporary Art?” from 2012 is definitely the best introduction to the world of contemporary art (not only for children) you can find.

So it was not very surprising to me when I found out that the two British authors are really into their subject: Suzy Klein writes and broadcasts about music and art on BBC while her sister Jacky Klein was a curator at Hayward Gallery and TATE Modern and after some years at Thames & Hudson and Phaidon recently became the Executive Editor of TATE Publishing.

Their book asks urgent questions like “Why do some artists use elephant dung, eggshells and crushed cars to make their art?”, “Are two giant hamburgers better than one?” or “Does Rachel Whiteread’s bed look comfortable to you?” and celebrates the work of around seventy artists (Andy Warhol, Yves Klein, Louise Bourgeois, Olafur Eliasson, Andreas Gursky, Jeff Koons and Bruce Nauman, among others) from across the globe, all drawn from The Museum of Modern Art’s huge collection.

As Thames & Hudson describes it: “A captivating book for children and parents to read at home, as well as the ideal support for teachers and schools, “What is Contemporary Art?” invites young readers to understand, enjoy and question some of the most dynamic and exciting art of our time. Exploring subjects such as outer space, unusual materials and bizarre beasts, the book is packed with special features including pull-out information and ideas boxes, quotations by the artists and ‘How did they do it?’ prompts. Short biographies include fascinating facts on each of the artists, a glossary explains key art terms and a list of useful websites and art museums shows where to go next.”

I need to repeat myself and state that this book is really suitable for all ages and gives an easy-to-read approach to anyone who is not yet into contemporary art or art at all. Last but not least, I really like the simple but playful layout by artist and designer Sarah Praill. For each chapter, she created a different colored (kids)art-like surface pattern which frame the spreads and serve as dividers.

Beside the British Thames & Hudson, I could find the book published by MoMa Publishing, in German as “Ist das Kunst? Ja!” by Dumont, in Brazilian Portuguese as “O Que É Arte Contemporânea?” by Claro Enigma, in French as “C’est quoi, l’art contemporain?” by Actes Sud and in Spanish as “¡Arte contemporáneo! Guía para niños. MoMA” by Editorial Nerea.


Download: The MoMA website is offering a free sample PDF (13 MB) with eleven original spreads in high resolution here.