It's been nearly a century since Marcel Duchamp exhibited a urinal and called it art. Since then, painting has been declared dead several times over, and contemporary art has now expanded to include just about any object, action, or event: dance routines, slideshows, functional hair salons, seemingly random accretions of waste. In the meantime, being an artist has gone from a join-the-circus fantasy to a plausible vocation for scores of young people in America.
But why--and how and by whom--does all this art get made? How is it evaluated? And for what, if anything, will today's artists be remembered? In The Contemporaries, Roger White, himself a young painter, serves as our spirited, skeptical guide through this diffuse creative world.
White takes us into the halls of the RISD graduate program, where students learn critical lessons that go far beyond how to apply paint to canvases. In New York, we meet the neophytes who assist established artists--and who walk the fine line between "assistance" and "making the art." In Milwaukee, White trails a group of friends trying to create a viable scene where rent is cheap, but where the spotlight rarely shines. And he gives us an intimate perspective on three wildly different careers: that of Dana Schutz, an emerging star who is revitalizing painting; Mary Walling Blackburn, whose challenging art defies market forces; and Stephen Kaltenbach, a '70s wunderkind who is back on the critical radar, perhaps in spite of his own willful obscurity.
From young artists trying to elbow their way in to those working hard at dropping out, White's essential book offers a once-in-a-generation glimpse of the inner workings of the American art world at a moment of unparalleled ambition, uncertainty, and creative exuberance.
About the Author
Roger White is a painter and writer who splits his time between Middlebury, Vermont and Brooklyn, New York. He received an MFA in painting from Columbia University in 2000. His work is represented by the Rachel Uffner Gallery in New York, and he has exhibited his paintings in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Tokyo. In 2007, he co-founded the art journal Paper Monument, and he has since co-edited two Paper Monument pamphlets: I Like Your Work and Draw It With Your Eyes Closed. His writing has also appeared in The Brooklyn Rail, Artreview, and Modern Painters.
"Comprehensive, clear-eyed books about the art world are few and far between . . . [The Contemporaries] is a vital addition to that short reading list . . . White is an ideal guide to the scene . . . The Contemporaries approaches the art world with equanimity, and a balanced measure of criticism and reporting. He is neither cynical nor craven. He gets it. The uninitiated can read it for a nuanced understanding of the art world's codes and rituals. Veterans can delight in the material White digs up and his expert rendering of it." —Andrew Russeth, ARTnewS
"For those of us who are interested in art but far removed from its business, the art world can seem like an alien civilization, with incomprehensible mores, dictates that shift every week, and shibboleths apparently transmitted by telepathy. Into this murky situation rides Roger White, not to 'expose' anything, but to make sense of art's winding social and intellectual path, using clear language and concrete examples. This book may not make you embrace the art world, but at least you'll understand." —Luc Sante
"Today's art ecosystem is utterly different from the one that intrigued so many of us in the 20th century: bigger, wealthier, and more corporate, while many an artist's garret has become someone's luxury pied-a-terre. Roger White's assessment of what this post-postmodern, post-bohemian scene means for artists is right on the mark and ultimately encouraging as he finds creators across the country working to avoid spectacle, stay rogue, and stay true." —Cynthia Carr, author of Fire in the Belly: The Life and Times of David Wojnarowicz
"Funny, scary, unique, and exceptional, The Contemporaries told me so much that I had wanted to know about art today and much that I wouldn't have known to ask. It's an ingenious book, gracefully written, demonstrating Roger White's keen intelligence and real affection for our generation of artists, whether famous or unknown. Brilliant." —Mark Greif, co-founder and co-editor of n+1 and author of The Age of the Crisis of Man: Though and Fiction in America, 1933-1973
"If you’ve ever gone to a contemporary art gallery and hovered in front of some painting thinking, 'Egads, I have no clue what is going on here,' this slim volume can give you one. Strolling around various corridors of the modern art world, Roger White’s The Contemporaries suggests just how far the business is from those romantic notions of a starving painter in his garret apartment, brush quivering." —Colin Fleming, The Washington Post
"[A]t a time when most of us probably find it more fulfilling to consider work by past generations, in part because so much of contemporary art can seem like unapproachable BS, White’s book is an excellent foray into a world that is still worth our consideration." —The Daily Beast
"The perambulatory, socio-anthropological genre of art writing receives a much-needed invigoration in Roger White’s The Contemporaries . . . Moving nimbly from the macro concerns of academy, studio, and marketplace to intimate engagements with the three artists, the titular 'contemporaries'--Dana Schutz, Mary Walling Blackburn, Stephen Kaltenback--White's essaysistic reporting is even-keeled and lucid while maintaing an energetic curiosity." —Mostafa Heddaya, Blouin Artinfo
"As the 'travels' in the title suggests, The Contemporaries is not a comprehensive guide, but rather an in-depth look at some of the debates that animate the current art scene. These debates are big, complex topics like the rise of the MFA, the dominance of the art market and the ethics of art production when assistants are doing most of 'the work.' And to flesh them out, the book goes where the art is." - T Magazine Blog