Paco Barragán, et al., The Art to Come, 220 pp., Actar Editorial, $33.95 paper.
In the diminutive world of surveys, catalogues and magazines devoted to the new, only a handful manage to stand out as sources that are themselves as creative and independent as the artists they promote.
One of the more memorable recent efforts in this regard is Echoes: Contemporary Art at the Age of Endless Conclusions by Francesco Bonami, a collection of the curators essays on contemporary art practice in the age of globalization accompanied by a selection of disorderly pictures. Another good source is the catalogue to the exhibition Painting at the Edge of the World, which was curated by Douglas Foggle at the Walker Art Center and presents a comprehensive mix of essays by curators as well as artists. Slick and picturesque in its design, the books allure is the pictures that fold out from the pages like pinups.
Our bookshelves also hold decadent, market-driven blockbusters like Cream and Art Now. In the former, 10 curators are empowered with the selection and charged with providing stoic justification of their respective favorites. In the latter, the dry selection focuses on the usual suspects -- Olafur Eliasson, Jeff Wall, Cindy Sherman, Maurizio Cattelan and the talented if tokenly exotic Rirkrit Tiravanija. Although Art Now has beautiful pictures, including a headshot of each artist, one cant help but think of it as an instruction manual on how to assemble the perfect Biennial without ever leaving the office.
Now we have The Art to Come, a blatantly forward-looking book edited by the Spanish journalist, translator, writer and curator (and occasional Artnet Magazine contributor) Paco Barragán. The Art to Come doesnt pretend to discover or justify anyone; rather, it flirts with the reader, presenting a group of fresh faces lost in a haystack. This panoramic view, Barragn blasphemously writes, includes artists so new that not even God knows who they are. His motley selection includes 159 artists in a book of 220 pages and 600 full-color images, arranged in alphabetical order rather than by nationality, age or value in the market.
Clearly, Barragéns paperback has a lust for the young and fresh. But what really grabs the attention in Barragns survey are the relatively short descriptions of the work of the artists, texts that are easy to read but razor sharp in placing the work in its proper historical context.
Several artists prove to be outstanding, like Yael Davids, who was born in 1968 and is based in Amsterdam, and who conceptualizes weird and extreme performances that focus on the body. The documentation alone makes for great art, and the ideas speak of alienation, identity and the personal corpus in ways that evoke Ana Mendieta. In the most notorious of her performances, Davids traps her head inside a small aquarium, leaving the viewer with a frantic sense of displacement.
Resourceful Kaisu Koivisto, based in the Finnish town of Pori, makes site-specific installations and still lifes of multiple cow horns strangling or embracing tree tops that show the influence of Arte Povera. Painter Pedro Barbeito, a Spaniard based in New York, creates space-age geometric images in shaped canvases that have a remarkable sense of depth. Barbeitos paintings are real gems of low-tech virtuosity, and he is probably one of the more underrated painters around.
Harvested in Puerto Rico, Ada Bobonis is an exceptional sculptor who works with a feminist backbone. Her sculptures have a strong political posture even thought the materials used in her large-scale habitats are soft and beautiful woven structures. Bundith Phunsombatlert, who was born in 1972 and hails from Banghkok, works with photo-serialized replicas and etchings in glass, while Remy Jungerman, born in 1959 and working Amsterdam, juxtaposes frog cut outs among black umbrellas in floor installations that evoke Baroque drama.
Not an undiscovered figure, Anton Vidokle makes work that blurs the boundaries of socially conscious sculpture, modernist commercial design and architecture developed by companies as a form of propaganda and corporate identity. Born in Russia in 1965, Vidokle is an example of how a book like The Art to Come can reinforce the importance of certain artists living in this specific time. Such is the case as well with Yayoi Kusama (b.1929), who just by being in the company of Barragns crew has been given new life for a virginal generation that only recently discovered the conceptual art of Yoko Ono.
Other worthy contenders included here, like the Madrid collective El Perro and the Chicago-based sound artist Paul Dickinson, are artists whose work, although respected among cognoscenti, is not yet a globalized commodity and deserve a broader public. Now thanks to Barragán their days of obscurity are a thing of past.
PEDRO VÉLEZ is an artist, writer and curator vacationing in Puerto Rico.