Liam Gillick's Industry and Intelligence: Contemporary Art Since 1820 is a holistic genealogy of contemporary art that addresses art’s engagement with history, even when it seems apathetic or blind to current events. Rather than focus on dominant works or special cases, Gillick takes a broad view of artistic creation from 1820 to today, underscoring the industry and intelligence of artists as they have responded to incremental developments in science, politics, and technology. The great innovations and dislocations of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have their place in this timeline, but their traces are alternately amplified and diminished as Gillick moves through artistic reactions to liberalism, mass manufacturing, psychology, nuclear physics, automobiles, and a host of other advances. He intimately ties the origins of the contemporary artist to the social and technological adjustments of modern life, which artists struggled to incorporate truthfully into their works.
Gillick’s book appears at the same time as two other books by artists that perhaps quixotically attempt to understand contemporary art’s place in history and contemporary context through the creation of grand narratives of very different kinds. The first is Fuck Seth Price by Seth Price (Leopard, 2015) and the second is Art and Value by Dave Beech (Brill, 2015). Price’s book is a fast-paced, complex, and often emotional account of making art under the stress of our digital and constantly mediated society. Beech has written an extremely well-researched and combative text that takes on loose thinking around the question of art as commodity and embarks on a lengthy examination of art’s economic exceptionalism.
The evening involved short readings from all three books in order to propose a more-total book that is a combination of the three.