Kristine Stiles, Peter Selz, eds., Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art: A Sourcebook of Artists’ Writings, Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1996, 1010 pp., ill. b. & w.
Like other authors at the fin de siecle, Kristine Stiles and Peter Selz seek to capture the flow of contemporary (Western) art since 1965. This publication, however, takes its inspiration from Herschel B. Chipp’s well-known Theories of Modern Art (1968) and constitutes an extensive, intelligent anthology of writings by artists, comprising insightful interviews, manifestoes, statements, proposals and letters.
The writings are grouped according to nine broad thematic categories, with brief biographical and contextual sketches introducing each section. In the “figuration” section, for instance, one finds not only Andres Serrano’s eloquent letter to the National Endowment for the Arts (1989) in defense of his art-making principles, but also the Lutheran theologian Paul Tillich’s position on art and human existence (1959). The “art and technology” section brings to light, among other topics, the important shift from participatory to interactive artworks in the electronic age.
While Theories and Documents brings together a mammoth selection of original writings by contemporary artists, it also includes those of “important noncanonical artists.” The editors’ methodological principles are well-situated in today’s discourses of “gender, race, class, and sexuality,” which probably accounts for the book’s considerable size. Doubtless that any anthology purporting to be inclusive should fall short of its own intent; one unfortunate absence is that of experimental or avant-garde filmmakers. With such a systematic bibliography and index, Theories and Documents will serve the contemporary art scene superbly, in all its ilks. G. Z.