For the past thirty to forty years, cultural analysis has focused on developing terms to explain the surpassing of modernity. Discussion is stranded in an impasse between those who view the term modernity with automatic disdain-as deterministic, Eurocentric or imperialistic-and a booming interest that is renewing the study of modernism.
Another dilemma is that the urge to move away from, or beyond, modernity arises because it is viewed as difficult, even unsavoury. Yet, there has always been a view of modernity as somehow difficult to live with, and that has been said by figures we regard today as typical modernists.
McNamara argues in this book that it is time to forget the quest to surpass modernity. Instead, we should re-examine a legacy that continues to inform our artistic conceptions, our political debates, our critical justifications, even if that legacy is baffling and contradictory. We may find it difficult to live with, but without recourse to this legacy, our critical-cultural ambitions would remain seriously diminished.
How do we explain the culture we live in today? And how do we, as citizens, make sense of it? This book suggests these questions have become increasingly difficult to answer.
“Andrew McNamara has written a compelling book that situates the thirst for novelty that grew among vanguardist, cosmopolitan elites in the late 1980s and 1990s. Directing their animus against modernism, these thinkers, art historians and artists strove for a surpassing of the allegedly oppressive principles of modernist aesthetics. The novelty of surpassing modernism has worn off in an age of austerity, when the social democratic institutions that supported modernist experiments are in decay. McNamara does not offer a new term with which to deal with the historical thirst for the new: working in a highly interdisciplinary manner, he frames globalization of contemporary art practices in revealing and disquieting ways.”
Catherine Liu, Professor of Visual Studies and Film Studies, University of California, Irvine, USA
“Andrew McNamara has made a timely and important intervention in debates about the nature of contemporary art, and its contested relationship to the tradition of modernism. His book represents a challenge to many received ideas about that relation, and offers stimulating new perspectives for thinking about art in a global context.”
Paul Wood, Research Associate in Art History, the Open University, UK
“McNamara's critical examination of the wish to “surpass” a period or movement defined as “modernist” argues that such redundant one-upmanship is futile. A new critical vocabulary is needed to avoid conceptual dead-ends. Analyses of practices defined as “anti-aesthetic” or “contemporary” take us from Sigmar Polke to Mustapha Benfodil, from Pussy Riot to Ai Wei Wei, from Doha to Sharjah and Australia. Biological or chemical ways of thinking can push art history beyond the surpassing mode. McNamara is always passionate, infectious, challenging and brilliant. Surpassing Modernity will leave a lasting mark.”
Jean-Michel Rabaté, Professor of English and Comparative Literature, University of Pennsylvania, USA