Will Gompertz - What Are You Looking At? (3 stars)

The BBC Arts Editor's latest book is an accessible and entertaining guide to art history

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Will Gompertz - What Are You Looking At?

(Viking)

‘It’s a fact of life,’ declares the BBC’s Arts Editor in his new book, ‘arts folk talk bollocks’. In a bid to buck this trend, Will Gompertz’s lengthy diversion through the history of modernism is a straight-talking, chronological journey across 150 years of art. Jargon-free and void of pomposity, this informal chronicle found its starting point in his 2009 one-man Edinburgh Fringe show Double Art History, a comedic attempt to debunk the shroud of quasi-academic guff that often surrounds contemporary art.

Gompertz follows a familiar historical trail leading from Duchamp’s ubiquitous urinal of 1917, through all the ‘isms’ – impressionism, cubism, and conceptualism, to name a few – and ending with the global art boom of the last 25 years.

Seamlessly connecting each movement, Gompertz uses biographical anecdotes to relate people, ideas and places, often dashing back and forth between European and US shores. While this book does little to challenge or add to the existing Western history of modern art, it certainly offers an unusually intelligible guide.

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