Review: Book: The Key Issues Concerning Contemporary Art by Dr Gary Willis

 For anyone interested in the problems attendant on contemporary art today, a new publication to hit the print-on-demand market is Dr Gary Willis's The Key Issues Concerning Contemporary Art, University of Melbourne, 2010.


According to the University's website: It argues that the contemporary artist's objective is the production of new social space and the institution of new cultural knowledge. It does this by drawing an unexpected parallel between the social and political expectations facing the contemporary artist and the deepest philosophic conception of the artist's function.

However in drawing on a wide range of practices, from Matthew Barney & Bjork to Leigh Bowery and beyond, the work offers a truly impressive overview of arts practice today, making this a highly informative text. The chapter on Marcel Duchamp is noteworthy, in so far as it offers a radical and indeed original perspective on the artist's practice.

A warning however to any would-be artists. The book addresses itself to the myriad of forces ranged against their profession. Alarmingly, museums, curators and governmental culture strategies are but some of the agencies by which the artist as we conventionally know her to be might come unstuck. All is not lost however as the author ultimately aligns himself not with the disciplines and/or histories associated with the artist, but rather with philosophy's conception of art, that is, a means by which new ways of being and new ways of seeing can be brought into the world. To this end the opening quote falls to the philosopher Giorgio Agamben, which states: The true work of art offers us the gift of poiesis: the uncanny production of presence where the past and the future are both at stake and the act of being-in-the-world claims its proper meaning.

If anything one is reminded that the business of the artist, especially in its deepest sense, is a difficult one indeed. Made ever more complex by the dazzling and oftentimes baffling modes in which art is enacted the road seems precarious indeed. Willis' book, if not definitive, is at least a GPS, provided that is your system can read and process the finely tuned software.

The book is available at the University of Melbourne Bookshop on-line.


By Damian Smith

Damian Smith

Damian Smith is a curator and arts writer. He works primarily in Australia and Asia and is the Director of Words For Arts, a consultancy specialising in critical and cultural discourse. For further information