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Contemporary art in the early twenty-first century is often discussed as if the very idea of art that is contemporary is new. Yet all works of art were once contemporary. In What Was Contemporary Art? Richard Meyer reclaims the contemporary from historical amnesia, and gives the contemporary its own art history. By exploring episodes in the study, exhibition, and reception of early twentieth-century art and visual culture, Meyer retrieves moments in the history of once-current art and redefines “the contemporary” as a condition of being alive to and alongside other moments, artists, and objects.
A generous selection of images, many in color—from works of fine art to museum brochures and magazine covers—support and extend Meyer's narrative. These works were contemporary to their own moment. Now, in Meyer's account, they become contemporary to ours as well.