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Rising from the ashes of modernism and encompassing a staggering diversity of new forms, the twenty-five-year period beginning in 1986 is one of the most vibrant episodes in the history of art. It is also one of the least understood. Interpreting recent events is seldom easy, but making sense of today’s advanced art — decentred, complex and contrarian — requires innovative techniques and new approaches.

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As the first comprehensive account of this period,Defining Contemporary Art is a groundbreaking study of the emergence of art as we now know it. The book’s radical approach to art history starts with its structure. Assembled and written by eight of the most highly respected curators working today, from Daniel Birnbaum, Cornelia Butler, Suzanne Cotter, Bice Curiger, Okwui Enzwezor, Massimiliano Gioni, Hans Ulrich Obrist, to Bob Nickas, each of whom has both witnessed and shaped the period in question, Defining Contemporary Art tells the story of two hundred pivotal artworks from the past quarter century. These works, from the well-known to the quietly influential, share one achievement: they have irrevocably changed the course of art. Collected here, they provide a chronological depiction of art in our era, a mosaic in which readers may find their own patterns.

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Each author has also profiled a single year as a key point in the trajectory of this period, tracing the shifts in the creative climate and examining the artistic breakthroughs that serve as the seeds of more conventional histories. Completing the book is a round-table discussion in which the eight authors deliberate the historical conditions and principal themes of this period.
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In an era when artistic developments no longer proceed via tidy movements, when narratives of progress no longer hold sway, when the art world has not one centre but many, Defining Contemporary Art provides the reader with the essential materials to compose a picture of the most vital period in art: our own.