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Modern Art - A Very Short Introduction
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When Rachel Whiteread’s sculpture Monument (Plate I) was
installed on the empty fourth plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square
on 4 June 2001, the response reported in, and offered by, British
national newspapers the next day was entirely predictable. Like
the two previous temporary incumbents of this site (works by
contemporary artists Mark Wallinger and Bill Woodrow),
Monument – a clear resin cast of the plinth itself, inverted and set
on top of it – was immediately pilloried: condemned as ‘banal’,
‘gimmicky’, and ‘meaningless’ by the Daily Mail, and disparagingly
likened to a fishtank and a bathroom cubicle by members of the
public, according to the Times. Some newspapers also quoted the
supportive – but also vague and defensive – comments of members
of the cultural establishment. The then Culture Secretary Chris
Smith, Director of Tate Modern Lars Nittve, and the Tate’s Director
of Programmes Sandy Nairne praised Monument variously
as ‘beautiful’, ‘intelligent’, and ‘dazzling’ in its simplicity and
conceptual clarity. They made no effort, though, to answer the
condemnations. Nor did they point to the meanings about
monuments and their purposes that Whiteread’s piece had
provocatively suggested by echoing and inverting the plinth itself.

List of illustrations and plates viii
Introduction: modern art – monument or mockery? 1
1 Tracking the avant-garde 17
2 Modern media, modern messages 43
3 From Picasso to pop idols: the eminence of the artist 71
4 Alchemical practices: modern art and consumerism 97
5 Past the post: whatever next? 125
Further reading 142
Index 147
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