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Medieval Modern

Art Out of Time

Alexander Nagel


An exploration of the deep connections between modern and premodern art


This groundbreaking book offers a radical new reading of art since the Middle Ages and sheds fresh light on the deep connections between modern and pre-modern art. Moving across the familiar lines set out in conventional histories, Alexander Nagel offers a radical new reading of art since the Middle Ages. Rich collisions and fresh perspectives reveal ideas and practices across centuries of artistic practice, and provide a new set of reference points that reframe the history of art itself.

The author reconsiders key issues in the history of art, from iconoclasm and idolatry to installation and the museum as institution. He shows how the central tenets of modernism – serial production, site-specificity, collage, the readymade and the questioning of the nature of art and authorship – were all features of earlier times, now revived by recent generations.

The book examines, among a host of other topics, the importance of medieval cathedrals to the 1920s Bauhaus movement; the parallels between Renaissance altarpieces and modern preoccupations with surface and structure; the relevance of Byzantine models to Minimalist artists; the affinities between ancient holy sites and earthworks; the sacred relic and the modern readymade.

Alongside the work of leading twentieth-century medievalist writers such as Walter Benjamin, Marshall McLuhan, Leo Steinberg and Umberto Eco, Nagel considers a wide range of celebrated artists, from Giotto, Leonardo, Michelangelo and Caravaggio to Marcel Duchamp, Kurt Schwitters, Robert Smithson and Damien Hirst.

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'Brilliant, original and provocative'
Linda Nochlin

'A rich and important contribution to modernist studies, amply demonstrating that our age has got the medievalism it deserves'
The Art Newspaper

'A wide-ranging bravura display of intellectual erudition and exemplary curiosity'
The Spectator

'Alexander Nagel reminds us, throughout the skilful weave of his argument, that there is much more medievalism in the art of the present, and much more contemporaneity in the art of the distant past, than we often realise'

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Product Information

Book Details

Format: Hardback

Size: 23.5 x 16.5 cm

Extent: 312 pp

Illustrations: 134

Publication date: 26 November 2012

ISBN: 9780500238974

About the Author

Alexander Nagel is Professor of Fine Arts at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, and a contributor to Cabinet, ARTNews, Artforum and other journals and magazines.