Increasing Public Understanding of Modern and Contemporary Art

Submitting Institution

Southampton Solent University

Unit of Assessment

Art and Design: History, Practice and Theory

Summary Impact Type


Research Subject Area(s)

Language, Communication and Culture: Literary Studies
History and Archaeology: Historical Studies

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Summary of the impact

The impact of Professor Taylor's work in interpreting modern and contemporary art has taken place on two complementary levels: on the one hand the lucid and accessible exposition, for a wide international reading public, of some of the most difficult, intractable, or provocative works of recent and contemporary art; and on the other, more specialist readings, again for an international reading public, of key tendencies in the broader range of modern art, from Cubism to the present day. Wide readership across Asia, Europe, and the United States has secured increased public understanding of art, and has influenced both policy and art practice.

Underpinning research

The context to the underpinning research can be described in outline. While much critical and art-historical writing of the 1970s and 1980s claimed to concern itself with the social context or the theoretical character of the work of art, it often did so at the expense of the work of art itself as a manufactured thing, its resonances and ways of being looked at. Questions bearing on the reception of art were handled with extreme shyness, or not at all. Research in that period was also reluctant to step outside a narrow canon of names within Anglo-American modernism, specifically one centred in Western Europe. Professor Taylor's research between 1 January 1993 and 31 December 2013, and in the period 2008-2013 as Senior Research Fellow at Southampton Solent University, has moved beyond those conventional limits to make materiality itself relevant to understanding art, to uncover little-known artists and groups beyond the canon, and to find new reading publics with a demonstrable appetite for learning. His research in that period has had the following qualities.

First, the materiality of the work of art has been made central to interpretation, grounded in a close study of Cubist, Constructed and Abstract art as original phenomena in modern society, each of which elevated questions of structure, the choice and character of materials, the technologies of making, and above all the organising power of form in relation to viewers' response. Especially important to this emphasis has been Professor Taylor's research into the tension between the use of rational structures (measure, proportion, and mathematical and scientific analogies) and a contrary impulse in both modern art and the art of our own day to absurdity, irony, and play. The persistence of a dialogue between form and formlessness has been a major finding of his research and writing.

Secondly, Professor Taylor has been determined to widen significantly the roll-call of names deserving of inclusion in the first rank of art, and has been able to critically describe little-known work of a high order from non-canonical artistic centres or regions such as the Czech Republic and Central Europe, the former East Germany and the former USSR, China, Malaysia, and South America. A set of deepened perspectives on the patterns of artistic experiment and achievement across this geographical reach has been a second major generic finding of his research.

Thirdly, Professor Taylor's career-long commitment to the ethos and manners of actual artistic practice has enabled him to present the work of individuals and groups working today as belonging to the longer history of recent and modern art, not according to simple assumptions about cultural evolution, but in challenging patterns of continuity, discontinuity, and rapid change. Most recently, he has been able to bring into a synthesis a view of the modern and contemporary fine arts across nations and geographies in one important but thus far neglected area of study. A full-length study of the legacies of Russian and International Constructivism at signal moments throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries is now in press, and will be the first publication, since early attempts in the 1970s to present an account of relations between material, art-object, and viewer in constructed modern art.

References to the research

Professor Taylor's research over the period 1January 1993 to 31 December 2013 comprises some 82 published outputs including books, book chapters, journal articles, catalogue essays, and reviews, which fall into either one or both of two research categories: cultural commentary on recent and contemporary art, and more specialist readings of modern art. From the longer list the following items have been selected:

1. B.Taylor, Art of Today, Weidenfeld and Nicholson, London 1995

2. B.Taylor, Collage: The Making of Modern Art, Thames and Hudson, London 2004

3. B.Taylor, (curator and author of three catalogue essays), Elements of Abstraction: Space, Line and Interval in Modern British Art, Southampton City Art Gallery 2005

4. B.Taylor, 'Virtuosity and Contrivance in the New Sculpture', in J.Harris (ed), Value, Art, Politics: Criticism, Meaning and Interpretation after Postmodernism, Liverpool University Press 2007,

5. B.Taylor, Aktualnoe iskusstvo 1970-2005 [Russian edition of Art Today], Slovo, Moscow 2006; Art Today [Chinese Edition of Art Today], Jiangsu, China 2007

6. B.Taylor, 'Motherwell's Risk' in S.Davidson (ed), Robert Motherwell: the Early Collages, Peggy Guggenheim Foundation and the Solomon R.Guggenheim Museum, New York 2013 [Italian edition 2013]

Funded research: Professor Taylor was a British Academy funded scholar at the Institute of Art History, Prague, and the Institute of Art History, Bratislava , in 2001 and 2002 respectively, and an invited scholar at the Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, California in 2007 and 2008. In 2013 he as awarded a British Academy / Leverhulme Small Research Grant towards the publication of a single author book, After Constructivism, forthcoming from Yale University Press, spring 2014.

Details of the impact

The impact of Professor Taylor's research over the period 1 January 2008 and 31 July 2013 can be evidenced in three principal ways.

Editors and publishers have proved enthusiastic to disseminate Professor Taylor's books to wider and sometimes remote language cultures and readers. This can be exemplified in the case of the outcomes cited above. Art of Today, 1995, was quickly published in an American edition as Avant-Garde and After, Harry N. Abrams, New York 1995; in a German edition as Kunst Heute, DuMont, Cologne 1995; in a Spanish edition as Arte Hoy, Ediciones Akal, Madrid 2000, and in a Korean edition, Yekong Publishing, Seoul 2002. That book, with sales of over 15000 between 1995 and 2002 and widely appreciated as a balanced yet sophisticated text on the situation of contemporary art, was the basis of a further commission for an updated and expanded account of its subject, published as Art Today, Lawrence King Publishing, London 2005, which was also, with minor changes, widely distributed to the American market as Contemporary Art: Art Since the 1970s, Prentice Hall, New York 2005, with sales figures of over 6500 between 2005 and 2013. Translations of Art Today into Russian and Chinese were subsequently published in 2006 and 2008 respectively and are listed in section 3 above. Sales figures for the latter are unknown. Other prominent examples include the publication of Collage: The Making of Modern Art, by Thames and Hudson, London 2004, translated for the French edition as Collage: l'invention des avant-gardes, Editions Hazan, Paris 2005. Articles or catalogue essays by Professor Taylor (not listed above) have been published in translation in Spanish, Polish, Italian, Russian, Turkish, and French during the assessment period. Through these many foreign language translations Professor Taylor's work has achieved a significant enhancement of human understanding, sensitivity and imagination in the cultural field across many communities and cultures.

During the period under review, many of Professor Taylor's publications have appeared not only within academia, but as catalogues for public exhibitions. Examples include Elements of Abstraction: Space, Line and Interval in Modern British Art in 2005, based on and staged in Southampton City Art Gallery with its internationally significant holdings of modern and contemporary British art (cited above); the leading catalogue essay for Leonid Lamm: from Virtuality to Utopia, at the State Russian Museum, St Petersburg in 2009 (editions in Russian and English); and the leading catalogue essay for Robert Motherwell: The Early Collages at the Solomon R.Guggenheim Museum, New York, in 2013 (also cited above). Professor Taylor has been invited to write catalogue essays for public one-man or group exhibitions throughout the period, including (pre 1 January 2008) for John Goto (Museum of Modern, Oxford 1994), Joseph Cornell and contemporary American Artists (Pavel Zubok Gallery, New York 2005), Gerald Giamportone (John Hansard Gallery, University of Southampton 2006); and (post 1 January 2008) for David Ferry (Galerie de Montaubon, France 2009), George Dannatt (Lemon Street Gallery, Truro 2010), Ian Dawson, Nick Mead, Katy Pratt (RIBA Gallery Liverpool 2010), Clyde Hopkins (Chelsea Space, London 2011), Stephen Brigdale (Bargate Gallery, Southampton 2012). He has lectured widely to public audiences at prominent galleries or museums during the period including Tate Modern, London (2010, 2011), Muzeum Stzuki, Lodz, Poland (2011), and the Museum of Modern Art, Istanbul (2012).

The impact of Professor Taylor's research can also be evidenced in several interventions in, or contributions to, the policy agenda for the visual arts on the national and international stage. He has served as a suppléant of the Commité International d'Histoire d'Art between 2008 and 2013, and on the International Advisory Committee of the Oxford Art Journal from 2010 to the present. In 2011 he was commissioned by Hampshire Country Council to research and prepare a refereed report Agenda for Excellence: The Research Potential of Southampton City Art Gallery Collection for inclusion in the Gallery's important policy framework review and funding programme.

Sources to corroborate the impact

Supplementary information on sales figures, translated editions etc may be obtained from Professor Taylor's publishers, at: Weidenfeld and Nicholson London, Laurence King Publishers London, Thames and Hudson London, Hudson Hills Press New York, Palace Editions St Petersburg, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum New York, together with foreign language publishers of co-editions.

Quotes from reviews:

- `Brandon Taylor's Collage is the fullest and best-written history of the subject so far' (Frank Whitford, World of Interiors, April 2005)

- `Taylor is good at positioning historically the emergence of new theoretical canons in the 1970s and 80s and the shifts in critical opinion and political affinities ... ' (Jon Cairns, Art History, December 1998)

- `[Sculpture and Psychoanalyis] is the first collection of essays to examine the fascinating relationship between sculpture and psychoanalysis' (from Simon Ford, Arlis, May/June 2006)

- `The achievement of [Art for the Nation] is the distillation of an extraordinary range of often inaccessible archival texts and images into detailed but nonetheless highly readable narratives' (Neil Sharp, The Art Book, Vol 7, January 2000)

- `Taylor is to be commended [in Art for the Nation] for his attempts to bridge art history, social history, and cultural history' (Jeffrey Auerbach, Victorian Studies, Spring 2001)

- `Based on a huge volume of research, [Art for the Nation] offers a refreshing and highly intelligent investigation of the politics and complex motivations of those responsible for setting up museums and exhibitions over the past two hundred years ... Dr Taylor presents both familiar and half-forgotten institutions in a wholly new light' (Giles Waterfield, Art Newspaper, December 1999)

Reviews may be consulted at: Eighteenth Century Studies, Vol 47, No 1, pp 87-8; Art Newspaper, December 2011, p 14; Art Times, Jan/Feb 2005; World of Interiors, April 2005; Hampshire Chronicle, 14 October 2005; Victorian Studies, Spring 2001; ARLIS, 181, May/June 2006; ARLIS, 140, Sept/Oct 1999; The Art Book, January 2000; Art History, December 1998, pp 278-83; The Times, 21 February 1995; British Journal of Photography, 15 February 1995, Art Book Review, Winter 1993.