Reading List

Art and Aesthetics: Verso Student Reading

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Make your Art and Aesthetics bookshelf as exciting as ours, with books from James Bridle, John Berger, Hito Steyerl, Jacques Rancière, Frederic Jameson, and more.

In his brilliant new work, leading artist and writer James Bridle surveys the history of art, technology, and information systems, and reveals the dark clouds that gather over our dreams of the digital sublime. 

In The Social Photo, social theorist Nathan Jurgenson develops bold new ways of understanding the transformations wrought by these image-making and sharing technologies and the cultural objects they have ushered in: the selfie, the faux-vintage photo, the self-destructing image, the food photo. Jurgenson shows how these devices and platforms have remade the world and our understanding of ourselves within it. 

Artists and critics explore the concept of Real Abstraction to help understand contemporary cultural production. 

How can one think of art institutions in an age defined by planetary civil war, growing inequality, and proprietary digital technology? The boundaries of such institutions have grown fuzzy. They extend from a region where the audience is pumped for tweets to a future of “neurocurating,” in which paintings surveil their audience via facial recognition and eye tracking to assess their popularity and to scan for suspicious activity. In Duty Free Art, filmmaker and writer Hito Steyerl wonders how we can appreciate, or even make art, in the present age. 

John Berger, one of the world’s most celebrated art writers, takes us through centuries of drawing and painting, revealing his lifelong fascination with a diverse cast of artists. In Portraits, Berger grounds the artists in their historical milieu in revolutionary ways, whether enlarging on the prehistoric paintings of the Chauvet caves or Cy Twombly’s linguistic and pictorial play.

In this brilliant collection of diverse pieces—essays, short stories, poems, translations—which spans a lifetime’s engagement with art, John Berger reveals how he came to his own unique way of seeing. He pays homage to the writers and thinkers who infuenced him, such as Walter Benjamin, Rosa Luxemburg and Bertolt Brecht. His expansive perspective takes in artistic movements and individual artists—from the Renaissance to the present—while never neglecting the social and political context of their creation. 

Available in the UK only

In his most wide-ranging and accessible work, Frederic Jameson argues that postmodernism is the cultural response to the latest systemic change in world capitalism. He seeks here to crystallize a definition of a term which has taken on so many meanings that it has virtually lost all historical significance. This provocative book will be fundamental to all future discussions of postmodernism.

A leading philosopher presents a radical manifesto for the future of art and film.

No other country and no other period has produced a tradition of major aesthetic debate to compare with that which unfolded in German culture from the 1930s to the 1950s. In Aesthetics and Politics the key texts of the great Marxist controversies over literature and art during these years are assembled in a single volume. They do not form a disparate collection but a continuous, interlinked debate between thinkers who have become giants of twentieth-century intellectual history.

Savage Messiah collects the entire set of Laura Grace Ford’s fanzine to date. Part graphic novel, part artwork, the book is both an angry polemic against the marginalisation of the city’s working class and an exploration of the cracks that open up in urban space.

An award-winning cultural history of how we experience the world through art, film and architecture.

Composed in a series of scenes, Aisthesis–Rancière’s definitive statement on the aesthetic–takes its reader from Dresden in 1764 to New York in 1941. Along the way, we view the Belvedere Torso with Winckelmann, accompany Hegel to the museum and Mallarmé to the Folies-Bergère, attend a lecture by Emerson, visit exhibitions in Paris and New York, factories in Berlin, and film sets in Moscow and Hollywood. Rancière uses these sites and events—some famous, others forgotten—to ask what becomes art and what comes of it.

All That Is Solid Melts into Airis widely acclaimed as one of the greatest books on modernity. A kaleidoscopic journey into the experience of modernization, it captures the dizzying social changes that swept up and transformed the lives of millions of people. Berman delves into the aesthetic and intellectual controversies of art, literature, and architecture: from the writing of Goethe, Marx and Dostoevsky to the Paris of Baudelaire and Haussmann, the Petersburg of the Tsarist builders and Pushkin, and the New York of devastated wastelands and creative artists.

Anywhere or Not At All is a major philosophical intervention in art theory that challenges the terms of established positions through a new approach at once philosophical, historical, social and art-critical. Setting out the claim that ‘contemporary art is postconceptual art’, the book elaborates a series of conceptual constructions and interpretations of works by Navjot Altaf, the Atlas Group, Amar Kanwar, Sol LeWitt, Gordon Matta-Clark, Gerhard Richter and Robert Smithson, among others.

These essays—extending the scope and arguments of Osborne’s Anywhere or Not At All: Philosophy of Contemporary Art—move from a philosophical consideration of the changing temporal conditions of capitalist modernity, via problems of formalism, the politics of art and the changing shape of art institutions, to interpretation and analysis of particular works by Akram Zaatari, Xavier Le Roy and Ilya Kabakov, and the postconceptual situation of a crisis-ridden New Music.

Artificial Hells is the first historical and theoretical overview of socially engaged participatory art, known in the US as “social practice.” Claire Bishop follows the trajectory of twentieth-century art and examines key moments in the development of a participatory aesthetic. This itinerary takes in Futurism and Dada; the Situationist International; Happenings in Eastern Europe, Argentina and Paris; the 1970s Community Arts Movement; and the Artists Placement Group.

Bad New Days examines the evolution of art and criticism in Western Europe and North America over the last twenty-five years, exploring their dynamic relation to the general condition of emergency instilled by neoliberalism and the war on terror.

In this major new work, Groys charts the paradoxes produced by the tension between art as object and as practice, and explores art in the age of the thingless medium, the Internet. Groys claims that if the techniques of mechanical reproduction gave us objects without aura, digital production generates aura without objects, transforming all its materials into vanishing markers of the transitory present.

Leading artists, theorists, and writers exhume the dystopian and utopian futures contained within the present.

Planet/Cuba examines how art and literature have responded to a new moment, one both more globalized and less exceptional; more concerned with local quotidian worries than international alliances; more threatened by the depredations of planetary capitalism and climate change than by the vagaries of the nation’s government. Rachel Price examines a fascinating array of artists and writers who are tracing a new socio-cultural map of the island.

An invigorating revitalization of the Frankfurt School legacy, Roberts’s book defines and validates the avant-garde idea with an erudite acuity, providing a refined conceptual set of tools to engage critically with the most advanced art theorists of our day, such as Hal Foster, Andrew Benjamin, Alain Badiou, Jacques Rancière, Paolo Virno, Claire Bishop, Michael Hardt, and Toni Negri.

Tracking the work of groups including MTL, Not an Alternative, the Illuminator, the Rolling Jubilee, and G.U.L.F, Strike Art shows how Occupy ushered in a new era of artistically-oriented direct action that continues to ramify far beyond the initial act of occupation itself into ongoing struggles surrounding labor, debt, and climate justice, concluding with a consideration of the overlaps between such work and the aesthetic practices of the Black Lives Matter movement.

In this follow-up to the acclaimed The Future of the Image, Rancière takes a radically different approach to this attempted emancipation. First asking exactly what we mean by political art or the politics of art, he goes on to look at what the tradition of critical art, and the desire to insert art into life, has achieved. Has the militant critique of the consumption of images and commodities become, ironically, a sad affirmation of its omnipotence?

Leading theorist and art curator Nicolas Bourriaud tackles the excluded, the disposable and the nature of waste by looking to the future of art—the exform. He argues that the great theoretical battles to come will be fought in the realms of ideology, psychoanalysis and art. A “realist” theory and practice must begin by uncovering the mechanisms that create the distinctions between the productive and unproductive, product and waste, and the included and excluded.

Contemporary art sometimes pretends to have made a clean break with history. In The Perpetual Guest, poet and critic Barry Schwabsky demonstrates that any robust understanding of art’s present must also account for the ongoing life and changing fortunes of its past.

High modernism is now as far from us as antiquity was for the Renaissance. Such is the premise of Fredric Jameson’s major new work in which modernist works, this time in painting and music, are pitted against late-modernist ones (in film) as well as a variety of postmodern experiments: all of which attempt, in their different ways, to invent new forms to grasp a specific social totality. Throughout these historical periods, argues Jameson, the question of narrative persists through its multiple formal changes and metamorphoses.

All our student reading is 50% off as part of our Back to University/School sale. Ends September 30, 23:59 EST. See all our student reading lists here.