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Kaveh Rafie publishes “The Return of History” in Art History


Think Tank Aesthetics: Midcentury Modernism, the Cold War, and the Neoliberal Present, by Pamela M. Lee, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2020, 360 pp., 15 col. and 54 b. & w. illus., hardback, $35/£28.

The Art of Return: The Sixties and Contemporary Culture, by James Meyer, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2019, 368 pp., 94 col. and 38 b. & w. illus., hardback, $45/£36.

In these two volumes James Meyer and Pamela M. Lee, respectively, explore and problematize the historical conditions of the present art world. For both the past persists, influences and returns. The two, however, could not be more different when it comes to methodology. To Meyer, the liberating aesthetics of the ‘Long Sixties’, which roughly spans the mid-1950s to the late 1970s, is carried over to the present by its persisting return in contemporary art. The Long Sixties, Meyer underscores, far from being monolithic and uniform, were a mixture of the good and the bad, utopic and violent, idealistic and dark. Meyer is interested in studying what he calls ‘contemporary sensibility’, his expression for contemporary artists’ return to the Long Sixties. (9).