Breaking The Rules: What Is Contemporary Art?

A new book delivers a kid-friendly perspective on modern art

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For budding esthetes, the new children’s book from L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art attempts to distill the extensive roster of major modern talent into a clear, easy-to-read format. “Breaking the Rules: What is Contemporary Art?,” describes each chosen artwork—such as “Delicious” (Felix Gonzalez-Torres‘ candied installation above), “Lovable Horror” (Victor Estrada’s “Happiness” monster) and “Autobiographical” (Robert Rauschenberg‘s shadow box)—in kid-friendly terrms.


Covering a wide range of materials and approaches, author Susan Goldman Rubin successfully outlines the central points of contemporary art, keeping it simple without dumbing down essential information. Her straightforward approach accomplishes the ultimate in children’s lit; it’s a compelling read for both children and adults alike.

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For example, on Gordon Matta-Clark and his piece “Office Baroque” (middle image), Rubin explains how he revolutionized the art world by selectively cutting holes in the floor and ceiling of an abandoned building until “the building itself constituted the work of art,” and she labels Tony Oursler‘s video work (above) of dismembered body parts onto unlikely materials “Eerie.”


Damián Ortega‘s humorously beautiful “The Cosmic Thing” (above) freezes time using wire to deconstruct a Volkswagen beetle into carefully suspended parts. Irony was not lost on Claes Oldenburg when he created “The Store” in 1961, consisting of plaster and muslin recreations of dollar store wares. He explains in an extended quote (one of the great strengths of the book), “Art should be literally made of the ordinary world.”


The book concludes with a page explaining, “Contemporary art will be…anything. Whatever an artist feels like doing. Artists are constantly creating new works that break the rules.”

“Breaking The Rules” sells from the MoCA store for $15.