Sally O’Reilly an academic and art critic has written a very useful book on the body in Contemporary Society. O’Reilly a Dean of Brown Mountain College of the reforming arts discusses the body in the 21st century discussing Global and identity politics , gender , the individual -Installation and video and performance art and shows how the body has inspired thousands of artists worldwide and has long last shown that Modernist criticism of Clement Greenberg and Michael Fried with its autonomous criteria is a totally fallacious argument in Art Criticism.



O’Reilly begins her book with an opening statement about the role of the body in contemporary society.” After the cool detachment that persisted throughout the Modernist period the visceral and vulnerable body is now a potent signifier of lived experiences well as a medium of formal and aesthetic inquiry”. [1].

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Allan Kaprow who was involved in the fluxus movement and so called ‘happenings’ O’Reilly comments ” Following on from 19th century realism in which the image of the female nude as a dreary goddess or supplicant child bearer was supplanted by self aware subject (In Manet’s Olympia for example) the 20th Century avant  gardes produced further even more complex shifts”. [2].


O’Reilly shows how the development and representation of the body has changed ” the main thrust of this development has been from passivity to active agency so that the body is no longer a static optical phenomena but the embodiment of dynamic human relations”. [3].

Marlene  Dumas an artist who stretches the sensitivity and sometimes crosses the borders of what is acceptable art and who recently had an Exhibition at the Tate Modern in London.

Dumas O’Reilly argues has rejected Modernism and in her painting rejects accepted practices. ” The rejection of Modernism as the aesthetic expression of History as progress instigated an attack on traditional hierarchical structures and painting in particular endured a battering”. [4].

” Figurative painting in particular has readmitted the emotional and socio political subjectives banished by Modernism”.[5]. Concentrating on Dumas O’Reilly points out the fleshy tones that Dumas uses in her work. ” Dumas often unrealistically charged palette mingles flesh tones with blue , green or purple”.[6].


The gaze explored by Mulvey and other feminists challenges who or what the gaze is. O’Reilly comments on this aspect of the gaze ” The politics of the gaze (explored by Laura Mulvey and others) or the question of who the image is made by to look at by whom has undergone fundamental reconfiguration since Manet’s Olympia”. [7].


” Zwelethu Mthethwa  for instance works with his subjects over time revisiting them in their own environment to discuss the eventual portrait” .[8].



O’Reilly who concentrates on Global images in her survey considers all aspects on how the body and shies away from a Euro Centric commentary. ” Yasumasa Morimura’s reconstructions of well known paintings are critical of the western canon and its Euro and North American centrism in particular”. [9].

” The ethics of looking and being looked at are evidently fraught since direction and misdirection of imagery often compounds the plight of the oppressed and displaced” .[10].

These comments by O’Reilly shows her contempt for the Modernist outlook which only concerned itself with Euro Centric developments. O’Reilly to her credit has sympathy for diversity , the oppressed  and considers gender and Identity politics which is a refreshing approach than that of Modernist critics.

Marina Abramovic is another body artist who according to O’Reilly challenges our preconceptions of the world we live in and how it is perceived. ”  The performance and video work of Marina Abramovic also positions the individual in the wider context of the human condition with reference to Eastern Philosophies”. [11].



” Contemporary artists tend to shun the idealising nature and completeness and singularity of traditional portraiture in favour of vulnerability , inconstancy and multiplicity”. [12].

O’Reilly also considers a variety of body artists who cross the divide between image and practical reality. ” Cezary Bodzianowski also works within the gap between body as image and body as lived reality”. [13].



” In Sherin Neshats photographic self portraits the veil interrupts the gaze as a marker of cultural difference at the same time as intimating strategies of power based on viewpoints and concealment”. [14].

Mona Hatoum has been involved in various depictions of Feminist and alternative art and continually challenges the viewer in how they should perceive her representations. ” Mona Hatoum’s full however subverts our expectations of digital jiggery -pokery .The audience is invited to tug a brand of hair that hangs in an alcove above is a video screen that shows the artists head upside down”. [15].




” In his portrait series Hiroshi Sugimoto also uses photography as a means to challenge perception and to question the stability of the photograph as a representational tool”. [16].

O’Reilly continues with her panoramic and global survey of the body in different guises and using different artistic representations whether it be Video ,photograph ,Installation or painted work.

” Clothing and the body that means it is an area of proclaiming and identifying differences or solidarity”. [17].

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Elle  Krystufek  uses autobiographical images together with stereotyping as O’Reilly observes. ” While Elle Krystufek work is also autobiographical , her often violently explicit self portrait is interwoven with generic representation of female stereotyping in museum or mainstream culture”. [18].

Another artist Pipilotti Rist challenges the line between stereotypes and also using her body as a source of pleasure. ” Pipilotti Rist too treads a thin line between the perpetuation and the critique of stereotypes as she embraces the aesthetic of the pop video and presents her body as a site of pleasure , eroticism and exploration”. [19].




Yinka Shonibare an African artist has always sought to attack the concept of Euro centric art through parody. ” Although it is often considered a traditional fabric Balik originated in Indonesia and was circulated to colonial regions by the Dutch. Shonibare’s headless cyclists are clothed in a riot of conflicting signs that are all but forgotten”. [20].




” Eva and Franco Mattes reconstruct seminal art performances in the virtual realm of  second life”. [21].


Joseph Francis Sugeme on the other hand uses a variety of materials as O’Reilly explains ” The figures in Joseph Francis Sugemes are wrought from the discarded innards of machinery , shower piping coloured wires and rubber tyres as well as decorative beads. the mundane reality of Technology”. [22].



In Concluding my review of Sally O’Reilly’s book I have considered the momentous scope of the book in considering the depiction of the body in the contemporary world. It really has given a revolutionary outlook to the world we live in. Sally O’Reilly really has written an inspiring book and I will finish with her concluding remarks ” There is an overwhelming sense then of artists reaching beyond their own physical and psychological limits connecting art with the limitless world beyond the immediate and personal” .[23].

Her final comment about the shortcomings and weakness of Modernism I completely concur with. In a later posting I will consider the contribution of Greenberg and Fried. ” The autonomous art work that is kept at arms length from the world -communicating a message that only a spectator who is privy to the  appropriate esoteric discourse can decipher is quite simply no longer acceptable to the contemporary artist (and or viewer spectator or participant)” [24].

O’Reillys  last statement I agree with and anyone who has the opportunity should read and inwardly digest the excellent message that Sally O’Reilly imparts. ” The consideration of inclusivity has a long lineage incorporating ideologies and methodologies from the happenings of the 1960’s and the public socially engaged art of the 1970’s.


  2. DITTO PG12
  3. DITTO PG 17
  4. DITTO PG 19
  5. DITTO PG 19
  6. DITTO PG 19
  7. DITTO PG 22
  8. DITTO PG 33-34
  9. DITTO PG 37
  10. DITTO PG 37
  11.  DITTO PG 45
  12. DITTO PG 49
  13. DITTO PG 51
  14. DITTO PG 60
  15. DITTO PG 69
  16. DITTO PG 69
  17. DITTO PG 77
  18. DITTO PG 84
  19. DITTO PG 86
  20. DITTO PG 96
  21. DITTO PG 127
  22. DITTO PG  134
  23. DITTO PG 189
  24. DITTO PG 197



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