What Was Contemporary Art? (MIT, 2013) emerges from Richard Meyer’s experience as a teacher and advisor in an art history PhD program, where over the last decade he has observed an increasing number of graduate students and applicants declare their primary area of interest to be “contemporary” – by which they mean not art since 1945 nor even art since 1960, but the work of artists exhibiting today and in the immediate past. In response to this trend and the questions it raises regarding the role of the historian and the relationship between art criticism and art history, Meyer’s book traces the idea of contemporary art in the United States from the late 1920s to the present. Taking seriously the proposal that every work of art was once “contemporary” while restoring a sense of historicity to the concept, Meyer’s study reveals how the idea of contemporaneity in art has been conceived, exhibited, and discussed at key moments in the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.

Richard Meyer is Associate Professor of Art History and Director of the Contemporary Project at the University of Southern California. He published the book Outlaw Representation: Censorship and Homosexuality in Twentieth-Century American Art (Oxford University Press, 2002). He contributed an essay, “Hard Targets: Male Bodies, Feminist Art, and the Force of Censorship in the 1970s,” to the catalog Wack! Art and the Feminist Revolution (Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 2007). Recent articles include “Feminism Uncovered” in Artforum (Summer 2007) and “October Revolution,” a review of Art Since 1900 by Hal Foster, Rosalind Krauss, Yves-Alain Bois, and Benjamin H.D. Buchloh, also in Artforum (September 2005). He gave the 40th Annual Benjamin West Lecture in the History of Art, titled “What was Contemporary Art?” at Shanghai University, China, in May 2006.