From Whitechapel: Documents of Contemporary Art


Edited by Richard Noble

Utopian strategies in contemporary art seen in the context of the histories of utopian thinking and avant-garde art.





Utopian strategies in contemporary art seen in the context of the histories of utopian thinking and avant-garde art.

Throughout its diverse manifestations, the utopian entails two related but contradictory elements: the aspiration to a better world, and the acknowledgement that its form may only ever live in our imaginations. Furthermore, we are as haunted by the failures of utopian enterprise as we are inspired by the desire to repair the failed and build the new. Contemporary art reflects this general ambivalence. The utopian impulse informs politically activist and relational art, practices that fuse elements of art, design, and architecture, and collaborative projects aspiring to progressive social or political change. Two other tendencies have emerged in recent art: a looking backward to investigate the utopian elements of previous eras, and the imaginative modeling of alternative worlds as intimations of possibility. This anthology contextualizes these utopian currents in relation to political thought, viewing the utopian as a key term in the artistic lineage of modernity. It illuminates how the exploration of utopian themes in art today contributes to our understanding of contemporary cultures, and the possibilities for shaping their futures.

Artistis surveyed includeJoseph Beuys, Paul Chan, Guy Debord, Jeremy Deller, Liam Gillick, Antony Gormley, Dan Graham, Thomas Hirschhorn, Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, Bodys Isek Kingelez, Paul McCarthy, Constant A. Nieuwenheuys, Paul Noble, Nils Norman, Philippe Parreno, Pil and Galia Kollectiv, Superflex, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Mark Titchner, Atelier van Lieshout, Jeff Wall, Andy Warhol, Wochenklauser, Carey Young.

Writers includeTheodor Adorno, Jennifer Allen, Catherine Bernard, Ernst Bloch, Yve-Alain Bois, Nicolas Bourriaud, Benjamin H.D. Buchloh, Alex Farquharson, Hal Foster, Michel Foucault, Alison Green, Fredric Jameson, Rosalind Krauss, Hari Kunzru, Donald Kuspit, Dermis P. Leon, Karl Marx, Jeremy Millar, Thomas More, William Morris, Molly Nesbit, Hans Ulrich Obrist, George Orwell, Jacques Rancière, Stephanie Rosenthal, Beatrix Ru.


$24.95 T ISBN: 9780262640695 240 pp. | 6 in x 8.5 in

Not for sale in Europe or the UK.


Richard Noble

Richard Noble is a scholar of contemporary art, critical theory, and the interrelation of art and politics. He is a Lecturer in Fine Arts at Goldsmiths College, London.


  • This volume is essential reading for anyone interested in the art-world's current impasse between willful naïveté and postmodern cynicism.

    Publishers Weekly


  • What truly distinguishes this volume is the manner in which it reveals that the imagination of a perfect society is the other half of a critique of society, and that the two halves rarely add up. Some of the authors project brilliant visions of the future, others seek to examine the contemporary blockages on the utopian impulse, while most investigate the confusion of what makes (or does not make) something utopian within the context of art. This excellent selection of pieces that in one way or another contemplate utopia will help renew interest in this most important of subjects.

    Alex Alberro

    Virginia Bloedel Wright Associate Professor of Art History, Barnard College and Columbia University

  • Richard Noble has brilliantly brought together a selection of writings by artists, political theorists, critics and philosophers in order to investigate the utopian in contemporary art and culture—how art explores the impulse towards a better world, as well as how it plays out the intimation of a dystopian and dark universe so near to us. From canonical historical texts such as More's Utopia of 1516 and Marx and Engels' writings in the nineteenth century, to Orwell's 1949 dark vision of utopia gone sour in Nineteen Eighty-Four; from Adorno's avant-garde negativity to Debord and Constant's views of the total integration of art and political revolution in the 1950s and 1960s; from Beuys' view of a practical and realizable utopia of the 1970s, up to Pierre Huyghe, Hans Ulrich Obrist, and Philippe Parreno's views of relational communities and conviviality at the turn of this new century; this collection of essays and interviews provides insight and challenges us to imagine the twenty-first century with absolute freedom.

    Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev

    Chief Curator, Castello di Rivoli, Turin; Artistic Director, Documenta 13

  • This is an exceptionally stimulating book, helping explain why Utopia continues to mean 'Nowhere.'

    Arthur C. Danto

    Johnsonian Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, Columbia University, and art critic, The Nation