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Book Review : ‘Manual of Contemporary Art Style’ by Pablo Helguera
‘Manual of Contemporary Art Style’ by Pablo Helguera is a unique book that throws light on the complex social dynamics of today’s fast-evolving art world. The insightful document, originally printed by Tumbona Ediciones in Spanish, is translated in English.

The manual, as it has been termed, explains nuances of the new contemporary art style. It offers a clear and ironic look at the various inner, interconnected social workings of the modern art scene. The author approaches simultaneously approaches the subject such that it functions as an useful and accurate etiquette guide for understanding the professional dynamics, which takes place in the sophistic art community today.

Pablo Helguera employs the traditional language of those peculiar old-time etiquette manuals to address and describe the resultant social situations in the art world familiar to all those involved in it, and yet which are seldom discussed openly barring being touched upon in casual conversation. In a way, the book serves as a powerful portrait of the contemporary art scene, as well as the paradoxical and strange contradictions. He points out the dilemma as it swings between its push towards fostering its image of radicalism and fulfilling its immediate need to consciously cater to the financially conservative art market, which essentially sustains it.

The author of ‘Manual of Contemporary Art Style’, Pablo Helguera, is a known visual artist based in New York. His work ranges from performance art and video to public art and painting. It often involves elements of fiction, humor, criticism and historical research. Regarding his own evolution as an artist, he has stated: “Working in a museum helped me to work better with others, with the public, to grasp the mechanics of communication and perception. Everything I do as an artist tries to explore those mechanisms in various ways.”

He has worked at many museums including the Guggenheim Museum in New York as Senior Manager of Education. He has presented work at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), NY; El Museo del Barrio; the Bronx Museum; the Havana and Liverpool Biennials, and in many other prestigious events and shows internationally.

To put it in his own words, “the book is an autobiography of sorts. It documents the anecdotes, behind-the-scenes maneuvers, and intriguing interactions that I have carefully observed in the art world over the years. The manual also seeks to show the various ways in which we all tend to conform to certain regulated patterns or norms of behavior in order to be absorbed into the high spheres of the contemporary art scene. We all are performers, and here I have made an effort to describe some parts of our unspoken script."

‘Manual of Contemporary Art Style’ is not only entertaining, but also an insightful read both for the novice and the art specialist. The witty book scrutinizes the mechanics of the art scene, and deftly guides us through the do's and don'ts of life centered around the art community. It provides answers to curious questions such as: How to employ Google as a curatorial tool? What should one say to close friends when they happen to exhibit bad work? How to cure the "festivalist syndrome? How can one manage to escape from a never-ending video installation in the presence of others? You’ll find the difference between a B-level and an A-level artist, and tell you how to keep convincing yourself that you are among the greatest in history.

This is an offbeat book penned by a savvy 21st century artist. It masquerades as an old-fashioned guide to the foibles and manners of the art world. It’s a clever commentary, and has many voices. According to Pablo Helguera, it’s a handy etiquette manual for those who wish to socially escalate into the ‘high spheres of privilege’ in the art world. He adds, “But since the whole economy is rather collapsing, there might soon be nowhere to escalate to, and it seems like there will be no other choice but to come back to a more primitive stage of art making.”