Holland Cotter travelled to the Dunhuang Caves for the NY Times. Located between Mongolia and Tibet the complex of caves is the subject of an experiment to preserve the caves from the damaging effects of tourist visits, yet still maintain accessibility through a form of remote viewing. The Times website features a slide show of the lyrically expressive sculpture and mural works in the caves. My impression is that so complete is the refinement and sophistication of this grotto "project space", it might be akin to experiencing a Matthew Barney ride at Universal Studios if such were ever to exist.
Next on our tour of the aesthetically progressive past, the Met just opened the exhibit Radiance from the Rain Forest: Feather work in Ancient Peru. I've not yet seen this exhibit, but I'm looking forward to it. When I've seen this variety of work in the past, I've been enthralled by the strength and simplicity of the compositions and the color sense demonstrated by the maykrs in their use of these highly keyed colors. Many of these pieces feel far more vibrant, immediate and relevant than some current work I've seen by artists working in the abstract/color field manner today.
Following up on this topic of looking back for the now, my wish list is topped by Phaidon's 30,000 Years of Art History. Published last year this massive brick of world visual culture traces art history chronologically, and picking examples of work created worldwide along that timeline. As so much of contemporary art is about shifting contexts, this global overview of art history thrusts centuries of activity under a contemporary lens, re contextualizing our view of art history in a more sensual, objective fashion. Each page is devoted to a single object, which is generally set next to a piece from the previous or proceeding vintage, of an entirely different cultural aesthetic. This chronological buffet approach emphasizes and distinguishes the eclectic nuanced modes of expression from one civilization to another. This is a gorgeous book in its presentation and it's full of discovery. I don't know why I haven't bought it yet, as it is very reasonable, particularly if you look at it at a cost/heft ratio, coming in at 1064 pages and 1,000 illustrations. You can pick it up at the Beacon Art Supply .