Modern Art Explorer: Discover the Stories Behind Famous Artworks

Image of Modern Art Explorer
Release Date: 
October 6, 2020
Thames & Hudson
Reviewed by: 

Modern Art Explorer is a successful and fun journey into the world of modern art whether you are a new explorer or well-traveled art-lover, young person or seasoned adventurer.”

With a fresh, funny, and witty voice, Alice Harman’s Modern Art Explorer takes the older child reader on a wonderful tour of 30 artworks from Centre Pompidou—Paris’ home for incredible modern and contemporary art. Children are invited to become art explorers themselves, “Go from back and front, jump around all out of order, turn the book upside down, hold it right up to your face, or flick through the pages and only stop when an artwork is weird enough to make you go ‘what?!’”

Harman begins the tour with a few suggestions to new art explorers: “Stare at the pictures as long as you want, maybe before you look at the text at all/Ask all the questions you can think of, and don’t worry if they seem rude/Try to put yourself in the artist’s shoes and imagine what it might have felt like to think up and make their art.” She encourages children to bring their entire being on this tour—a curious mind, wide open eyes, and a full array of senses including asking, “How [the art] makes you feel.”

The selection of art and artists will surely grab children’s attention, whether they like art or not, and for those who may not enjoy a trip to an art museum, this journey is likely to inspire! Harman has picked modern art pieces that appeal to a child’s sensibility: from Matisse’s cutout art, to Pollock’s drip paintings, to Duchamp’s upside-down bicycle wheel. And once intrigued by the image, she uses engaging humor that make children and adults giggle, “Someone’s dumped a pile of junk in the middle of this art gallery. Unbelievable. Excuse me, security, can we get this removed? It’s blocking my view of the art. Wait, what? Oh, come on!”

Serge Bloch’s multi-media illustrations beautifully mirror and amplify each piece of artwork. They are playful, whimsical, and bring the reader closer to the page, sparking even more interest in the art. And as they read on, children will learn all kinds of things about modern art, without necessarily knowing they are being taught. Why is Nevelson’s found wooden objects, sprayed black, called "Tropical Garden II"? Why did Warhol repeat images of celebrities and products in his art? Where exactly is the man and the guitar in Braque’s blocky, angled “Man with A Guitar”? Welcome to Harman’s primer on abstract art, Cubism, Dadaism, Surrealism, and Pop Art!  

With wonder, children will appreciate the extraordinary materials artists use in their work, as well as some of the subtle messages contained in the pieces. Anatsui found a big pile of bottle caps in his studio (modern trash) that later became a huge cloth of squashed metal bottle caps held together with copper wire. In this work he introduces children to his inspiration: the kente cloth, worn by powerful people in Ghana. Similarly, Basquiat uses pastels, paint, and crumpled paper to create Slave Auction, a scary-looking piece reflecting a terrible time in human history.

Backmatter includes a wonderful timeline of the modern art movement, beginning in Paris and extending further abroad from the 1860s through the 1960s. A glossary of terms and detailed list of the artworks is also included. Modern Art Explorer is a successful and fun journey into the world of modern art whether you are a new explorer or well-traveled art-lover, young person or seasoned adventurer.