A New Concise Reference Dictionary and Glossary of Usage Terms and Subjects in Contemporary Art | Neal Brown

122 Pages (16 black & white plates)
10.5 cm × 16.2 cm
Offset on Fedrigoni arcoprint milk paper
Softcover with gold foil blocking and wraparound dustjacket
Edition of 1500
Designed by Helios Capdevila
ISBN: 978-0-9575573-3-8

Between 2010, and 2013 ArtReview magazine published twenty-six columns of Brown’s Dictionary, an A-Z of art and the art world. Brown’s approach was to engage with contemporary art according to its own specifications: to be somewhat deranged, certainly excessive, and – very occasionally – meaningful. For example:

‘ART WORLD. A capitalistic value order system in which the transfer objects known as art are exchanged, so enabling those engaged in the exchange — principally bankers and dealers, served by artists — to acquire forms of social merit. If bankers succeed in gaining sufficient merit from dealers, they may then be permitted to deposit their sperm inside the artists, either vaginally or within the walls of the rectum.’

Accompanying the text are 16 black and white plates.

Introduction by the esteemed art critic and broadcaster, Matthew Collings.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Neal Brown is the author of Meditations on Art Hate (L-13, 2010), Tracey Emin (Tate Publishing, 2006), Mat Collishaw (Other Criteria, 2006), and Billy Childish: A Short Study (L-13, 2008). As well as writing for ArtReview, he has written about art for Flash Art, Frieze, Art Monthly, Modern Painters, Parkett, Art and Christianity, Tate Etc., and the Independent on Sunday. He curated To The Glory of God: New Religious Art at the second Liverpool Biennial (2002).




The Independent
Love Art Not People
Self Publish Be Happy


Daedalus Contemporary Greek artist. Known for his skilful creation of a wooden cow in which his patron, Pasiphaë (the wife of a Greek shipping magnate), concealed herself so as to be sexually penetrated by a real bull.

daffodil A beautiful flower with a primal yellow form. Painted by Vincent van Gogh, who also painted irises and sunflowers.

dance See dance of death.

dance of death Many high social functions, held in both state and private art institutions, may be (privately) described by the use of this term.

darkness The absence of light has metaphorical significance in many cultures, and is therefore the means to create a locused emotional discourse in respect of either a metarelational stasis unity or an unbecoming praxis disunity. The showing of artists’ videos in near darkness is a summary process of this index of represence; a locusment of technology redundancy which exists, with teleological significance, for exaggerated theatrical effect only. Thus it is a strident presentational affectation of locus causality with the likelihood of some handbag theft occurring.

Davy’s grey A greenish-grey pigment, made from powdered slate, iron oxide and carbon black. Granular and transparent, it is sometimes difficult to handle because of its tendency to clump.

death Although artists often kill themselves, each other or other people, it remains unusual for them to be actually killed for making bad art. The conclusion to be drawn from this, that art is not actually that important, tends to be an insulting one to artists. Historically artists have gained dignity by being disallowed to practice, and thus perish through loss of livelihood. See cuts.

deconstruction See pun.

delirium See dementia.

dementia See delirium.

demons Evil spirits, or the servants of Satan. See cuts.

demonstrative rhetoric Coded or uncoded signaling imploration behaviours intended to draw attention to the artist being erudite, learned and so cognisant with theory tendencies as to expect reciprocating critical approval responses. See Byzantine, vulgarity, rhetoric, theory-orgyism.

deposition The taking down of Jesus Christ from the cross.

derision Term used in respect of certain cultural imprecation contexts, in which derisive insults are a value norm. Common on the Web, but also in (popular) newspapers and (unpopular) magazines. Includes, paradoxically, important publications and broadcasters who claim a status interest in the values of high culture. For example, instead of saying that ‘X’s installations are, perhaps, indeterminate in respect of their theoretical positionings’, they might, with dry intention, say that ‘X is a twat’. The matter is complicated because, certainly in respect of X, the universal consensus is that her work definitely is that of a complete twat. See degenerationism, dumbing down, Modernism, hypocrisy, fascism.

détournement See dance of death.

deviance Deviancies in contemporary art tend to be omissive; that is, they are made conspicuous in the same way that it is deviant not to have a tattoo on one’s body.

diary A common art installation trope, referencing approved validation formulas.

diorama A common art installation trope, referencing approved validation formulas.

disbelief See cuts.

disco A common art installation trope, referencing approved validation formulas.

dissociation An abnormal mental state in which the subject’s perception of phenomena may differ remarkably from that of others. See film critic.

documentary A common art installation trope, referencing approved validation formulas.

dominance Aggressive behaviour, often ritualised. Usually ceases when the threatened individual is seen to submit and agree that the art previously stated as disliked is in fact excellent (or even wonderful). Domination occurs through clothing ostentation, symbolic meals, etc.

donor A patron or benefactor of gifts, bequests or sponsorships. By these means donors gain delivery from the plague, enjoy victory in war and achieve release from captivity in military defeat, etc.

drawing Sophisticated and intelligent conceptual art practice in which marked lines on flat paper are made to correspond with a visually perceived external reality.

Duchamp American artist. Transvestite. Known for the conflicted hypersexuality of his art practice; its emphasis on hairless genital partialism and compulsive autoeroticism has made him popular. Played chess, a game with an intense psychological quality of deception and introspectiveness which in some respects is analogous to the intimate identity displacings of autoerotic transvestism. Duchamp also employed the recursive pun, by which he compounded his genderings and regenderings of dissociative sociosexuality. Paradoxically, although Duchamp has many followers, very few of them are transvestite or play chess, and consequently they lack proper understanding of his work. Academic followers are invariably sexually inactive, and thus lack any understanding whatsoever. See erotica, parnomasia.

dumbing down See cuts.

dysfunctional The opposite of functional. Dysfunctional is generally regarded as the more interesting.

dystopia See cuts.

My immediate associations regarding Neal’s book are a) the appendix to Flaubert’s Bouvard and Pecuchet, and b) Fischli Weiss. The former is full of hilarious drollisms, in which a thing is “always” connected to another thing and you know it means you must never forget in conversation to name or utter the sound of these two things in the same breath, but not necessarily have the faintest idea why, or even what one or both of them is, or means. The latter is a collection of clay sculptures from 1981, named Suddenly This Overview, with each possessing an individual title that, in an art-world context, could easily suggest a certain received-idea mentality – an example would be, say, Difference and Repetition. There was a time when it was important in order to make it clear to readers that you were not an art writer to be fucked with, to mention rhizomes once or twice. Then it became absolutely not the thing to do and if you went out on a limb and did it anyway it would be considered pitiable. In Fischli Weiss’s sculptures very bluntly modeled real-world objects, from people to potatoes, fire to cars, whatever, turn out to be inescapably clear 3-D signs for concepts which, in the land of the art intelligentsia, should always have infinite indeterminacy, so that whoever deploys them has infinite power. I think I remember Difference and Repetition was rendered as two innocently grinning identical idiots. And yet the success of this group of works is not just due to a comic cutting down to size or literal embodiment of complex metaphors, or metaphors whose usage in a certain social context is considered a sign of complex mental ability. That particular level of fun is certainly there. But what has really happened beyond that is that something new has arrived: genuine complexity. Not an anti-intellectual door-closing statement that withers anyone’s natural eagerness to try out an idea or two. But rather a real game of new ideas or flight paths (here I use the long since discredited Deleuze and Guattarian fave term.) As Albion is always yoked to perfidious and to white, not to mention Napoleon (“came jolly close to conquering it”) in Bouvard and Pecuchet, and art leads to the poorhouse — “What’s the use of it, since we’re replacing it with machines that do better and work faster?” — so certain nutty stuff must always happen in the professional world of superb hustlers Neal works in, even though, as he is aware, it’s completely arbitrary and will soon be out of fashion. But in deliberately foolishly monumentalizing, or solidifying, a fugitive brilliance as he does in entry after entry in his funny index of art ideas, which is really a map of thought gone incredibly wrong, he might be creating a third power. Neither rhetorical career-conscious bullshit nor a baseline of bourgeois common sense, it is his own kingdom of freedom in which he finally shrugs off stuff that has been weighing him down and repressing him for years. For the rest of us it can’t be quite that, because such weighing down is always personal. But at least we can roam in this created world and genuinely feel that we’ve benefitted from an intellectual service. The cleaners coming round and doing a genuine bit of dusting and hovering, unclogging congested brains, doesn’t just apply in Neal’s book to the art-world talking to itself, but also the bourgeois spectator world not only interrogating the art-world (its fantasies about unmade beds as conceptual art) but also patting itself on the back for its insights into the complete non-requirement to talk to anybody since everything is already known “Blue: a lovely, lovey colour, goo for children to look at.” I also very much appreciate Neal’s surrealism, in fact much more of the book is this than it is satire, or an attack on obvious targets. Bisexuals happening every two years is on one level a biennale, which is an event that has become absolutely explosive with problems since UK ordinary art journalists used to go to them wearing all-white and panama hats as if they were on holiday in Rhodesia, but also a weird poem. It has no meaning at all but sounds like the right kind of thing you’d want to hear on one of those planes full of art people going to Venice, sticking out more enormous even than usual metaphorical big willies at each other regarding famous artists they desperately believe are their friends — referring to them by their first names; or worse, intimate nicknames — or high powered institutions paying for their trip and hotel, in order to escape to another head place. But then what were you doing on that plane at all? Which brings us finally to the question of the ideal readership. Who is it? What should they know? What should they be fed up about? I return to association. Funnily enough I once interviewed Fischli Weiss, in Zurich as it happens, their dwelling place at the time. The one who died recently, Weiss, was tense, forever pacing the room, flinging the window open, going out for a break. I had no idea what they did really; I’d never seen any of the works we were discussing, only the film, The Way of Things, which was all the rage on the biennale circuit in this particular year, 1987. But it wasn’t this that was eating David, not my ignorance: they liked that and found it sympathetic. In fact “sympathetic” was the word that sank in for me from that trip. We all went swimming in the lake after, naked, with Kippenberger and their mutual gallerist, a woman, I forget her name now. And I said the magazine I edited, which had been hospitable to Kippenberger and his friends, was getting a new look done by a real designer, no longer just me with a pair of scissors and an enlarger. And Kippenberger said what a shame, the bad design was sympathetic. You can be ignorant and it’s all right, or it might not even be ignorance. Or you can be cynical about specialised knowledge and at the same time struggling to gain some, and express both sentiments in the same bitter quips directed against it. Oh yes, Gisela Capitain. A Cologne gallery: always say “gallerist.” Where was I? Weiss was agitated because both of them really were trying to understand systems of knowledge by parodying the struggle, so familiar and pathetic, to absorb such systems, especially when you are no longer of student age. The book you’re about to read won’t tell you anything helpful about art. No book could do that. You have to read them all and reject them and then go back to them. Or I should say it tells you a helpful thing actually surprisingly often, if you know what to look for, that is, if you don’t need to be told these things. But then in the same entry it immediately brings in something deeply unhelpful, so you can be reassured, if you already knew, that objectivity is present, but thrilled that it needn’t be the be all and end all, or even anything. At least, that would be how you’d rationalise what just happened if you were already aware that symmetry exists in both Donald Judd and Fra Angelico. In which case you wouldn’t need to be told many of the things in the book that someone dutiful might class as “helpful.” Like an answer to the question, what is geometry for in art? Fantasy is unfolding. It is formed from elements that you know, but someone else is doing it. It’s weir to be in their dream. What’s it about? Is it their refusal to join in with a phantasmagoria no one realises isn’t real, like those competitive career conversations on trips to international art hotspots? But a dream can be helpful, too. Is Minimalism religious because religious art is often geometric? It is if baboons are really all that frequent or important in contemporary art. Happy reading