In the last Whitney Biennial a significant percentage of the works on view took as their subjects actual historical episodes or addressed earlier moments in the history of art. This is different from artists grappling with and working out of tradition, which is how art gets made at any time.
Alexander Nagel is Professor at the Institute of Fine Arts, NYU. His last book, Medieval Modern: Art out of Time, was published by Thames and Hudson in 2012.
I am nostalgic for a time before the modern concept of art forgery had gelled, when it was possible to imagine many ways for artworks to exist out of their time. I love the culture of Renaissance art because it was not settled in its categories, and produced art out of that unsettlement. It knew forgery, but it wrinkled time in other ways as well.
Three recent books on scale throw a sharp light on attempts at human-based measurements. Each book induces a humbling sense of the limitations of human efforts to understand themselves in relation to their environment, an incipient awareness that also suggests the possibility of imagining alternatives.