Untitled (Sunbather) (2019) by Matt Johnson. Image courtesy the artist and Blum & Poe

Matt Johnson turns our book into art in Basel

30,000 Years of Art takes its own place in art history in the American sculptor's new work - on show at Art Basel

Our book 30,000 Years of Art covers pretty much the entire history of human creativity, from the earliest Palaeolithic carvings, through to some of the latest installations and video art. However, we weren’t able to include one, particular 2019 work, even if that work managed to include our book.

Untitled (Sunbather) is a new sculpture by the US artist Matt Johnson, which will go on show at Blum & Poe’s stand at Art Basel in Switzerland this week, 13-16 June.


The original, 2007 edition of 30,000 Years of Art
The original, 2007 edition of 30,000 Years of Art

The sculpture, which is actually made from wood with paint and transfers, looks like a freeform arrangement of a rock and a tube of toothpaste on the original, hardback 2007 edition of 30,000 Years of Art. It’s an odd, compelling combination, but one entirely in keeping with Johnson’s practice.

The artist often includes references in well-known works of art in his sculptures –  such as the Pietà by Michelangelo and Botticelli's Birth of Venus – while, simultenously, creating sculptures that retain a readymade, thrown-together quality.

“Johnson’s work invests singular objects with a dense play of meaning, often consecrating impulsive or absurd gestures. Form emerges from the sorts of half-comedic feats of construction or defacement that one commits when drunk, distracted or bored,” explains our book Vitamin 3D: New Perspectives in Sculpture and Installation.

Yet they're also packed with high-brow fine-art influences, which Johnson can both glorify and ridicule in his work. “Several works riff on a history of art," Vitamin 3D explains, "which is both reified (as icons to quote) and clichéd (and ripe for parody).” We certainly hope this latest piece falls into the former category.


The newly updated, mini format of 30,000 Years of Art
The newly updated, mini format of 30,000 Years of Art

To discover how contemporary works like this fit into the wider sweep of art history – order a copy of our new, compact edition of 30,000 Years of Art here.