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This report is taken from PN Review 139, Volume 27 Number 5, May - June 2001.

The Very Thing Lawrence Sail

Objects or, rather, references to them are everywhere: and once you've begun to notice them, they seem to multiply endlessly. Objects as clues, objects as emblems, as triggers, as secrets, as irreducible quiddities, as reminders of absence, as impervious, unsheddable, Dinge an sich. Objets d'art, objets trouvés, object lessons, objects of exercises and attention, objects as proof of André Breton's claim that the ambition of Surrealism was to rehabilitate the object: even, in one broadsheet, an 'Object of the Week' column. On every side, objects ful- filling the etymology of their name by being thrown in front of the mind.

I know exactly where I contracted a heightened sensitivity to the word: it was on a first visit to the Tate Modern at Bankside, a building that is itself a formidable and indeed rehabilitated object. Scarcely less formidable is the handbook to the gallery, an object described as 'more than simply a guide', being also 'a flexible tool for the understanding of modern art'. The book, like the gallery, is arranged thematically, tracing the development of the nude, landscape, still life and history painting through the last century, and 'their re-emergence in modern art as the body, the environment, real life and society'.

The texts which discuss these transformations have plenty to say about objects. Thus while the human figure has always been a preoccupation for artists, 'In the modern period ... it has been increasingly animated, ritualised and deconstructed, as artists have made the ...


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