#1308 – MODERN ART EXPLORER by Alice Harman


Discover the Stories Behind Famous Artworks
Written by Alice Harman
Illustrations by Serge Bloch
Photographs of Artworks by Centre Pompidou
Thames & Hudson—Oct. 2020
96 Pages   Age 7+

Genre:  Middle Grade Picture Book, Nonfiction, Art
Themes: Modern Art and Artists



and DISCOVER the
STORIES behind THE ART that
BROKE and the RULES.


has NEVER been
(from back cover)

Opening Sentences

“Welcome, art explorer! Are you ready to climb giant mountains, cross steaming swamps and crawl; through deep, dark caves to discover the very heart of modern art? No? OK, what about just holding this book and your mind open for long enough to have a look at what all this “modern art” stuff is really about? Great! The first idea sounded exhausting to me, too.”

Why I like Modern Art Explorer

The Modern Art Period runs from the mid-1860s to the late 1960s. The museum with the largest collection—100,000 works—is the Centre Pompidou Museum in Paris. Modern Art Explorer contains 30 artists and one of their iconic pieces (all from the easy to find museum—the building is covered in brightly colored pipes). Alice Harman offers a few tips for readers so they can make the most of their time “behind the scenes” of modern art. Tips include staring at the art, as long as you like, to make your own opinion before reading the text; and “jump around all out of order” or flip through the pages until a piece of art calls to you or “is weird enough to make you go “what?!

Between the art and text are what some might call doodles. These illustrations are by famed artist Serge Bloch. His work adds to to text, illuminates some concepts, and always adds to the fun Alice Harman started.

The basic layout of Modern Art Explorer is a photograph of an art piece on the left page (with name of piece, year produced, and artist). The right page offers another (humorous) name for the art, a little op ed from Alice Harman, and information about the artist. At the bottom of this page may be more about the art piece. Sometimes the information continues onto the next page (but that is an exception, not the rule).

For example, the first artwork is Constantin Bràncusi’s “Sleeping Muse” a bronze sculpture of a sleeping woman’s gold-colored head, with her hair pulled back. Harman explains that Bràncusi purposely left out details in his art so the “essence” speaks to viewers. The next two pages talk about Bràncusi’s difficult life, including his 1300-mile walk from his Romanian home to the Paris art school he attended.

Other artists include:

  • Marcel Duchamp and his sculpted “Bicycle Wheel” (1913/1964),
  • Andy Warhol and his silkscreened “Ten Lizes” (1963),
  • Frida Kahlo and her self-portrait oil painting “The Frame” (1938),
  • Pablo Picasso and his oil painting “The Muse” (1935), and
  • Henri Matisse and his cut-out gouache artwork “The Sadness of the King” (1952).

Works from all sorts of people, some you might know and others you may not, grace the pages of Modern Art Explorer. Some of the art, like Robert Delaunay’s oil painting titled, “Carousel of Pigs” is very detailed and painstaking, while other art, like Jackson Pollock’s painting simply titled, “Painting (Silver Over Black, White, Yellow and Red),” was made by flicking and dripping paint onto a floored canvas. Amazingly, the finished piece holds many unusual images, all produced by happenstance.

Children will find so much wonder in the short 96-pages. With homeschooling and Internet learning a part of many children’s daily school, a book like Modern Art Explorer is perfect for the art class. Kids can try getting into the artist’s “shoes” as they try to understand why the artist created what they did. Included, in addition to paintings (oil, acrylic, pastels, vinyl, gouache, and even spray paint), are sculptures made of bronze, thread, bamboo sticks, fiberglass, linens, metal, wood, and common objects like bottle caps, light bulbs, and bicycle parts. Kids will learn art can be anything they want it to be, made with whatever they have, and wherever they are (in creative ability or actual location). Henri Matisse created the above referenced work while confined to his bed.

Will children age seven and up find interest in this 96-page art book? I think most will. The chosen artists are very interesting men (mainly), and women who created masterpieces by today’s standard. Anyone interested in art will find Modern Art Explorer a perfect muse in itself. Pursuing your own creative ideas, after perusing this book, seems to me a natural response. This art “collection” is impressive, by any standard. The author is a bit snarky, which makes Modern Art Explorer a fun experience. I think she is aiming for readers attention and she gets it.

Those interested in art, or in being creative in any manner, will find Modern Art Explorer worth buying (at least worth checking out of the library–knowing it might return late). Author, Alice Harman, offers readers the story behind each piece of art and sometimes adds in why the artist created what he or she did. Harman takes her work seriously, but her good humor flows through-out the pages. The goal of Modern Art Explorer is multifaceted. 1. Help kids think about art in a critical manner; 2. Wonder how the art was made; possibly recreating the process they think the artist used (and why). The end goal of Modern Art Explorers is for children to have learned how to think critically and use this skill as a guide throughout their life. Critical thinking is not generally taught in middle school (or high school), so anything that teaches this is well worth the time and effort.

Favorite Artist/Art

There are two pieces I especially like:  El Anatsui’s “Coat” and Marcel Duchamp’s “Bicycle Wheel.”

El Anatsui used an unusual weave for his extra-large “Coat” (2004). Aluminum bottle caps were squashed flat then sewn together with thin copper wire “thread.” Made as a wall installation, the piece is large enough to easily cover a king-size bed. Whether made as a coat or for a bed, one must get past the scratchy aluminum caps and biting copper wire. (Nothing like waking up with copper-cuts all over your back.) Actually, the giant work is about history, culture, and modern life in Africa. Anatsui thinks artists should use the items “their environment throws up.”  (Not sure if this trash talk means Africans drink a lot of soda or just seem to have the caps laying around.)

When Marcel Duchamp made his “Bicycle Wheel” he wanted to show others that anyone could make art and anything could be art. Today, the bike wheel, connected upside down on a simple bar stool, is considered “one of the most important works of Modern art ever made.” (I’m not saying this, but someone important and in the know did.)  I think it’s a fun piece, though am surprised it is now an expensive piece of modern art, given how many copies Duchamp made or authorized.

Back Matter

Timeline: begins in 1878 and runs to 1982. The Timeline is not simply a list of the art presented in Modern Art Explorer in chronological order. No, this timeline gives readers important historical events and interesting “firsts” by modern artists, such as in 1943 Matisse made his first cutout, which allowed him to work while ill and confined to his bed.

Glossary: of art terms and words used in Modern Art Explorer; hopefully to teach kids some new art-related words (you can impress your art teacher!).


Illustrations Rendered in various styles.

Learn more about Alice Harman: https://www.aliceharman.com/

Learn more about Illustrator Serge Bloch: https://www.sergebloch.com/ 


Available at Amazon:  Modern Art Explorer 


MODERN ART EXPLORER: Discover the Stories Behind Famous Artworks. Text Copyright © 2020 by Alice Harman. Illustrations Copyright © 2020 by Serge Bloch. Photographs of the Artwork, Copyright © 2020 by Centre Pompidou. Published by Thames & Hudson, New York, NY.


Copyright © 2020 by Sue Morris/Kid Lit Reviews. All Rights Reserved
[811—word count-review only]

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