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For art, nothing compares to the noughties

Bold artistic revolutions, stunning new architecture ... Only one problem: it's not the first decade of the 21st century I'm talking about, but a century ago

Say what you like about the first decade of this new century, in art it has been epochal. Never did the accident of a change in dates resonate so thrillingly with a new movement in art. The signs of rebirth are everywhere. In Barcelona, Gaudí is creating those buildings of his that resemble sculptures dreamed up by an intoxicated prophet. In Vienna, young Egon Schiele is adding his genius to that of Gustav Klimt. The Italians are up to something and so are the Russians. But above all, it's in Paris that Picasso and Matisse have made the achievements of the last decades of the 19th century appear gentle. Only yesterday, the art world was arguing over the validity of impressionism. Now we are confronted by images that belong to, well, to a new century. As we toast the 1900s, a thought occurs: what will artists be doing a century from now? What unimaginable revolutions will take place in the first decade of the 21st century?

A critic who wondered this, in the closing days of 1909, and then stepped into HG Wells's Time Machine and hurtled forward to our own time, would be in for some disappointments. Art in the first decade of the 20th century revolutionised itself so completely that it was a different thing, in 1909, from what it had been in 1900. Cubism was under way. Futurism was in the works. Fauvism was already established. Picasso had painted Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. As Tony Soprano might say, those guys were in at the beginning of something; what do we got?

The time traveller from 1909 surveying art in 2009 would not be completely crushed. There would be things to admire – a powerful installation here, a brilliant painting there, a lot of interesting films. From Douglas Gordon to Richard Wright, there are some terrific artists at work.

But in comparison with the 1900s, this has been a conservative decade. Most artists are making use of ideas established in the 1960s. The pop, minimal and conceptual movements that originate in that decade still fundamentally shape the look of art. Just as if Picasso's Demoiselles were a homage to Manet's Olympia. As if Matisse were basically a disciple of Monet. We're still living in the last century. Our revolution has not yet taken place.

The time traveller would go home to 1909, puzzled and a little saddened. Time does not always move forward, he would try to tell Picasso among the streamers and shrieks on New Year's Eve. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2009 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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