Contemporary art special

Contemporary art has never been more fashionable, yet all the money and hype belie something of an i

Contemporary art has never been more fashionable. At the Frieze Art Fair, which opens in London this month, collectors will spend an estimated £35m over five days. Tate Modern attracts more than four million visitors a year, and there are plans to open a £165m extension in time for the Olympics in 2012.

Yet all the money and hype belie something of an identity crisis. Starting on the next page, Richard Cork examines the reasons why the 21st century has so far not produced anyone to compare with the titans who revolutionised 20th-century art - Picasso and Matisse. Although nobody would suggest that all artists should stay starving in their garrets, the unprecedented wealth now up for grabs does not inspire high standards. Who can blame the younger generation for lacking direction, in an age when Damien Hirst sells his inane spot paintings for hundreds of thousands?

Increasingly, the people calling the shots in the art world are the immensely rich businessmen who have the money to pay such inflated prices. In Ukraine, Peter Conrad visited a new gallery launched by one such collector, and found that his interest in contemporary art was a pretext for a more political project: "rebranding" his country in the eyes of the west.

Finally, we present the work of one artist who is brave enough to engage very directly with the challenges of the times in which we live. Fernando Botero, the Colombian painter and sculptor, is no new kid on the block - he was born in 1932. But with his latest work, a set of drawings and paintings based on the atrocities committed at Abu Ghraib, he has rediscovered a youthful sense of outrage.

"Painting has the power to point the finger at what happened," he says. "Look at Guernica. That's an event that would probably be forgotten by now if it was not for Picasso."

It is hard to imagine the likes of Hirst, Tracey Emin or any of their fellow YBAs entertaining such sentiments. Perhaps Botero's words could help point the way forward for a new generation.

Losing our vision
Richard Cork on why high prices do not inspire great art
http://www.newstatesman.com/200610090033

Billionaires' club
Peter Conrad meets the new eastern European art elite
http://www.newstatesman.com/200610090034

Bringing terror alive
By Alice O'Keeffe
http://www.newstatesman.com/200610090035