Concise, critical reviews of books, exhibitions, and projects in all areas and periods of art history and visual studies

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Assaf Pinkus
University Park: Penn State University Press, 2021. 216 pp.; 50 color ills.; 87 b/w ills. Hardcover $109.95 (9780271083797)
Assaf Pinkus’s Visual Aggression: Images of Martyrdom in Late Medieval Germany is the latest addition to recent scholarship on how medieval sculptors staged meaningful encounters with embodied viewing subjects. Using somaesthetics as its theoretical framework, it charts the emergence of an unprecedented visual rhetoric of violence in 14th-century monumental martyrdom cycles from southern Germany. Aptly termed “galleries of violence,” the imagery in this study is characterized by an encyclopedic array of bodily horrors and mutilations. While scholars like Caroline Walker Bynum have interpreted scenes of medieval martyrdom in light of contemporary devotional practices, Pinkus argues that these images elicited a… Full Review
May 20, 2024
Elizabeth (Dori) Tunstall
Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2023. 136 pp.; 6 b/w ills. Cloth $24.95 (9780262047692)
Through a deeply personal and insightful exploration, Elizabeth Tunstall’s Decolonizing Design: A Cultural Justice Guidebook demonstrates her commitment to the decolonization agenda. Organized into five chapters, the book delves into various means to decolonize design by exposing how her lived experiences have shaped the meaning of such a task whilst providing a deeper understanding of the work involved in this process, making it a valuable resource for anyone seeking to understand and implement it. Chapter one blends personal narratives and reflections that address the need to put Indigenous nations and peoples first as a crucial step to decolonize design, emphasizing… Full Review
May 15, 2024
Noam Andrews
Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2022. 304 pp.; 87 ills. Paper $44.95 (9780262046640)
The relationship between art and geometry is among the most prominent themes of the histories of art and knowledge in early modern Europe. The literature on linear perspective alone encompasses a baffling array of tomes, many of which—such as Martin Kemp’s The Science of Art: Optical Themes in Western Art from Brunelleschi to Seurat (Yale University Press, 1990) and Samuel Y. Edgerton’s The Heritage of Giotto’s Geometry: Art and Science on the Eve of the Scientific Revolution (Cornell University Press, 1991)—assess early modern artists’ application of geometry towards representational ends as episodes in the history of science. Over the past… Full Review
May 13, 2024
Juliet B. Wiersema
Austin: University of Texas Press, 2024. 256 pp.; 66 b/w ills. $60.00 (9781477327746)
In her illuminating new book, The History of a Periphery: Spanish Colonial Cartography from Colombia’s Pacific Lowlands, Juliet Wiersema shows us how a selection of manuscript maps and their accompanying archival documents simultaneously communicate the disjunctures and contradictions in the Spanish Crown’s colonizing project and, in some cases, reveal the agency, resilience, and resistance of the people they sought to subjugate and exploit. Principally among her aims, Wiersema demonstrates how these maps and documents together upend long-held assumptions about the Pacific Lowlands (located along the coastal border of present-day Colombia), also known as the Greater Chocó, a place commonly… Full Review
May 8, 2024
Sarah E. Thompson
Exh. cat. Boston: MFA Publications, 2023. 166 pp.; 83 color ills. $29.95 (9780878468904)
Boston Museum of Fine Arts, March 26–July 16, 2023 Seattle Art Museum October 19, 2023–January 21, 2024
Hokusai: Inspiration and Influence is a sprawling, comprehensive look at Katsushika Hokusai’s career that probes beyond his famous wave. The exhibit makes a sustained argument that his artistic impact on Japanese and global art far exceeds any single image or print series. It builds context by combining Hokusai’s art with works by his master and students, his rivals and imitators, and modern Japanese and non-Japanese artists. However, the size and organization of the exhibit sometimes obscure the most salient arguments in favor of more deeply exploring Hokusai’s massive impact on Edo-era art and beyond. Hokusai is undoubtedly best known in… Full Review
May 7, 2024
Andrea Giunta
Trans Jane Brodie 1st Edition. University of California Press, 2023. 304 pp.; 85 color ills.; 52 b/w ills. Cloth $50.00 (9780520344327)
The Political Body: Stories on Art, Feminism, and Emancipation in Latin America is the translation of an influential book originally published in Spanish as Feminismo y arte latinoamericano: historias de artistas in 2018 in Argentina. Since its publication, Andrea Giunta, a professor of art history at the University of Buenos Aires and curator of influential international exhibitions, has updated and expanded the book in six subsequent editions. Giunta frames the study as a complement to the wide-ranging and pathbreaking exhibition, Radical Women: Latin American Art, 1960–1985, which she cocurated with Cecilia Fajardo-Hill. In contrast to the one hundred twenty… Full Review
May 1, 2024
Finbarr Barry Flood and Beate Fricke
Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2023. 304 pp.; 190 color ills.; 22 b/w ills. $55.00 (9780691215150)
In this beautifully illustrated book, Finbarr Barry Flood and Beate Fricke explore ways to approach medieval objects in the absence of texts—the objects as archives. Often these objects have survived by chance (what the authors refer to as “flotsam,” 7–8), and the portable nature of many objects means that the histories of their production are obscured. Tales Things Tell is a masterclass in art-historical analysis and should serve as a model for anyone attempting to engage in global or transcultural art history. The book is divided into two parts and structured around six case studies: hanging censers, niello technology, coconut… Full Review
April 24, 2024
Alexander Nemerov
Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2023. 336 pp.; 59 color ills.; 7 b/w ills. $35.00 (9780691244280)
Margaretta M. Lovell
University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 2023. 352 pp.; 84 color ills.; 80 b/w ills. $94.95 (9780271092782)
Ecocritical art history has expanded the range of questions we ask of visual art, moving beyond landscape studies to consider the ways in which artworks are entwined with ecology as well as with global systems of trade, colonialism, and enslavement. Two new books about depictions of nature in the United States during the nineteenth century beg to be considered in this light. While neither author adopts the label “ecocriticism,” and each pursues a radically different methodology, together their books reveal the complex relationship between humans and the environment in the antebellum era. Margaretta Markle Lovell’s Painting the Inhabited Landscape: Fitz… Full Review
April 10, 2024
Richard J. Powell
Third edition. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2021. 304 pp.; 217 ills. Paper $29.95 (9780500204665)
An authoritative survey on predominantly African American art practices in the United States, Richard J. Powell’s Black Art: A Cultural History is now in its third edition, a remarkable feat that speaks to its staying power as a vital source in the field, classrooms, and libraries. It is evidence of an enduring commitment by Powell to sustain the means of analyzing cultural histories and works of art by minoritized artists, and the text’s reappearance gestures towards its contents as unsettled and evolving. Updated and expanded, Black Art participates in a contemporary atmosphere of renewed interest in Black culture and aesthetic… Full Review
April 3, 2024
Andrea Pappas
London: Lund Humphries Pub Ltd, 2023. 192 pp.; 40 color ills.; 30 b/w ills. Cloth GPB50.00 (9781848226241)
Embroidering the Landscape: Women, Art and the Environment in British North America, 1740–1770 by Andrea Pappas is a fascinating study of large needlework landscapes from the mid to late colonial period carefully curated by the author for their narrative content in addition to their aesthetic and historical value. Rather than the samplers that readers might expect, Pappas focuses on the monumental overmantels that took pride of place in colonial homes, showcasing the adept needle skills of young girls and women. Such embroideries often originated from pattern books and predetermined designs, but the examples provided by Pappas diverge from this tradition… Full Review
March 27, 2024