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

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Lauren Fournier
Cambridge: MIT Press, 2021. 48 color ills.; 6 b/w ills. Hardcover $35.00 (9780262045568)
The term “autotheory” first caught my eye in late 2019, if I am remembering pre-pandemic time correctly. I had just finished Heather Christle’s lyrical The Crying Book (Catapult, 2019) during a particularly rough and emotional period in my life, when I often found myself weeping or full-on crying in the kitchen, what Christle named “the best—I mean the saddest—room for tears.” At the time, I was a senior fellow at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, simultaneously working through personal loss while generating new words around Hannah Wilke’s performance art from the 1970s. Working on Wilke necessitates recognition of the deep… Full Review
May 6, 2022
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Lawrence Waldron
Florida Museum of Natural History: Ripley P. Bullen Series. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2016. 312 pp. Cloth $125.00 (9781683400011)
Lawrence Waldron
Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2019. 448 pp. Cloth $125.00 (9781683400547)
In one of the first descriptions of Indigenous arts of the Americas, in the late fifteenth century, Fray Ramón Pané recognized that sculptures in what is now Hispaniola were not like those he knew in Europe. Inspired by environmental forces of deities and ancestors—known to the Taínos as zemís (or cemís)—rulers and sculptors collaborated to embody specific identities in three-dimensional forms that were then activated in ceremonies to become vital, oracular agents in their communities. Their extraordinary, volumetric forms and complex imagery confounded Pané, especially the faces of the zemí beings. They were grimacing as if… Full Review
May 4, 2022
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Imogen Hart and Claire Jones, eds.
New York: Bloomsbury Visual Arts, 2020. 320 pp.; 103 b/w ills. Cloth $130.00 (9781501341267)
Diana Davis, Oliver Fairclough, and John Whitehead, eds.
"Ceramics as Sculpture," Special Issue, vol.3. London: French Porcelain Society, 2020. 280 pp.; 153 color ills.; 43 b/w ills. Paper £20.00 (14798042)
Why talk about sculpture and the decorative arts together? A number of scholars, such as Penelope Curtis, Martina Droth, and Claire Jones (the latter coedited both the volumes reviewed here), as well as the exhibitions Taking Shape: Finding Sculpture in the Decorative Arts (Henry Moore Institute and J. Paul Getty Museum, 2008–09) and Sculpture Victorious: Art in an Age of Invention, 1837–1901 (Victoria & Albert Museum and Yale Center for British Art, 2014–15), have convincingly made the case for doing so. The fact that this approach still feels novel more than a decade after the question was first put forward… Full Review
May 3, 2022
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Rebecca Zorach
Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2019. 416 pp.; 124 color ills.; 1 b/w ills. Paper $29.95 (9781478001409)
In the final passages of Art for People’s Sake, Rebecca Zorach offers a remarkable reading of a photograph of a young man using shaving cream to write “Black Power” at the intersection of Homan and Madison on Chicago’s West Side. The photograph, taken by journalist Kenneth Lovette, was published in the Chicago Sun-Times to document the rioting that followed Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination on April 4, 1968. For Zorach, however, it also documents an event in the history of African American art. “With brilliant creativity,” Zorach writes, the young man “captions the entire experience of the riots, making… Full Review
May 2, 2022
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Katarzyna Puzon, Sharon Macdonald, and Mirjam Shatanawi, eds.
London: Routledge, 2021. 238 pp.; 20 b/w ills. Cloth $128.00 (9780367491499)
Islam and Heritage in Europe is based on a workshop held in 2019 at the Centre for Anthropological Research on Museums and Heritage (CARMAH), founded and directed by Sharon Macdonald at the Humboldt University of Berlin. The volume’s twelve contributions reflect a strong connection to the CARMAH group and its anthropological focus, but they also address a larger range of fields where Islamic heritage in Europe is relevant. Interestingly, the disciplines and specializations of the authors are mostly located at the intersections of anthropology, art history, media studies, musicology, political science, and sociology. Islamic studies and (trans-)regional studies… Full Review
April 29, 2022
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Karène Sanchez Summerer and Sary Zananiri, eds.
Open Jerusalem 3. Leiden, the Netherlands: Brill, 2021. 480 pp. Cloth $191.00 (9789004437937)
The edited volume Imaging and Imagining Palestine: Photography, Modernity and the Biblical Lens, 1918–1948 is an ambitious, complex book that makes significant contributions to the history of photography on a number of fronts, going well beyond the specific context of Palestinian photo history, compelling as that subject is. The book is part of a current research project funded by the Dutch Research Council (NWO), “Crossroads: European Cultural Diplomacy and Arab Christians in Palestine (1920–1950); A Connecting History.” Other components of the research project have included an international scholarly workshop and a 2020 exhibition of the work of the… Full Review
April 27, 2022
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Simon Hewitt
London: Unicorn Publishing Group, 2021. 352 pp.; 200 color ills. Paper $37.95 (9781912690572 )
An overwhelming display of selfish ambition, treachery, betrayal, and megalomania defines the art—from small works to large—commissioned by Ludovico Sforza and analyzed by Simon Hewitt in Leonardo da Vinci and the Book of Doom: Bianca Sforza, the Sforziada & Artful Propaganda in Renaissance Milan. A dedication to detail characterizes Hewitt’s chronicle, opening with synopses of the lives of those persons central to the volume, which are extremely helpful, given the historical complications of the text. Next, “Notes on Names” tracks the genealogy of the Sforza-Viscontis, identifying monikers so that readers will not be confused, as intricate genealogical connections are… Full Review
April 25, 2022
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Roland Betancourt
Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2020. 288 pp.; 8 color ills.; 50 b/w ills. Cloth $35.00 (9780691179452)
I intend to engage the book under review with the respect and sympathy its challenging, adventurous spirit requests. This encounter was, indeed, a transformative experience; Byzantine Intersectionality: Sexuality, Gender, and Race in the Middle Ages not only made me examine assumptions of my own positionality as a scholar of Byzantine art history, but also asked me to read more deeply—to listen in to—the writings of excellent scholars in the field of intersectional studies. Byzantine art history needs interventions such as this book. It is known as a field that has made small steps toward reckoning with contemporary trends in art… Full Review
April 22, 2022
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Stephanie O'Rourke
Cambridge Studies in Romanticism. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2021. 260 pp. Cloth $99.99 (9781316519028)
To describe a piece of culture as “mesmerizing” or “electrifying” is so commonplace today that you might, like me, have heard these phrases countless times without giving much thought to how and why they became critical clichés. Mesmerism and electricity both emerged as subjects of scientific inquiry in the eighteenth century—the same period when art criticism itself was coming into existence—so perhaps it is not surprising that this language seeped into the cultural lexicon at the time, to become part of the repertoire of terms that we continue to use to characterize aesthetic experience. But it would be a mistake… Full Review
April 18, 2022
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Sonya Rhie Mace and Bertrand Porte, eds.
Exh. cat. Cleveland Masterworks Series, vol. 5. Cleveland, OH: D. Giles Limited in association with Cleveland Museum of Art, 2021. 192 pp.; 142 color ills. Paper $28.95 (9781911282785)
Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH, November 14, 2021–January 30, 2022
An exquisite but incomplete stone sculpture of the god Krishna, found at Phnom Da, Cambodia, close to the pre-Angkorian capital city Angkor Borei, was acquired by the Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) in 1973. Krishna is depicted as a vital youth raising up Mount Govardhana with a single arm. In this myth, first articulated in the early centuries of our era, Krishna holds up the mountain for seven straight days and seven nights. Rain and winds lash the landscape all around. Men, women, children, and animals huddle beneath the mountain. Through his effortless strength the boy-god shelters his… Full Review
April 15, 2022
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