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

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Patricia Mathews
University of Chicago Press, 2000. 316 pp.; 13 color ills.; 92 b/w ills. Cloth $35.00 (0226510182)
The Symbolist aesthetic in late nineteenth-century Europe demonstrates a particularly idiosyncratic complexity due to its interweaving of cultural, political, social, scientific, and aesthetic influences. Tracking these individual strands in the art and literature at the fin-de-siècle reveals a strong reaction against Enlightenment ideals of progress and rationalism that was often expressed in visual and verbal images of superstition and mysticism. During this period, subjective intuition replaced realist observation while suggestion was preferred to description for aesthetic effect. Compared to studies on Realism and Impressionism, those dedicated to Symbolism sometimes appear as slender and evasive as the effetely emaciated figures that… Full Review
March 16, 2001
Sabine Eiche, ed.
Urbino: Accademia Raffaello, 1999. 145 pp.; 11 b/w ills. Cloth $27.50 (8887573034)
Recent scholarship has produced a mounting bibliography in the area of court studies, helping to convince most scholars that, however important the great republics, the courts must be included in any complete evaluation of cultural history in the Renaissance. Yet the precise nature of the Italian Renaissance court remains hard to define, with many fundamental questions still inadequately answered. How institutionalized was the court? Who, exactly, were its members? Did they have specific roles and privileges? Hard facts on these topics are both scarce and scattered, making the document presented in Sabine Eiche's book especially precious: the Ordine et officij… Full Review
March 16, 2001
Sarah R. Cohen
Cambridge University Press, 2000. 352 pp.; 8 color ills.; 166 b/w ills. Cloth $75.00 (0521640466)
In her study of the "artful body" and aristocratic identity in the visual arts from Louis XIV to the Regency, Sarah Cohen investigates the role played by personal artifice and dance in the performance of status, power, and social interaction. Drawing on a wealth of historical, visual, and documentary material, an intimate familiarity with dance and art history, and methodologies on performance and identity in African and contemporary art, Cohen explores the significance and meaning of outward appearances, bodily movement, and cultural practice in art ranging from Versailles to the last paintings of Watteau. In chapter… Full Review
March 16, 2001
Peter B. Nesbett and Michelle DuBois, eds.
University of Washington Press. 257 pp. $125.00 (0295979631)
Although he spent nearly all of his professional life in the public eye, Jacob Lawrence has remained an elusive figure. A child of the Harlem Renaissance, Lawrence was born too late to be more than a perceptive eyewitness to that movement. A figurative artist whose small-scale paintings were driven by historical narratives, the artist reached maturity in an era that preferred grand, mute abstractions. Socially engaged but reticent to protest, a critical darling well removed from the centrism of his native New York, a regular in the commercial galleries, a bolsterer of thematic exhibitions, and the subject of several strong… Full Review
March 11, 2001
Eckart Marchand and Alison Wright, eds.
Ashgate, 1998. 187 pp.; 52 b/w ills. Cloth $84.95 (185928423X)
A bound volume of diverse studies does not necessarily constitute a book derived from a coherent idea. This thought arises when reading With and Without the Medici: Studies in Tuscan Art and Patronage 1434-1530. Even though the editors, Eckart Marchand and Alison Wright, introduce the publication with an intellectual framework, they fail to unify the articles within that framework. The alleged theme of the book is art patronage in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Tuscany, dominated by the Medici family. The studies that follow, however, address this theme only inconsistently. They are analyses of diverse Italian topics (not even Tuscan is… Full Review
February 25, 2001
Julie Ann Plax
Cambridge University Press, 2000. 272 pp.; 70 b/w ills. Cloth $85.00 (052164268X)
Julie Anne Plax's Watteau and the Cultural Politics of Eighteenth-Century France belongs to what we might call the "third wave" of writing on Watteau that has transpired during the two centuries following the artist's own. The first, nineteenth-century manifestation of Watteau writing presented the paintings as dreamy, imaginative poems and the artist himself as a melancholy visionary. Early in the following century began a second, more objectivist trend that sought to codify and interpret the artist's oeuvre through historical documentation, connoisseurship, and iconographic studies. This "second wave" of writing on Watteau culminated in 1984 with an international exhibition and catalogue… Full Review
February 22, 2001
Martin Clayton
Merrell Holberton Publishers, 1999. 224 pp.; 94 color ills.; 91 b/w ills. Cloth $60.00 (1858940761)
The Queen's Gallery, London, May 21-October 10, 1999; National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, May 14-July 23, 2000; Art Gallery of Ontario,
This catalogue accompanied an exhibition made up of sixty-six sheets constituting the Royal collection's entire holdings in this area. All of the drawings are illustrated in color, including any significant versos. As he has done in the past with Leonardo and Poussin, Martin Clayton, the organizer of the exhibition and sole author of the catalogue, does a masterful job bringing together a great deal of information in a form that makes an often complex field accessible to the general reader. The introductory essay breaks little new ground. In it Clayton provides an outline of the basic shapes of the careers… Full Review
February 21, 2001
Jill Beaulieu, Mary Roberts, and Toni Ross, eds.
Sydney: Power Institute Publications, 2000. 407 pp.; 4 b/w ills. Paper (1864870249)
Michael Fried wrote a number of essays about contemporary painting and sculpture in the 1960s to which arguments about these topics still return. Some will think it ironic that it should be an essay about sculpture which has become the most widely read and influential, as Fried has mostly concerned himself with painting. Since the sixties Fried has devoted himself almost exclusively to historical subjects, but this has not meant that he has become less influential—only that when people gather to discuss topics germane to contemporary art, they are likely to refer to something Fried has said about Manet and… Full Review
February 19, 2001
Marjorie Welish
Cambridge University Press, 1999. 321 pp.; 43 b/w ills. Paper $27.95 (0521633931)
Marjorie Welish has done an admirable job of identifying key issues that have occupied artists during postmodern times. Her essays "investigate the fate of the concept of the brushstroke" during a period when the boundary conditions of art were being aggressively re-evaluated. The various approaches taken by the major members of the New York School—Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, Philip Guston, and Barnett Newman, among others—are constantly in the background of her discussions. She argues that the brushstroke, or more generally the "mark" or the "touch," was a fundamental unit of meaning for the Abstract Expressionists, and she… Full Review
February 19, 2001
Milly Heyd
Rutgers University Press, 1999. 272 pp.; 112 b/w ills. Paper $24.00 (0813526183)
Milly Heyd's Mutual Reflections is a fascinating study of the ways that African Americans and Jewish Americans have depicted each other in the visual arts over the last century. While this distinctive, complex relationship has been explored in cultural, social, religious, and political areas, this book is the first to analyze that linkage through its visual dimension in a substantive way. Heyd investigates how these artists have viewed each other in ways ranging from symbiosis to disillusionment via painting, sculpture, cartoons, comics, and installations. Heyd weaves together thematic and chronological approaches in six chapters. She asserts that as… Full Review
February 19, 2001