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

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Jonathan Nelson
Florence: Edizioni Cadmo, 1999. 140 pp.; 4 color ills.; 10 b/w ills. Cloth $12.95 (8879232150)
"Why were there no great women artists?" pondered Linda Nochlin in 1971. Since that famous query, art historians have unearthed many talented women artists, while simultaneously challenging the criteria by which we evaluate their works. This volume of eight essays contributes to that ongoing excavation and reassessment in several important ways. The essays document the life, works, and influence of a little-known female painter in sixteenth-century Florence, the Dominican nun-artist Suor Plautilla Nelli. Although her extant corpus is small--only four large paintings can be securely attributed to her hand--Nelli gained initial fame as one of Vasari's biographical subjects. Following that… Full Review
October 25, 2000
Thomas Martin
Oxford University Press in association with Clarendon Press, 1998. 274 pp.; 164 b/w ills. Cloth $145.00 (0198174179)
The study of 16th-century Venetian sculpture was, and still is, badly neglected. Even so eminent an artist as Alessandro Vittoria (Trent, 1525 Venice, 1608) has not yet been accorded the attention his achievements deserve. It is, therefore, with great expectations that one picks up the promisingly important-looking book by Thomas Martin. The book is based on Martin's doctoral dissertation (Columbia University, 1988) and is divided in two parts: the study itself, in which Martin tries to approach the complex problem of the classicizing portrait bust in Venice and to examine Vittoria's role in developing the genre, and a… Full Review
October 24, 2000
Greg M. Thomas
Princeton University Press, 2000. 280 pp.; 88 b/w ills. Cloth $55.00 (0691059462)
Greg Thomas's book Art and Ecology in Nineteenth-Century France: The Landscapes of Théodore Rousseau provides the reader with a long-awaited reevaluation of French landscape painting before the Impressionist period. While the study of Impressionism has sometimes become synonymous with French landscape painting during the nineteenth century, very little has been done, apart from the recent exhibitions of Camille Corot's work, to reassess the artistic contribution of the preceding generation of landscape painters. By concentrating on the landscapes of Théodore Rousseau, Greg Thomas's book contributes new insights about the career of a relatively neglected artist of the nineteenth century.… Full Review
October 24, 2000
Francis Ames-Lewis
Yale University Press, 2000. 322 pp.; 50 color ills.; 100 b/w ills. Cloth $40.00 (0300092950)
This book is an amazing compendium of information concerning the reevaluation of painting and sculpture as parts of the liberal arts during the early Renaissance (1290-1520); architecture is all but excluded because its position was already rather elevated. The observation in itself is not new; assessment of the graphic arts was a leitmotif of art historical scholarship throughout the twentieth century. What is impressive is the myriad aperçus Ames-Lewis has amassed and divided into eleven salient categories, each developed in well-illustrated and annotated chapters. These chapters, he proposes, when taken together, produce an image of the ambient life of talented… Full Review
October 20, 2000
Catherine de Zegher, ed.
MIT Press, 1999. 304 pp.; 47 color ills.; 97 b/w ills. Cloth $40.00 (026204174X)
International Center for Photography, New York, July 29-October 1, 2000; in collaboration with The New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York, July 15-October 8, 2000.
Like other post-conceptual artists of her generation who adapted the 1960s' formal convention of the series to sustained analytical investigations of social phenomena (think of Allan Sekula's Aerospace Folktales, for example, or Mary Kelly's Postpartum Document), Martha Rosler has produced a body of work over the last thirty-five years that has proven difficult to assimilate to the promotional ways and means of the art world. From her photodocumentary-cum-image/text work The Bowery in Two Inadequate Descriptive Systems (1973-74), through videos such as Semiotics of the Kitchen (1975) and critical essays such as "Lookers, Buyers, Dealers, and Makers" (1979), to… Full Review
September 29, 2000
Benjamin Buchloh
MIT Press, 2001. 576 pp.; 122 b/w ills. Cloth (0262024543)
This is a terrific collection of essays that provides a valuable opportunity to review the intellectual development and ambitions of one of the leading critics of our time. It offers access to the author's enterprise from a distinctive vantage point: saving for a second volume his influential period and approach studies--essays such as "Formalism and Historicity" (1977), "Allegorical Procedures" (1982), and "Cold War Constructivism" (1990)--and his well-known "from/to" critical developmental surveys of art movements--such as "From Faktura to Factography" (1984), "From Gadget Video to Agit Video" (1985), and his forceful summary essay on Conceptual Art subtitled, "From the Aesthetic of… Full Review
September 27, 2000
Kalman P. Bland
Princeton University Press, 2001. 233 pp. Paper $19.95 (069108985x)
"Art history is what one Jew tells another Jew about goyishe (i.e.--Christian) art." This, at any rate, is how my teacher, Stephen S. Kayser, flippantly spoke of his discipline. Kayser, a member of the German émigré generation, author of an important study on Grünewald's Isenheim altarpiece and founding director of the Jewish Museum in New York, was not far from wrong. Highly acculturated Jews have been disproportionately represented in the ranks of art historians. Among the "greats" of art history, one may think of Berenson, Goldschmidt, Panofsky, Warburg, Gombrich, Schapiro, Krautheimer, and this list is far from complete. While Jews… Full Review
September 24, 2000
John Gage
Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999. 320 pp.; 37 color ills.; 100 b/w ills. Cloth $55.00 (0520220390)
John Gage's book Color and Culture appeared with considerable acclaim in 1994, and it won that year's Mitchell Prize for art history. It was a dense, ambitious, yet readable exploration of color in Western art from the Classical era to the 20th century--or rather, of ideas about color, since Gage gave more attention to writings about the subject than to actual examples of practice. For instance, he devoted far more space to Matisse's "Notes d'un peintre" (1908) and other written and spoken observations about his approach to color than to the painting Red Studio (1911), used to illustrate Matisse's notions… Full Review
September 20, 2000
Elizabeth Alice Honig
Yale University Press, 1998. 308 pp.; 24 color ills.; 90 b/w ills. Cloth $45.00 (0300072392)
Modestly reproduced, Sebastian Vrancx's unfamiliar Harbor with the Children of Mercury (Musée Massey, Tarbes) is an unlikely opener for this provocative and intelligent book, which seeks to establish the market as a central concern of pictorial culture in Antwerp between 1550 and 1650. It is a mark of Elizabeth Honig's distinction as a writer that, through three paragraphs of precise description, she convinces the reader that this apparently innocuous painting of the tricks of all those who labor under the aegis of Mercury, from quacks and merchants to actors and artists, epitomizes the self-consciousness with which Flemish artists painted arguments… Full Review
September 8, 2000
Christopher S. Wood, ed.
Brooklyn, N.Y.: Zone Books, 2000. 472 pp.; 39 b/w ills. Cloth $32.00 (1890951145)
Christopher S. Wood has done a great service in editing an anthology of previously untranslated works from the second "Viennese School." In theoretical essays and case studies published in the nineteen twenties and thirties, these art historians tried to breathe new life into formal analysis, self-consciously combining analyses of spatial coherence with interpretations drawn from contemporary psychology and artistic practice. Wood has revisited, reconsidered, and made available to the English-speaking public, in readable translations, the work of these almost forgotten scholars, including Hans Sedlmayr, Otto Pächt, Guido Kaschnitz von Weinberg, and Fritz Novotny, along with responses to their work by… Full Review
September 8, 2000