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

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Panayotis Tournikiotis
Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1999. 344 pp.; 34 b/w ills. Cloth $45.00 (0262201178)
I must confess that I have a natural affinity toward books about history. I like the subject. I like reading about historians. I like discerning historiorgraphic assumptions and approaches toward the discipline. Thus, when an author offers a book with the promising title The Historiography of Modern Architecture I am inclined to read it and enjoy it--even if it presents only the chance to think about history. Tournikiotis's book does more, by offering various new insights. It is a thoughtful, intelligent, and sometimes astute study of a reasonable number (and choice) of historians of the modern movement: Nikolaus… Full Review
May 19, 2000
Leonard Barkan
Yale University Press, 2000. 512 pp.; 206 b/w ills. Cloth $35.00 (0300076770)
Sometime in the year 1512, the remains of a fallen obelisk were discovered by a barber digging a latrine near the church of S. Lorenzo in Lucina, Rome. Thanks to a detailed account in the Natural History of Pliny the Elder, the monument was almost immediately recognized as the obelisk raised by the Emperor Augustus as the gnomon of a gigantic sundial in the Campus Martius. The Bellunese humanist Laelius Podager confirmed the identification by reading the Augustan inscription on the obelisk's base. Applications were made to Pope Julius II to excavate the monument and erect it in its former… Full Review
May 18, 2000
Robert Sobieszek
Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1998. 324 pp.; 184 color ills.; 116 b/w ills. Paper $39.95 (0262692287)
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA; Oct. 16, 1999-Jan.17, 2000.
In Ghost in the Shell: Photography and the Human Soul, 1850–2000, curator Robert Sobieszek has produced a highly ambitious and intelligent catalogue to accompany the eponymous exhibition he recently organized at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Considering the photographic portrait from an intriguing combination of philosophical, quasi-scientific, historical, and theoretical perspectives, Sobieszek has written a profusely illustrated and annotated work that should hold a place as a valuable resource on portraiture for some time to come. The scope and serious intent of Ghost in the Shell are somewhat unexpected, given the rarity of substantial writing on… Full Review
May 16, 2000
Thayer Tolles
Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1999. 480 pp.; 29 color ills.; 198 b/w ills. Cloth $95.00 (0870999141)
The last quarter of the twentieth century was a Golden Age in the study of the history of American art. Inspired by Milton Brown, John I. H. Baur, and Lloyd Goodrich, a new generation of specialists in the field--including Wayne Craven, William Gerdts, Jules Prown, Barbara Novak, and John Wilmerding--initiated a scholarly reassessment of the entire history of American art, especially the neglected nineteenth century. These scholars passed their standards and methodologies on to several generations of students, some of whom have now become leaders in the field. This period of rapid growth was manifested in the organization of hundreds… Full Review
May 15, 2000
Michael K. Komanecky
Phoenix: Oxford University Press in association with Phoenix Art Museum, 1998. 346 pp.; 137 color ills.; 71 b/w ills. Cloth $49.95 (0195123972)
Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix, AZ, Dec. 19, 1998-Feb. 28, 1999.
Paintings on copper have long been valued as refined and elegant works of art. The authors of the exhibition catalogue Copper as Canvas have undertaken to evaluate the specific qualities that this material--copper panel used as a painting support--lends to a wide range of works of art. In this ambitious project they have made an important contribution, not only in the information they have gathered but in the conception of the exhibition itself. Other exhibitions have explored the balance between specific painting materials and the visual qualities they lend works of art; the Art in the Making series organized by… Full Review
May 10, 2000
Jan Ostrowski
Yale University Press, 1998. 380 pp.; 190 color ills.; 54 b/w ills. Cloth $65.00 (0300079184)
Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, MD, March 2-May 9, 1999; The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL, June 5-September 6, 1999; Huntsville Museum of Art, Huntsville, AL, September 25-November 28, 1999; San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego, CA, December 18, 1999-February 27, 2000; Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, OK, March 25-June18, 2000; The Royal Castle, Warsaw, Poland, Summer 2000.
Given the relative difficulty of transporting a collection of such extraordinary breadth and national importance, it is not surprising that the last American exhibition of Polish art from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries took place close to thirty years ago. While readers may be familiar with its fairly limited catalogue, as well as important later texts such as Jan Bialostocki's The Art of the Renaissance in Eastern Europe and Thomas DaCosta Kaufmann's recent Court, Cloister and City: The Art of Central Europe, 1450-1800, few publications in English have specifically addressed the topic of the Polish baroque. The organizers of… Full Review
April 24, 2000
Katie Scott and Genevieve Warwick
Cambridge University Press, 1999. 240 pp. Cloth $85.00 (0521640040)
The evaluation of more or less heroic artists is still standard practice in studies of seventeenth-century French art. Consider, for example, the colloquium on Pierre Mignard at the Louvre in 1995, and the Georges de La Tour exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris from 1997-98. This focus on individual "masters" is, of course, hardly unusual in the discipline of art history. It seems, however, that many specialists of early modern French visual culture have not only remained dedicated to such an approach, but they have also paid regular homage to one artist in particular, namely Nicolas Poussin. … Full Review
April 20, 2000
Mark Jarzombek
Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1999. 327 pp.; 26 b/w ills. Cloth $70.00 (0521582385)
Mark Jarzombek's The Psychologizing of Modernity is in many respects a timely book. Drawing upon an impressive range of readings undertaken in 1994 at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, Jarzombek brings together parts of several of his earlier writings for the journal Assemblage, most significantly his 1994 essay, "De-Scribing the Language of Looking: Woelfflin and the History of Aesthetic Experientialism." What is new is that the earlier question of "how would I write a history of the theory of aesthetic experientialism" is now transposed into the (Woelfflinean) ambition to write a "Prolegomenon to Critical Historiography." It is… Full Review
April 20, 2000
Calvin B. Kendall
University of Toronto Press, 1998. 401 pp.; 40 b/w ills. Cloth $75.00 (0802042627)
Calvin Kendall has a wonderful topic, the verse inscriptions that decorate a large number of Romanesque church portals. While I sometimes disagree sharply with Kendall's treatment of his material, he gets full marks for paying attention to it in the first place; it is an embarrassment to art history that such an important and literally obvious topic was first studied monographically by a professor of English. And, whatever disagreements one may have with Kendall's method and conclusions, the long appendix to his book, which meticulously transcribes and translates all of the inscriptions known to him, is a crucial corpus of… Full Review
April 18, 2000
William Alexander McClung
Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000. 300 pp.; 150 b/w ills. Cloth (0520218272)
LA is a hard city to get in focus. Many American and non-American immigrants thought of it as an ideal destination. But much of the local literature is devoted to the natural disasters--earthquakes and fires--and to stories of crime. Because it is a new, very rich city without well-established cultural traditions--and because it is the center of the film industry and a place dependent on massive water imports--LA can seem a highly artificial city. Perhaps that is why this landscape inspires such powerful myths. McClung's beautifully produced, well-illustrated book presents a wealth of information about the city in… Full Review
April 15, 2000