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

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George Henderson
Cambridge University Press, 1999. $90.00 (0521551307)
Readers familiar with George Henderson's work on Gospel Books, the color purple, or the importance of opus sectile as a source for art in other media will find all three themes woven through the various topics covered in his new volume. This is an extraordinarily rich book that attempts to set the art of early Anglo-Saxon England within its broader religious and cultural context, both within the Insular world and in relation to late antiquity and the Early Christian church. The chapter titles promise a logical progression from subject to subject. The introduction is devoted to Early Christian… Full Review
March 7, 2000
Esther Pasztory
Cambridge University Press, 1997. 176 pp.; 121 color ills. Paper $18.95 (0521645514)
On the cover of Esther Pasztory's 1998 book we witness today's most celebrated pre-conquest Maya sacrificer, Lady Xoc, performing the act for which she is most notable: the Maya noblewoman lets blood by threading a thorn-studded rope through her tongue. Shield Jaguar, her male consort and eighth-century lord of Yaxchilan, stands close by brandishing a torch that illuminates the sacrificial scene. In recent years the sculpted lintel with Lady Xoc and Shield Jaguar, Yaxchilan Lintel 24 has emerged as the veritable metonym for Maya, perhaps even pre-Columbian, art. For this reason alone the image makes a fitting cover for a… Full Review
March 1, 2000
Robert Hillenbrand
Thames and Hudson, 1999. 288 pp.; 80 color ills.; 190 b/w ills. Paper $16.95 (0500203059)
The old Praeger World of Art series attempted to cover the history of world art with a large number of affordable paperbacks with color illustrations. David Talbot Rice's Islamic Art was a pioneering book in the series; published in 1965, it was revised in 1975. Never a particularly noteworthy introduction to the field, it did at least possess the virtues of being in print, affordable, and the only book of its kind. With the appearance of the two Pelican History of Art volumes on Islamic art, the first by Richard Ettinghausen and Oleg Grabar (1987) and the second by Sheila… Full Review
March 1, 2000
Yve-Alain Bois
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999. 263 pp.; 185 color ills.; 12 b/w ills. Paper $45.00 (1891771078)
Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, MA, Mar. 6-May 16, 1999; High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Jun. 8-Aug. 15, 1999; Art Institute of Chicago, Sept. 11-Dec. 5, 1999
Harvard University Art Museums, Cambridge, MA, Mar. 6-May 16, 1999; High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Jun. 8-Aug. 15, 1999; Art Institute of Chicago, Sept. 11-Dec. 5, 1999
Isn't it puzzling that while people who study and write about, say, Shakespeare or Kafka call themselves literary critics, people whose work concerns Michelangelo or Matisse call themselves art historians? As someone who does call himself an art critic, and whose writing is primarily concerned with the work of artists who are or might be alive today, I find most writing--even some of the best of it--by those who call themselves art historians uncritical, precisely because it lacks the commitment to the hermeneutical encounter in the present which is the hallmark of criticism, and which is in no way contradictory… Full Review
February 29, 2000
Ken Breisch
MIT Press, 1997. 354 pp. Cloth (0262523469)
Architectural history as often serves to mythologize celebrated architects as to examine their careers critically. The nineteenth-century Boston architect H. H. Richardson is a case in point. It was less Mariana Griswold Van Rensselaer's pioneer biography, Henry Hobson Richardson and His Works, published two years after Richardson's death in 1886, than Henry-Russell Hitchcock's The Architecture of H. H. Richardson and His Times of 1936, that is the key mythologizing text. Although Kenneth A. Breisch does not berate Hitchcock for his interpretive agenda, he does reexamine Richardson's buildings with respect to "his times." Breisch filters this examination through the series… Full Review
February 17, 2000
Ruth Philips and Christopher Steiner, eds.
Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999. 424 pp. Paper (0520207971)
Jonathan Batkin's article on the early dealers in pueblo pottery, one of the most eye-opening in this valuable volume, also has one of the best stories: in a curio store in Santa Fe in the late nineteenth century, among the pottery rain gods (shipped in barrels of 100 at $6.50 the barrel), the beadwork and tambourines, the Jicarilla Apache baskets and Navajo silver, the owner claimed to be able to show you Ben Hur's trunk and the skull of Henry Ward Beecher "as a boy." It made me laugh, and it encapsulated what the essays in this volume reveal--and what… Full Review
February 11, 2000
Mark Johnstone
Newark, N.J.: G + B Arts International, 1999. 208 pp.; many color ills.; many b/w ills. (9057033216)
Mark Johnstone's book follows in the tradition of earlier California surveys such as Painting and Sculpture in California: The Modern Era (San Francisco: San Francisco Museum of Art, 1977) and 50 West Coast Artists: A Critical Selection of Painters and Sculptors Working in California (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1981) by Henry Hopkins. Focusing on Los Angeles, Contemporary Art in Southern California includes an introduction and individual entries on forty-three artists, each accompanied by several reproductions. The design of the entries and illustrations is somewhat repetitive, which means that the book is best consulted sporadically rather than read straight through. Many… Full Review
February 9, 2000
Colum Hourihane, ed.
Princeton University Press, 1999. 342 pp.; 4 color ills.; 175 b/w ills. Cloth $60.00 (0691010021)
Most of the papers in Image and Belief were presented in 1997 at a conference entitled "Iconography at the Index," which celebrated the eightieth anniversary of the Index of Christian Art. It should be said from the outset that the theme of "image and belief" is sometimes tangential to the collected papers. This book is really about iconography, as the conference title makes plain. Part one constitutes a diverse and somewhat disparate range of case studies, while Part two attempts to address methodological issues that inform the ways scholars think about iconography and access images for research. Given… Full Review
February 8, 2000
The study of ukiyo-e, pictures of Edo Japan's "floating world" of pleasure and popular entertainment, has a long and very robust history in Europe and the United States owing to the enthusiastic formation of great print collections that began in the late nineteenth century. The continued passionate involvement of collectors has made ukiyo-e studies a stronghold of print connoisseurship and narrow factual research. Within the academic community, developing a tradition of broader contextual interpretation has taken longer, but the process has accelerated over the last two decades. Professor Screech's study of erotic images and sexuality in the Edo period adds… Full Review
February 4, 2000
Melissa Dabakis
Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1998. 312 pp.; 312 b/w ills. Cloth $80.00 (0521461472)
This solidly researched book examines a diverse array of outdoor monuments, small sculptures, and other images that represent themes of U.S. labor between the 1880s and the mid-1930s. Author Melissa Dabakis concludes that the objects in this broadly defined group, ranging from Albert Weinert's sixteen-foot Haymarket Monument near Chicago to Saul Baizerman's five-inch Cement Man, constitute a significant U.S. visual art tradition on the subject of work that predates New Deal-era fanfares to American labor. The book focuses on the role they played in contemporary discourses about the work ethic, masculinity, immigration, and collective memory. While the… Full Review
February 2, 2000