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

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Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw and Richard J. Powell
Exh. cat. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2014. 224 pp. Cloth $42.00 (9780876332498)
Exhibition schedule: Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, January 10–April 5, 2015
Represent: 200 Years of African American Art in the Philadelphia Museum of Art is that institution’s first survey of their collection of art by Americans of African descent. Each of the essays in the catalogue provides critical justifications for treating art and craftsmanship produced by African Americans as separate from a larger body of American art, while also noting the tenuousness of doing so. In the catalogue’s foreword, Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) Director and Chief... Full Review
February 14, 2017
Rune Frederiksen, Elizabeth Gebhard, and Alexander Sokolicek, eds.
Monographs of the Danish Institute at Athens, Vol. 17. Aarhus, Denmark: Aarhus University Press, 2015. 468 pp.; 37 color ills.; 239 b/w ills. Cloth $70.00 (9788771243802)
Greek tragedy and comedy form a central strand of ancient life that we have inherited and made our own: ancient plays are still performed, still inspire new authorship, still inform us about ancient life; but they also established the very genres that continue in our operas, musicals, television, and film. By the end of the fourth-century BCE, any ambitious Greek city had a stone theater of some sort, and remains of ancient theaters are ubiquitous in Mediterranean landscapes. This handsome... Full Review
February 14, 2017
Peter John Brownlee, Valéria Piccoli, and Georgiana Uhlyarik, eds.
Exh. cat. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015. 280 pp.; 260 color ills. Cloth $65.00 (9780300211504)
Exhibition schedule: Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, June 20–October 20, 2015; Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR, November 7, 2015–January 18, 2016; Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo, São Paulo, February 27–May 29, 2016
The global turn in art history is transforming the study of American art, whether that means the art of the United States or the art of the Americas. Since the turn of the millennium, an increasing number of exhibitions, publications, and symposia have been challenging the once-firm boundaries that isolated the Western hemisphere’s national art histories, emphasizing cross-cultural comparison, connection, friction, hybridity, and exchange. I am thinking of exhibitions such as Dennis Carr’s... Full Review
February 8, 2017
Nancy J. Scott
Critical Lives. London: Reaktion Books, 2015. 253 pp.; 40 b/w ills. Paper $16.95 (9781780234281)
Nancy J. Scott has added another biography to the long list of studies of Georgia O’Keeffe. Like these earlier efforts, Scott organizes her book chronologically, with each chapter focusing on a different phase of O’Keeffe’s life and career. However, unlike her predecessors, Scott has had access to the extensive correspondence, which only became available in 2006, between O’Keeffe and her husband, the photographer and promoter of early American modernism, Alfred Stieglitz. She quotes passages... Full Review
February 7, 2017
Kaira M. Cabañas
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014. 192 pp.; 90 b/w ills. Paper $27.50 (9780226174594)
In Introduction à une nouvelle poésie et à une nouvelle musique (Paris: Gallimard, 1947), Isidore Isou declares “ISOU will unmake words into their letters,” completing what he identifies as modern poetry’s “phase ciselant” (chiseling or reductive phase)—the avant-gardist project of purifying language of all semantic function inaugurated by Charles Baudelaire’s elevation of form above poetic “anecdote.” Isou founded the literary movement Lettrism in 1946 shortly after fleeing his... Full Review
February 7, 2017
Alexandra Stara
The Histories of Material Culture and Collecting, 1700–1950. Burlington: Ashgate, 2013. 198 pp.; 40 b/w ills. Paper $54.95 (9781138245402)
When Alexandra Stara learned the Louvre was mounting an exhibition accompanied by a catalogue with twenty-seven contributors on the same subject as her recent Oxford doctoral thesis—the Museum of Monuments, as she refers to it—she must have anticipated being run over by a Gallic bus. It is fortunate, therefore, that the Louvre’s publication Un musée révolutionnaire: Le musée des Monuments français d’Alexandre Lenoir (Paris: Hazen, 2016) not only confirms the significance of this... Full Review
February 3, 2017
Mary Ellen Miller and Claudia Brittenham
Austin and Mexico City: University of Texas Press and Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, 2013. 285 pp.; 600 ills. Cloth $75.00 (9780292744363)
When a group of late eighth-century Maya painters working at the modestly sized site of Bonampak rendered a dazzling mural program that presented local nobility with pomp and optimism, they were unaware that theirs would be among the final artistic efforts of the southern lowland Maya region. Their paintings, dating to 791 CE, span the walls of a three-room building in the rainforest of Chiapas, Mexico, and present confident scenes of military victory and courtly pageantry that appear at odds... Full Review
February 2, 2017
Dell Upton
New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015. 280 pp.; 59 b/w ills. Cloth $45.00 (9780300211757)
Within years after the end of Reconstruction (the period from 1863 to 1877 during which the federal government controlled states of the former Confederacy and African Americans attained fundamental rights of citizenship), supporters of the Confederacy began commemorating its short-lived existence, its soldiers, and the “Lost Cause” interpretation of the Civil War by placing monuments throughout the South. For the most part, these monuments stood uncontested until the 1970s, when activists and... Full Review
February 1, 2017
Lisa Saltzman
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015. 232 pp.; 48 b/w ills. Cloth $35.00 (9780226242033)
Lisa Saltzman’s Daguerreotypes: Fugitive Subjects, Contemporary Objects distinguishes itself from most theories of photography, both in content and approach, via a lucid analysis that considers the characteristics of photography less as unique to one medium than as qualities that migrate. She brings together heterogeneous objects that share a distinctive relation to time, identity, and memory, such as Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir Fun Home (2006), W. G. Sebald’s novel... Full Review
January 26, 2017
Arthur J. DiFuria, ed.
Visual Culture in Early Modernity. New York: Routledge, 2016. 208 pp.; 64 color ills. Cloth $149.95 (9781472449146)
Genre Imagery in Early Modern Northern Europe: New Perspectives, edited by Arthur J. DiFuria, consists of eight essays on the topic. DiFuria’s own introduction is followed by two studies addressing genre painting during the sixteenth century, and, thereafter, five that explore this artistic phenomenon during the seventeenth century, though mainly in the Dutch Republic. According to DiFuria, scholars engaged in the study of genre imagery must contend with its reception, origins, and... Full Review
January 25, 2017