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

Browse Recent Book Reviews

Steven M. Reiss
Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014. 216 pp.; 80 b/w ills. Cloth $35.00 (9780813934976)
What is it about a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house that inspires some owners to endure hardship to see it built and overcome obstacles to prevent its destruction? It is a question implicitly asked and answered by Steven M. Reiss in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Pope-Leighey House, a skillful retelling of the complex history of a 1,200-square-foot Usonian house (originally known as the Pope House) built in 1941 in Falls Church, Virginia. The book, which is organized into three chronological... Full Review
June 13, 2017
Alexander Dumbadze and Suzanne Hudson, eds.
Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013. 512 pp. Paper $50.95 (9781444338669)
The last decade has seen a profusion of anthologies reckoning with “contemporary art”—a contested term. Contemporary Art: 1989 to the Present, edited by Alexander Dumbadze and Suzanne Hudson, is the latest one, but certainly not the last. Their desire is to expand the discussion on contemporary art to include a multiplicity of voices. In the process, Dumbadze and Hudson bring together forty-six international writers. The writings are grouped into fourteen “fluid rubrics,” which are... Full Review
June 9, 2017
Lawrence Berman
Boston: MFA Publications, 2015. 208 pp.; 52 color ills. Cloth $24.95 (9780878467969)
What is it about antiquities that so compels us to collect them? This is the central question Lawrence Berman asks in The Priest, the Prince, and the Pasha: The Life and Afterlife of an Ancient Egyptian Sculpture. To answer this question, Berman focuses on a single object, the so-called Boston Green Head. Approximately four inches in height, broken off from a standing or kneeling statue, the Green Head is a centerpiece in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA).... Full Review
June 8, 2017
Mark Hinchman
Early Modern Cultural Studies Series. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2015. 420 pp.; 78 b/w ills. Cloth $70.00 (9780803254138)
More than any other media, architecture has played a fundamental role in the organization of physical reality according to various social, cultural, and ideological templates. As both a product and producer of identity, architectural forms have inscribed the texture of human life onto the natural environment. Thus, Mark Hinchman’s Portrait of an Island: The Architecture and Material Culture of Gorée, Sénégal, 1758–1837 is a welcome addition to contemporary studies of the history of the... Full Review
June 8, 2017
Dushko Petrovich, ed.
New York: Dushko Petrovich, 2015. 20 pp. Paper $20.00
Think of a professor and the clichés tumble out: houndstooth blazer, tortoiseshell glasses, air of aloof superiority. The professor, insulated from worldly concerns by tenure, is an icon of the traditional university, a selling point for students willing to take on debt in exchange for wisdom, and a target of right-wing reformers who scorn the leisurely pace of scholarship. While the professor can’t be described as wealthy in this age of hedge funds, she is at least free from anything... Full Review
June 7, 2017
Jean Hélion
New York: Arcade, 2014. 464 pp. Paper $19.95 (9781628723762)
On August 18, 1939, the French abstract painter Jean Hélion wrote to Raymond Queneau from his studio in Rockbridge Baths, Virginia, to say that he was ready to return to France and throw himself back into what he called the “torment of Europe” (Lettres d’Amérique: Correspondance avec Raymond Queneau 1934–1967, Paris: IMEC, 1996, 146). In leaving Paris for New York in 1936 in the aftermath of the collapse of the Popular Front, Hélion had left behind the aesthetic and political... Full Review
June 1, 2017
Gretchen E. Henderson
London: Reaktion Books, 2015. 240 pp.; 67 b/w ills. Cloth $25.00 (9781780235240)
In Ugliness: A Cultural History, Gretchen E. Henderson ventures on a critical journey through the history of ugliness, viewing the concept through the lens of culture and corporeality. Henderson packs an abundance of fascinating case studies and thought-provoking insights into a stimulating conceptual framework, all in the service of her argument about past and contemporary relationships with ugliness. Her aim is not to redefine ugliness but to trace the use and perceptions of it from... Full Review
May 31, 2017
Thomas Brent Smith, ed.
Exh. cat. The Charles M. Russell Center Series on Art and Photography of the American West. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2016. 208 pp.; 125 color ills.; 27 b/w ills. Cloth $45.00 (9780806151984)
Exhibition schedule: Denver Art Museum, Denver, December 13, 2015–April 24, 2016; Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, May 22–August 28, 2016
Scholarship on the art of the American West has greatly expanded in the last decade, with the northern New Mexico art colonies of Taos and Santa Fe receiving particular attention.[1] A Place in the Sun, a multi-authored volume that accompanied a traveling exhibition, considers two of the leading artists of Taos, Walter Ufer (1876–1936) and E. Martin Hennings (1886–1956). Their many parallels make it logical to consider their careers together. As German-Americans, they shared a... Full Review
May 26, 2017
Wade Guyton
Edition of 500. New York: Karma, 2014. 368 pp.; Many color ills. Paper $45.00 (9781938560743)
On January 13, 2013, the contemporary artist Wade Guyton visited a blog on Tumblr, the less-is-more, image-driven social-media platform that resembles an online corkboard. He downloaded thirty days’ worth of the blog’s contents and transposed them into that good old thing, the book, calling it One Month Ago. The title refers to the way in which Tumblr automatically tells website visitors how far away they are, temporally speaking, from the post they are currently looking at (from, say,... Full Review
May 25, 2017
Erin Griffey
New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016. 384 pp.; 84 color ills.; 46 b/w ills. Cloth $85.00 (9780300214000)
The title of Erin Griffey’s meticulously researched book is well suited to its principal argument: that early modern sovereigns, especially powerful women such as Queen Henrietta Maria of England, projected their authority through the specific and calculated allure of their material luxuries. All aspects of dress, appurtenances, architecture, and furnishings (including paintings and other fine arts) contributed to an overall “magnificence” which did not burnish the image of the monarch so... Full Review
May 25, 2017