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

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Charmaine A. Nelson
New York: Routledge, 2016. 416 pp.; 16 color ills.; 26 b/w ills. Hardcover $128.00 (9781409468912)
In the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts appears a portrait of an Afro-Caribbean woman bearing a platter of tropical fruit and seated in front of a mountainous landscape. She is likely Marie-Thérèse Zémire, enslaved in Haiti and then in Montreal by the Québec-born François Malépart de Beaucourt. Beaucourt, an artist by trade, painted Zémire in 1786. The painting was originally titled Portrait of a Negro Slave and was renamed Portrait of a Haitian Woman by museum curators in the... Full Review
April 3, 2018
Shantrelle P. Lewis
Exh. cat. New York: Aperture, 2017. 144 pp.; 4 color ills.; 140 b/w ills. Hardcover $35.00 (9781597113892)
Brighton Photo Biennial, United Kingdom, October 1–31, 2016; Lowe Museum of Art, Miami, February 23–May 21, 2017
In February 2015, music artist Jidenna released the video to his first single, “Classic Man.” Directed by Alan Ferguson, the video opens with Jidenna getting dressed: he tightens his tie up to his club collar, fastens his cuff links, and steps into his cap-toe oxfords. In a subsequent scene, he walks the streets of Brooklyn surrounded by a group of well-dressed black men in suits. When he spots two young men being handcuffed by two police officers, he intervenes. We don’t know... Full Review
April 2, 2018
Thomas Crow
Sydney: Power Publications, 2017. 144 pp.; 50 color ills. Paperback $30.00 (9780909952990)
The role that religion has played in the cultural production of the last three centuries is something that many art historians have been slow to recognize and/or hesitant to acknowledge. The potential pitfalls of pursuing this subject are myriad, the most obvious being that of appearing to endorse any theological doctrine—a cardinal sin against post-Enlightenment scholarly disinterestedness. For historians of modern art, consideration of religion is particularly difficult given the extent... Full Review
April 2, 2018
Tacita Dean
London: MACK, 2016. 112 pp.; 112 color ills. Hardcover $95.00 (9781910164280)
Pier Paolo Pasolini concluded his 1971 film The Decameron, adapted from Boccaccio’s fourteenth-century text, with a question: “Why complete a work,” the director asks, playing a disciple of Giotto in the film, “when it’s so beautiful just to dream it?” Pasolini’s character poses the question while gazing up at a recently completed fresco, and his thoughts have already turned to a future project, glimpsed earlier in a dream. After the line is delivered, the film ends and the credits... Full Review
April 2, 2018
Fredie Floré and Cammie McAtee, eds.
New York: Routledge, 2017. 214 pp. Hardcover $124.00 (9781472453556)
One of the critic Mario Praz’s (1896–1982) achievements is that he applied art-historical methods to interiors. His writing elevated the status of interiors to positions previously held by painting, sculpture, and architecture. Praz’s books from the 1960s constituted a call that the “minor” arena of decorative arts be taken seriously. Yet, with notable exceptions, his efforts to edge the decorative arts, chiefly furniture, onto an equal plane with art and architecture went largely... Full Review
March 29, 2018
Lisa Farrington
New York: Oxford University Press, 2016. 480 pp.; 230 ills. Hardcover $69.95 (9780199995394)
Lisa Farrington’s African-American Art: A Visual and Cultural History is invaluable for those teaching surveys of African American art as well as any reader interested in the subject. Staple publications in this area include Sharon Patton’s African-American Art (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998) and Richard J. Powell’s Black Art and Culture in the 20th Century (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1997; reproduced in its second edition as Black Art: A... Full Review
March 29, 2018
Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts at Harvard University
Cambridge, MA: Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts at Harvard University, 2016.
Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Harvard University, October 27, 2016–January 8, 2017
In last year’s exhibition of Chilean art at the Carpenter Center for Visual Art at Harvard University, absence signaled the latency of bodies that feel pain, that suffer longing, or, in a powerful twist, that even travel from 1970s Santiago to present-day Boston. In the works on view in Embodied Absence: Chilean Art of the 1970s Now, artists used the tactics of conceptual art to respond to the traumas inflicted on citizens after the socialist president Salvador Allende was... Full Review
March 29, 2018
Sebastian Zeidler
Signale: Modern German Letters, Cultures, and Thought. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2016. 320 pp.; 25 color ills.; 41 b/w ills.; 66 ills. Paperback $35.00 (9780801479847)
Can there be a more enigmatic corpus in art writing than that of the German critic Carl Einstein (1885–1940)? In Form as Revolt: Carl Einstein and the Ground of Modern Art, Sebastian Zeidler presents not only a detailed, rigorous analysis of Einstein’s fragmentary, gnomic writings, but a provocative extrapolation of their potentials. Einstein—the book’s acknowledged “hero”—imparted to his criticism an idiosyncratic, urgent density, by turns profound and obscure, informed by a... Full Review
March 28, 2018
Alva Noë
New York: Hill and Wang, 2015. 304 pp. Hardcover $28.00 (9780809089178)
“What Art Unveils” is the title of an essay by cognitive scientist and philosopher Alva Noë printed in the opinion pages of the New York Times on October 5, 2015, the year his book Strange Tools: Art and Human Nature was published. The op-ed states some of the book’s basic arguments: art, for Noë, is a human “making activity,” but a special activity, a “research practice” that “unveils us to ourselves.” Art begins (and design stops) “when we are unable to take the background... Full Review
March 27, 2018
Wanda M. Corn
Exh. cat. New York: Prestel, 2017. 320 pp.; 217 color ills.; 112 b/w ills. Hardcover $60.00 (9783791356013)
Brooklyn Museum, March 3–July 23, 2017; Reynolda House Museum of American Art, August 18–November 19, 2017
I do not usually care much about the clothes that artists wear or what their living rooms look like. But after reading Wanda Corn’s new book about Georgia O’Keeffe, I will certainly pay more attention. Previous O’Keeffe scholars have delved deeply into the artist’s personal and professional relationship with Alfred Stieglitz, speculated on her sexuality as expressed in her flower imagery, and dissected her skull paintings. None, however, have so fully detailed the contents of her closet.... Full Review
March 26, 2018