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

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Rice University’s 300-acre campus is a bucolic enclave situated between the Museum District and the Texas Medical Center, all to the south of downtown Houston. The bulk of its academic buildings are clustered at its axial and planned core. Its north edge and east edge along Main Street are tree lined, well groomed and park-like. Its south and west edges are less tidy, however, and are lined with more functional structures—sports fields and surface parking lots. The Moody Center for the Arts, designed by Michael Maltzan Architecture in Los Angeles and opened in February 2017, is not part of the… Full Review
April 17, 2018
Mary-Dailey Desmarais and Thomas Brent Smith, eds.
Exh. cat. New York: Abrams, 2017. 304 pp.; 300 color ills. Cloth $45.00 (9788874397655)
Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, October 14, 2017–February 4, 2018
Denver Art Museum, May 27–September 10, 2017
“This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” This quote from John Ford’s film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) illustrates the blurred line between fact and fiction in the American story of nation building. The exhibition Once Upon a Time . . . The Western: A New Frontier in Art and Film, cocurated by Mary-Dailey Desmarais of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) and Thomas Brent Smith of the Denver Art Museum (DAM), where it was titled The Western: An Epic in Art and Film, carefully… Full Review
April 13, 2018
Andrea Andersson, Lucy Lippard, Macarena Gómez-Barris, and Julia Bryan-Wilson
Exh. cat. Los Angeles: Siglio, 2017. 160 pp. Paperback $32.95 (9781938221156)
Contemporary Arts Center New Orleans, March 16–June 18, 2017
Through gestures of collecting and connecting, touch has defined the lifelong project of Chilean-born artist, poet, filmmaker, and activist Cecilia Vicuña. With the exhibition Cecilia Vicuña: About to Happen, her deeply compassionate work gains an urgently needed visibility. Vicuña insists on the existence of a world that is interconnected and in which we, humans, are inherently embedded. Experiences of touch evoked by and constitutive of her work rupture the subject’s perceived individuality, isolation, and autonomy. This touch signifies a relationship—one that has already been established or is about to be established. One’s first encounter with Vicuña’s work as installed… Full Review
April 6, 2018
Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University
East Lansing: Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University, 2017.
Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at MSU, April 29–October 22, 2017
The Transported Man, curated by Marc-Olivier Wahler, director of the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, posited metaphorically that art is magic. He did not mean that art is supernatural but that the process of making art—as the transfiguration of the common place—is like an act of stage magic. Through its analogy with magic, the show placed a curious spin on such established art-historical notions as illusionism, dematerialization, the ready-made, art as process, and art as participation. The Transported Man echoed the well-founded idea that the contemporary is anchored in the ever-changing intertwinement of the artistic legacies of American… Full Review
April 5, 2018
Montclair Art Museum
Montclair, NJ: Montclair Art Museum, 2017.
Montclair Art Museum, New Jersey, February 5–June 18, 2017
An exhibition devoted to tracing an artist’s cross-cultural influence often bears the risk of trying to do too much. Featuring sixty-five works, Matisse and American Art at the Montclair Art Museum juxtaposed nineteen paintings and works on paper by Matisse with a vast selection of objects by thirty-four American artists. With works by artists as diverse as Arthur Dove, Andy Warhol, and Faith Ringgold, exhibition organizers aimed to explore the French master’s impact on American modernism from 1905 to today—a tall order, to say the least. Yet cocurators Gail Stavitsky and John Cauman ultimately succeeded in revealing the extraordinary breadth… Full Review
April 5, 2018
Simon Kelly and Esther Bell
Exh. cat. New York: Prestel, 2017. 296 pp.; 197 color ills.; 45 b/w ills. Hardcover $75.00 (9783791356211)
Saint Louis Art Museum, February 12–May 7, 2017; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Legion of Honor, June 24–September 24, 2017
Given that in recent decades many scholars have called for attention to the diverse traditions and overlooked contributions of a global art history, it is fair to ask, do we need another major exhibition devoted to Impressionism? There have been French Impressionist studies penned by a coterie of distinguished scholars across the globe that should satisfy most any methodological perspective or preference for a certain theme or stylistic practice. Recent shows have explored subthemes ranging from the movement’s key dealers and the ongoing recuperation of various “unheralded” Impressionists to the obvious subjects of blossoms and snowfields. And the work of… Full Review
April 4, 2018
Janet Bishop and Katherine Rothkopf, eds.
Exh. cat. New York: Prestel, 2016. 184 pp.; 120 color ills.; 14 b/w ills. Hardcover $49.95 (9783791355344)
Baltimore Museum of Art, October 23, 2016–January 29, 2017; SFMOMA, March 11–May 29, 2017
An ambitious exhibition, Matisse/Diebenkorn delivers on its goal to delineate the influence of Henri Matisse (1869–1954) on Richard Diebenkorn (1922–93), showing a remarkably significant number of parallels between two modern, avant-garde artists. However, it does much more, and not only in its review of Diebenkorn: it also provides a nuanced consideration of the concept of influence, thereby making a significant contribution to the field of American art, as well as comparative museum display. Co-organized by the Baltimore Museum of Art and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Matisse/Diebenkorn is accompanied by a beautifully illustrated, scholarly catalogue. Edited by Janet… Full Review
April 3, 2018
The Off-Staging of William Forsythe’s Dance in the Museum Stellentstellen (2016) and Acquisition (2016) by William Forsythe. Stellentstellen, performed by Rauf (Rubberlegz) Yasit and Riley Watts. Acquisition, presented by students of the University of Southern California Glorya Kaufman School of Dance. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, October 16, 2016. Reviewed by Paola Escobar, Yanting Li, Julia Meyer, Marissa Osato, and Ariel Osterweis Introduction When approached by Juliet Bellow to write this review, I suspected that the multisited yet simultaneously performed Stellentstellen (2016) and Acquisition (2016) would be most appropriately considered by a multiplicity of voices, and I solicited… Full Review
March 29, 2018
Rebecca R. Hart
Exh. cat. Denver: Denver Art Museum, 2017. 116 pp. Hardcover $22.00 ( I9780914738282)
Denver Art Museum, Feb 19–Oct 22, 2017
Many unkind words and nasty looks have been exchanged in recent years over the ethnic and sex-and-gender principles of curatorial selection. Some artists declined to be shown in Phantom Sightings: Art after the Chicano Movement at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and El Museo del Barrio in New York in 2008, refusing to be grouped by their race and ethnicity. The exhibition Our America: Latino Presence in American Art at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in 2013 was criticized for being too general, too all-inclusive, and not edgy or “Latino” enough. Seeking to sidestep the… Full Review
March 27, 2018
Rice Gallery
Houston: Rice Gallery, 2017.
Rice University Art Gallery, February 9–May 14, 2017
In 1966 Sol LeWitt wrote, “The most interesting characteristic of the cube is that it is relatively uninteresting” (LeWitt, “The Cube,” Art in America, Summer 1966). Rice University Art Gallery (a space that has now been repurposed), like many contemporary art spaces, was a modest white cube, and LeWitt’s installation Glossy and Flat Black Squares purposely played off of its seemingly “uninteresting” architectural container.  When LeWitt repeated the assertion in 1967, he elaborated: “The best that can be said for either the square or the cube is that they are relatively uninteresting in themselves. . . . Released from… Full Review
March 27, 2018