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

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If ambiguity was something that could be seen or touched, it might have a tangible yet enigmatic effect. Perhaps it would be like a fragile lantern lit from within, neither solid nor translucent, with angles of light taking shape through sudden rips of fabric. Or perhaps it would be a metallic cube hovering over the ground like an imbalanced weight, yet with a surface as seemingly delicate as crumpled paper. Or perhaps it would be a cold glass entrance with ice rock chandeliers, where luscious, decorative folds in white walls peek through. Maybe, in short, ambiguity would take the shape… Full Review
November 28, 2005
Susan Donahue Kuretsky
Poughkeepsie, NY: Francis Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College, 2005. 352 pp.; 85 color ills.; 120 b/w ills. Paper $60.00 (0964426374)
Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, N.Y., April 8–June 19, 2005; John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, Fla., August 20–October 30, 2005; Speed Art Museum, Louisville, Ky., January 10–March 26, 2006
One year before Vassar College first offered courses in 1865, the institution already had an art gallery and a collection. Purchases, beginning with that of the Reverend Elias Magoon’s American and English landscape paintings, and continuing into the present with acquisitions in various media from diverse cultures, have made the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center (which occupies an elegant building by Cesar Pelli) into an important museum possessing 12,500 objects, and also—fulfilling the original intention—into an effective complement to the teaching of art and art history A good example of that synergy was the 1970 exhibition “Dutch Mannerism: Apogee and… Full Review
November 18, 2005
Peter C. Sutton, Marjorie Wieseman, and Nico Van Hout
Exh. cat. Greenwich, Conn.: Yale University Press in association with Bruce Museum of Arts and Sciences, 2004. 208 pp.; 60 color ills.; 40 b/w ills. Cloth $60.00 (0300106262)
Bruce Museum, Greenwich, Conn., October 2–January 30, 2005; Berkeley Art Museum, March 2–May 22, 2005; Cincinnati Art Museum, June 11–September 11, 2005
It is a testimony to the esteem in which Peter Sutton and Marjorie Wieseman are held in the art world that they were able to find enough oil sketches by Peter Paul Rubens for an exhibition in the United States in 2004—the most competitive “Rubens” year in recent memory. Drawn by the Brush: Oil Sketches by Peter Paul Rubens is the first exhibition dedicated solely to Rubens’s oil sketches since the one Egbert Haverkamp-Begemann organized in Rotterdam in 1953–54. Although originally planned to include loans solely from U.S. and Canadian collections, the exhibition was expanded with a few choice pieces… Full Review
November 8, 2005
Donna De Salvo, ed.
Tate Publishing, 2005. 192 pp.; 60 color ills.; 50 b/w ills. Paper (1854375652)
June 1–August 29, 2005
It would appear that Jack Burnham’s 1968 claim that “a ‘systems esthetic’ will become the dominant approach to a maze of socio-technical conditions rooted only in the present” was accurately visionary. In Open Systems: Rethinking Art c. 1970, curator Donna De Salvo has put this concept of a “system” to work as an organizing principle around which to understand anew significant trends in art produced during the years bracketing 1970. The choice was a good one on two counts. First, there has been much recent interest in the art of the period, as high-profile retrospectives of Robert Smithson, Dan… Full Review
November 7, 2005
Kerry Brougher
Exh. cat. Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution in association with Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 2005. 272 pp.; 344 color ills.; 32 b/w ills. Cloth $50.00 (0500512175)
Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Calif., February 13–May 22, 2005; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., June 23–September 11, 2005
One thought-provoking passage from the introductory wall panel at the entrance to Los Angeles’s Museum of Contemporary Art’s recent exhibition, Visual Music: Synaesthesia in Art and Music Since 1900, read as follows: “Music offered a model to which art might aspire: an art based on a language of abstract form that evokes limitless space and evolving time, in short, ‘visual music.’” This brief passage makes some challenging and complex claims for the broad category of visual art as it relates to the equally broad category of music. One clear precedent for these claims can be found in the writing… Full Review
November 3, 2005
Arthur K. Wheelock Jr.
Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art in association with University of Chicago Press, 2005. 150 pp.; 40 color ills.; 30 b/w ills. $40.00 (0226894436)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., January 30–May 1, 2005; J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Calif., June 7–August 28, 2005
In the 1600s, a convert from Roman Catholicism to the new Protestant faith might have felt disconcertingly bereft of the supportive community of saints in whose company she or he was accustomed to encountering the divine. For women, one of the greatest challenges must have been the loss of the Virgin Mary as empathetic listener and spiritual guide. Yet Martin Luther sternly condemned belief in the intercession of saints as a reliance on works rather than faith to procure salvation, and John Calvin adamantly rejected the mediatory role of saints, along with the veneration of their relics and images, as… Full Review
October 27, 2005
Francesco Bonami, Regis Durand, and Francois Quintin
Thames and Hudson, 2001. 112 pp.; 42 color ills. Cloth $29.95 (0500974950)
Museum of Modern Art, New York, March 4–May 30, 2005
The construction of historical memory has been a critical issue for photography since the medium’s emergence as a method of mass reproduction and dissemination. German photographer Thomas Demand’s work addresses the question of veracity that remains at the heart of photography’s role in shaping the representation and understanding of history. His work interrogates this concern through a two-stage process that transforms politically charged subject matter from appropriated mass-produced photographic image to sculptural installation to a final life-scaled photograph made by Demand. That he takes on photography’s contested relation to material reality now, at a moment when the cultural field is… Full Review
October 26, 2005
Dawn Ades, ed.
Exh. cat. Philadelphia: Rizzoli in association with Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2004. 560 pp.; 500 ills. (0847826732)
Palazzo Grassi, Venice, September 12, 2004–January 16, 2005; Philadelphia Museum of Art, February 16–May 30, 2005
The centennial exhibition of the works of Salvador Dalí (1904–1989) at the Philadelphia Museum of Art was a signal event for those interested in the past century of intimate relations between the visual arts and psychoanalysis. In The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí (New York: Dial Press, 1942; 17–18), the painter reports that during their first meeting he and Jacques Lacan (1901–1981) were astonished at the congruence of their views on the primacy of paranoia as a form of active invention in contradistinction to the passive experience of the dream. Back-to-back articles in the Surrealist journal Minotaure in 1933 expressed… Full Review
October 18, 2005
Gauvin Alexander Bailey, Pamela M. Jones, Franco Mormando, and Thomas W. Worcester, eds.
Exh. cat. Worcester, Mass.: Worcester Art Museum, 2004. 272 pp.; 38 color ills.; 71 b/w ills. $39.95 (0936042052)
Worcester Art Museum, Worcester, Mass., April 3–September 25, 2005
The title Hope and Healing: Painting in Italy in a time of Plague, 1500–1800 does not adequately prepare the viewer for the beauty, substance, and intelligence of the exhibition. Visitors will, of course, be confronted with the grim reality of plague. They will also be dazzled by the depth of scholarship embodied in the well-chosen images, which suggest unmistakable parallels between an era dominated by fear of pestilence and our own twenty-first-century world. The exhibition’s curators, Gauvin Alexander Bailey, Pamela M. Jones, Franco Mormando, and Thomas Worcester, organized the exhibition in partnership with Clark University and… Full Review
July 6, 2005
Knoxville Museum of Art, Knoxville, Tenn., April 22–August 7, 2005
SubUrban: Tam Van Tran features the paintings and “sculptural drawings” of Tam Van Tran, a Vietnamese-born, Los Angeles–based artist who combines organic substances such as chlorophyll, spirulina algae, and beet juice with acrylic paint, canvas, paper, Wite-out liquid, foil, and metal staples. The exhibition is the latest in the Knoxville Museum of Art’s ongoing program, the SubUrban series, which serves as the first solo museum show and catalogue in the United States for emerging contemporary artists. Tran has participated in group and solo exhibitions since 1999, including the 2004 Whitney Biennial, and he was selected for participation in the series… Full Review
July 1, 2005