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

Reviews in are published continuously by CAA and Taylor & Francis, with the most recently published reviews listed below. Browse reviews based on geographic region, period or cultural sphere, or specialty (from 1998 to the present) using Review Categories in the sidebar or by entering terms in the search bar above.

Recently Published Reviews

Alyce Mahon
Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2020. 296 pp.; 44 color ills.; 56 b/w ills. Cloth $45.00 (9780691141619)
Must We Praise Sade? In her defense of the notoriously vile writings of the Marquis de Sade, “Must We Burn Sade?,” Simone de Beauvoir wrote: “In a criminal society, one must be criminal” (introduction to The 120 Days of Sodom and Other Writings, trans. Austryn Wainhouse and Richard Seaver, Grove Press, 1966, 58). The oft-cited quote encapsulates the feminist philosopher’s tempered response to the eighteenth-century libertine texts of Donatien Alphonse François (better known as the Marquis de Sade) and their place within modern European history as bastions of unfettered freedom of expression. In novels such as The 120 Days of… Full Review
May 5, 2021
Hank Willis Thomas
Exh. cat. Contributions by Julia Dolan, Sara Krajewski, Sarah Elizabeth Lewis, and Kellie Jones. New York and Portland, OR: Aperture Foundation in association with Portland Art Museum, 2018. 256 pp.; 300 ills. Cloth $65.00 (9781597114486)
Portland Art Museum, Portland, OR, October 12, 2019–January 12, 2020; Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR, February 8–July 13, 2020; Cincinnati Art Museum, September 4–November 8, 2020
The contributors to the exhibition catalog Hank Willis Thomas: All Things Being Equal . . . write with depth and acuity about the artist’s complex body of work, which spans three decades. By asking questions about the role of the arts in democratizing visuality and creating a more civically engaged public, the essays by Julia Dolan, Sara Krajewski, and Sarah Elizabeth Lewis, as well as an interview between Thomas and the art historian Kellie Jones, combine to convey a deeply reflective portrait of the artist and offer new insights into the breadth of his artistic growth. The catalog and the… Full Review
May 3, 2021
Bret L. Rothstein
University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 2019. 228 pp.; 38 color ills. Cloth $29.95 (9780271082424)
I doubt that this review can do justice either to its subject or to its author, though I was somewhat comforted to read that Bret L. Rothstein himself admitted to disliking puzzles. Still, I may not be the right person to review this book, for I confess that I also loathe most puzzles. Deeply frustrating, they make me feel unworthy to share the company of intelligent beings who appreciate them. What is it that allows some people to “get” a puzzle in a matter of minutes while others futilely ponder them, not getting anywhere? Another pause before proceeding: this book… Full Review
April 29, 2021
Georg Simmel
Ed. Austin Harrington. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2020. 392 pp. Paper $35.00 (9780226621098)
In the intellectual history of European modernity, Georg Simmel (1858–1918) remains the prototype for the extraterritorial thinker. Estranged from institutions of official culture, such a figure is singularly attuned to the dynamism of modern life, a sensitive diagnostician who finds in the most fleeting phenomena visible symptoms of a fundamentally altered relationship between objective conditions and states of mind. The centrality of works of art and literature for Simmel’s reflections on society and the money economy galvanized his students, such as Siegfried Kracauer and Ernst Bloch, who radically reconfigured philosophical writing in confrontation with the rise of mass media and… Full Review
April 27, 2021
Jacques Derrida
Ed. Ginette Michaud, Joana Masó, and Javier Bassas, with new trans. by Laurent Milesi. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2020. 328 pp.; 7 b/w ills. Cloth $45.00 (9780226140612)
Sixteen years after Jacques Derrida’s death, a new collection of essays and interviews devoted to artists and art by the eminent thinker offers a chance to reconsider his impact on the field and ongoing interest in his work. According to the volume’s title, this interest might lie in the plurality of the arts. But why? Why “the arts” rather than art in the singular? Spock’s famous dictum in Star Trek comes to mind: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”—“or the one.” Was Derrida secretly a Trekkie? This dictum, of course, is at the center of… Full Review
April 22, 2021
Mark Nelson, William H. Sherman, and Ellen Hoobler
Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 2020. 448 pp.; 103 color ills.; 227 b/w ills. Cloth $65.00 (9781606066669)
This hefty tome chronicles the decades of freewheeling acquisition that resulted in Louise and Walter Arensberg’s collections of modernist painting and sculpture and of art of the preconquest Americas. The Arensbergs also amassed the world’s largest collection of books by and about empiricist philosopher Francis Bacon, whom Walter (a Harvard-educated poet and literary sleuth) believed to have written Shakespeare’s plays and encrypted them with clues to his authorship. In this book’s coauthored essay, designer Mark Nelson and cultural historian William H. Sherman speculate that Arensberg’s lifelong interest in codes, conundrums, and what Bacon called the “parabolical” (402) underlay the evocative… Full Review
April 20, 2021
Esmée Quodbach, ed.
The Frick Collection Studies in the History of Art Collecting in America, vol. 5. University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 2020. 248 pp.; 92 color ills.; 6 b/w ills. Cloth $69.95 (9780271086088)
The last two decades have witnessed a steady increase of interest in the history of taste and collecting, in America and beyond. This trend is reflected in, but also stimulated by, the recent establishment of three important book series: Studies in the History of Collecting & Art Markets (Brill) and the Histories of Material Culture and Collecting, 1700–1950 (Routledge), both initiated in 2016, and the Frick Collection Studies in the History of Art Collecting in America (Penn State University Press), initiated in 2014. All three initiatives attest to the interdisciplinary nature of the research… Full Review
April 15, 2021
Paul Rodgers
New York: Paul Rodgers/9W, 2018. 170 pp.; 87 ills. Coth $60.00 (9780692845479)
Molly Warnock
University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 2020. 280 pp.; 41 color ills.; 89 b/w ills. Cloth $89.95 (9780271085029)
Paul Rodgers
New York: Paul Rodgers/9W, 2020. 114 pp.; 84 ills. Cloth $45.00 (9780578630786)
The artist Simon Hantaï (1922–2008), who was Hungarian born, made his way to Paris in 1948 and became a longtime French resident. Knowledgeable about both Marxism and Catholic tradition, he was inspired by the art of Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, as well as by the visiting exhibitions of Jackson Pollock, to make ambitious abstract paintings and develop a highly personal aesthetic. Well-known in France thanks to gallery exhibitions, he is not as familiar a figure in the American art world. And so the books under review, which offer very different perspectives, deserve a warm welcome. It is impossible to… Full Review
April 13, 2021
Gregory Salter
London: Routledge, 2019. 224 pp.; 30 b/w ills. E-book £44.99 (9781003084686)
The post–Second World War era was marked by profound changes that altered almost every aspect of British society. These were particularly visible in the domestic sphere, which had been fractured and fragmented by war and was undergoing a long period of reconstruction in the decades after 1945. In his book, Art and Masculinity in Post-War Britain: Reconstructing Home, Gregory Salter delves right into the notion of the postwar home in its tangible and intangible formations. The book is presented as a series of case study chapters on male artists: John Bratby, Francis Bacon, Francis Newton Souza, Victor Pasmore, and… Full Review
April 8, 2021
Nina Amstutz
New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2020. 280 pp.; 82 color ills.; 36 b/w ills. Cloth $65.00 (9780300246162)
Nina Amstutz opens her new history of Caspar David Friedrich’s landscapes boldly, with the same painting with which Joseph Leo Koerner began his now-canonical Caspar David Friedrich and the Subject of Landscape (Yale University Press, 1990): the 1828 Trees and Shrubs in the Snow (Galerie Neue Meister, Dresden, Germany). Many of her arguments are efforts to give body to Koerner’s formal insights and to ground his observations more fully in the discourse of Friedrich’s time. Koerner’s ekphrasis is commonly cited as some of the best visual writing in the discipline, and Amstutz admirably keeps pace in a book whose premise… Full Review
April 6, 2021
Jody Patterson
New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2020. 264 pp.; 72 color ills.; 43 b/w ills. Cloth $55.00 (9780300241396)
Readers of Jody Patterson’s excellent Modernism for the Masses: Painters, Politics, and Public Murals in 1930s New York will reconsider set narratives of midcentury modernism in the United States, as well as discover a great deal about the importance of modernism under the aegis of the New Deal art programs. Patterson’s exacting analyses of the ideological, cultural, political, and historical factors behind the marginalization of midcentury modernist murals do important work to contextualize both realism and abstraction as applied to mural painting. During the Great Depression, Patterson reminds us, the United States experienced a public mural renaissance funded by various… Full Review
April 1, 2021
Wadsworth A. Jarrell
Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2020. 320 pp.; 89 color ills. Paper $29.95 (9781478000563)
AFRICOBRA: Experimental Art toward a School of Thought is a necessary source for the study of the Black Arts Movement. Wadsworth A. Jarrell, a founding member of AFRICOBRA, successfully weaves together personal recollections, accounts from fellow artists, and a myriad of secondary sources to represent a multifaceted view of Black Experimentalism across collective artistic practice in Chicago. Although the author provides no concrete definition for Black Experimentalism, he demonstrates this practice as a commitment to community, improvisation, and transforming Black cultural forms and artistic boundaries. Jarrell constructs a rich narrative across this memoir that augments and in some… Full Review
March 30, 2021
Adrienne L. Childs
Exh. cat. Washington, DC and New York: Phillips Collection in association with Rizzoli Electa, 2020. 208 pp.; 150 color ills. Cloth $50.00 (9780847866649)
Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, February 29, 2020–January 3, 2021
(Click here to view the online exhibition.) “Modernism was seen as a huge moment historically and culturally—this was the language of the oppressor” (58). Black artist Sanford Biggers made this statement in 2018 while contemplating the role that German art historian Carl Einstein’s book Negerplastik played in introducing him to African sculpture and its transformative potential. When considered alongside Biggers’s 2016 work of the same name—featuring a repurposed quilt with a geometric pattern and an upright, floral-patterned sculptural figure casting a shadow—the statement captures the tug and pull of both African art and European interest in it for Black artists… Full Review
March 25, 2021
Nathaniel Silver
Exh. cat. Boston and New Haven, CT: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in association with Yale University Press, 2020. 256 pp.; 115 color ills. Cloth $45.00 (9780300249866)
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, February 13–October 12, 2020
(Click here to view the online gallery guide.) I remember the first time I saw John Singer Sargent’s Thomas McKeller (ca. 1917–20) at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (acquired in 1986), while gathering comparative material for my research on James Richmond Barthé (1901–1989), whose oeuvre is dominated by Black male nudes. The painting and accompanying sketches are the only known true-life depictions of McKeller, and, like in Sargent’s Madame X (1884), the model looked away from the artist, obscuring what could have been a factual portrait. Although for different reasons, both portraits remained in Sargent’s possession (and thus unknown… Full Review
March 23, 2021
Finbarr Barry Flood, ed.
Munich: Hirmer, 2019. 488 pp.; 224 color ills. Cloth $39.95 (9783777432434)
There Where You Are Not: Selected Writings of Kamal Boullata brings together an impressive collection of texts by Palestinian artist, critic, theorist, poet, and writer Kamal Boullata (1942–2019). Born in Jerusalem, Boullata was first trained by icon painter Khalil Halabi before graduating from the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome and the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, DC. Though Boullata is known in the international art scene for his colorful, geometric abstract paintings and silkscreens inspired by Arab calligraphy and traditional Palestinian textiles, his many other facets, such as his theoretical legacy and broad scholarly interests, are revealed in… Full Review
March 18, 2021