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

Reviews in caa.reviews 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

Halle O’Neal
Harvard East Asian Monographs 412. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2018. 310 pp.; 90 color ills. Cloth $75.00 (9780674983861)
In this monograph, Halle O’Neal investigates a genre of Buddhist painting known as “jeweled pagoda mandalas” (kinji hōtō mandara; hereafter JPM), which was popular in Japan during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Three full sets and a few lone examples separated from their original sets remain. At the center of these vertical compositions on indigo-dyed paper, a multistory pagoda appears surrounded by narrative vignettes from a popular sutra. The central pagoda is constructed from a transcription in gold of the very sutra that the painting features in the surrounding vignettes, in some cases with further embellishment in… Full Review
July 16, 2020
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Vincent Delieuvin and Louis Frank, eds.
Exh. cat. Paris: Louvre éditions in association with Hazan, 2019. 480 pp.; 380 ills. Paper €35.00 (9782754111232)
Musée du Louvre, Paris, October 24, 2019–February 24, 2020
It is tempting for biographers of Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) to wax poetic about the artist’s supernatural talents and divine genius, but instead the Louvre’s blockbuster exhibition Léonard de Vinci offered a cerebral and technical approach to understanding the old master’s virtuosic oeuvre. Cocurated by Vincent Delieuvin, the Louvre’s curator of paintings, and Louis Frank, curator of drawings and prints, this much-anticipated retrospective coincided with the five-hundredth anniversary of Leonardo’s death. As stated in the wall text and accompanying booklet, the primary goal of the exhibition was to demonstrate “Leonardo’s revolutionary approach,” which “aimed to make painting a science encompassing… Full Review
July 14, 2020
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Dany Sandron and Andrew Tallon
Trans. Andrew Tallon and Lindsay Cook. University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 2020. 192 pp.; 170 color ills. Paper $34.95 (9780271086224)
Reading any book of art history inevitably involves looking back into at least two different periods of history: the one that produced the art discussed in the book and the one that produced the book itself. In reading a newly published book, one often assumes that it was written in something like the present. In reading the book under consideration here, however, I found that even the recent past seemed very distant. When the original French edition of this book appeared in 2013, Notre-Dame in Paris was being visited by vast crowds every day, and authors Dany Sandron and Andrew… Full Review
July 9, 2020
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Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington, Seattle, November 23, 2019–June 28, 2020
When a midsize museum devotes its entire space to an exhibition by a recently hired curator, that’s a statement. In Plain Sight, at the Henry Art Gallery in Seattle, was organized by Shamim M. Momin, two-time curator of the Whitney Biennial (she co-organized the 2004 and 2008 editions) and founder of Los Angeles Nomadic Division (LAND), which generates site-specific installations in public spaces. Not only was In Plain Sight Momin’s first large-scale exhibition since she was brought on by the Henry as senior curator in the fall of 2018; it also displayed her long commitment to interdisciplinary… Full Review
July 7, 2020
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Jennifer A. Pruitt
New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2020. 216 pp.; 71 color ills.; 18 b/w ills. Cloth $65.00 (9780300246827)
Jennifer A. Pruitt’s Building the Caliphate explores the Fatimids’ architectural patronage. Followers of the Ismaili subbranch of Shi‘ism, the Fatimids (909–1171) established the first dissident caliphate against the Sunni Abbasid caliphate of Baghdad (751–1258). Originating in North Africa, they conquered Egypt in 969, where they built their new capital, Cairo. They envisaged overthrowing the Abbasids, but the Seljuks ruling on the latter’s behalf put an end to that project. Egypt consequently became the permanent center of Fatimid rule. Architecture was instrumental to the construction of this rule and to the dynasty’s political-religious visual representation in the region’s traditionally Sunni context… Full Review
July 2, 2020
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Margaret C. Adler
Exh. cat. Fort Worth, TX and New Haven, CT: Amon Carter Museum of American Art in association with Yale University Press, 2020. 168 pp.; 175 color ills. Cloth $40.00 (9780300246193)
Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, TX, February 8–July 5, 2020
Mark Dion is a self-described lover of stuff. His materials include broken buttons, vials of insects, antique toys, decaying trees. Shopping at flea markets and gleaning from his environs, he works intuitively. He relies on a certain duration with and proximity to “things” in order to find those that inspire. Indeed, Dion has come to “identify with the mission of the museum, where you go to gain knowledge through things.” He, like the museum, believes in the power of objects to inform and enrich, but his sculptures and installations question the authority of institutional knowledge production. Sometimes working at the… Full Review
June 30, 2020
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Blair Fowlkes-Childs and Michael Seymour, eds.
Exh. cat. New York and New Haven, CT: Metropolitan Museum of Art in association with Yale University Press, 2019. 332 pp.; 344 color ills. Cloth $65.00 (9781588396839)
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, March 18–June 23, 2019
The World between Empires: Art and Identity in the Ancient Middle East at the Metropolitan Museum of Art aimed “to shift the focus away from the two imperial powers [Rome and Parthia] and towards cities and communities, focusing on culture and religion, regional and local issues, and even personal matters” between the first century BCE and the third century CE (iv). The exhibition also aimed to engage “with complex questions about the preservation of cultural heritage.” These ambitious goals were explored through some 190 objects, from the Met’s collections as well as loans from Amman, Beirut, Berlin, Copenhagen, Jerusalem… Full Review
June 25, 2020
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Wen-shing Chou
Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2018. 240 pp.; 88 color ills.; 31 b/w ills. Cloth $65.00 (9780691178646)
Located in northern China, Mount Wutai, or the Five-Terrace Mountain, is the earthly paradise of the bodhisattva Mañjuśrī, commonly known as the Mahāyāna Buddhist deity of wisdom. Since the seventh century, pilgrims have encountered various apparitions of Mañjuśrī on this mountain. Not until the publication of Wen-shing Chou’s book Mount Wutai: Visions of a Sacred Buddhist Mountain did it become clear that Mount Wutai was also a key site in Inner Asian tantric Buddhist practices and lineages associated with the Gelukpa traditions that the Manchu court promoted during the Qing dynasty (1644–1911). Indeed, Chou’s well-researched and finely illustrated monograph presents… Full Review
June 23, 2020
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Nathaniel B. Jones
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019. 308 pp.; 15 color ills.; 77 b/w ills. Cloth £75.00 (9781108420129)
The aim of Nathaniel B. Jones’s book Painting, Ethics, and Aesthetics in Rome is to reconsider the nature of Roman wall painting by focusing on the “paintings within paintings,” or “fictive panels,” as Jones prefers to label them, that are a dominant feature of the medium. By doing so, the plan is to shed light both on the nature of Roman aesthetics and on the practical and metaphorical roles that art, particularly Greek art, played in Roman life (the “ethics” part of the title). Central to the investigation is configuring the point of the Greek nature of these panels, not… Full Review
June 18, 2020
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Rebecca Bedell
Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2018. 232 pp.; 69 color ills.; 44 b/w ills. Cloth $45.00 (9780691153209)
Rebecca Bedell’s splendid book about the central place of sentimentality in American art from the revolutionary era to the First World War seems surprisingly timely in the age of social distancing. For “sentimentality,” as Bedell defines this deeply modern but much maligned pattern of feeling, “asks us to conceive of ourselves in relation to others, to imagine ourselves in their place and to feel for them, in some measure, as for ourselves, recognizing a common and shared humanity” (4). At a time when we are constantly enjoined to wash our hands after coming in contact with others, sentimentality, or whatever… Full Review
June 16, 2020
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Melissa E. Buron
Exh. cat. Munich and San Francisco: DelMonico Books-Prestel in association with Legion of Honor, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 2019. 320 pp.; 250 color ills.; 25 b/w ills. Cloth $75.00 (9783791359199)
Legion of Honor, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, October 12, 2019–February 9, 2020; Musée d'Orsay, Paris (as Ambiguously Modern), June 23–September 13, 2020
As curator Melissa E. Buron observes, the French artist James Tissot (1836–1902) does not fit the usual art historical labels (11). His work was in dialogue with a range of French and British art movements, including Pre-Raphaelitism, Impressionism, Aestheticism, and Symbolism (41, 44–45, 49). The Legion of Honor, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (FAMSF)’s monograph on Tissot, who lived in London from 1871 to 1882, challenges the national borders of the discipline. It reveals, for instance, that supposedly national artistic characteristics can be a matter of perception—Tissot’s work was considered too French for the British and too… Full Review
June 12, 2020
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Jo-Ann Morgan
Routledge Research in Art and Race. New York: Routledge, 2019. 212 pp.; 32 color ills.; 56 b/w ills. Cloth $155.00 (9781138605923)
Within its front matter, this book is described as examining a range of visual expressions of Black Power across American art and popular culture from 1965 through 1972. It begins with case studies of artist groups, including Spiral, OBAC [Organization of Black American Culture], and AfriCOBRA, who began questioning Western aesthetic traditions and created work that honored leaders, affirmed African American culture, and embraced an African lineage. Also showcased is an Oakland Museum exhibition of 1968 called “New Perspectives in Black Art,” as a way to consider if Black Panther Party activities in the neighborhood might have impacted local… Full Review
June 10, 2020
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Jennifer Nelson
University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 2019. 216 pp.; 19 color ills.; 24 b/w ills. Cloth $99.95 (9780271083407)
The anamorphic skull that cuts an unsettling path across the foreground of Hans Holbein the Younger’s 1533 double portrait, The Ambassadors, has struck modern interpreters of the painting as a fundamental disruption of the ordered world of the two young men portrayed amid the books and instruments of liberal learning. For Jacques Lacan, the skull signifies the annihilation of the Cartesian subject. For those more inclined to historical interpretation, it signifies the undoing of a confident Renaissance humanism. Against perspectival coherence, the skull offers fragmentation; against a dream of comprehensive knowledge, it offers a melancholy reminder of death. In… Full Review
June 5, 2020
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Christina Neilson
New York: Cambridge University Press, 2019. 362 pp.; 90 color ills.; 52 b/w ills. Cloth $120.00 (9781107172852)
Andrea del Verrocchio is generally overshadowed by his famous pupils—particularly Leonardo da Vinci—a trend that began with Giorgio Vasari’s negative treatment of the older master in his book Lives of the Artists (first published in 1550). In response to this characterization, Christina Neilson seeks to “reassess Verrocchio’s accomplishments” in her book, Practice and Theory in the Italian Renaissance Workshop: Verrocchio and the Epistemology of Making Art (9). By examining Verrocchio’s unusual practices of making and their intended meanings, Neilson convincingly situates him as one of the most important sculptors working between the eras of Donatello and Michelangelo. The author presents… Full Review
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Fabiola López-Durán
Austin: University of Texas Press, 2018. 312 pp.; 132 b/w ills. Paper $29.95 (9781477314968)
In the last few decades, scholars have dedicated a great deal of effort to documenting and analyzing the impact of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century modernist planning ideologies throughout the world. While most ideologies were firmly rooted in a benevolent desire to improve deeply chaotic and oppressive urban environments, some—largely forgotten or ignored—deployed urban planning and architecture as racially motivated social-engineering projects. Nearly twenty years ago, Oren Yiftachel mused, “Far less attention has been devoted to the ability of planning to promote goals of an opposite nature, such as social repression, economic retardation or environmental degradation” (“The Dark Side of… Full Review
May 27, 2020
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