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

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Legion of Honor Museum, San Francisco, May 7–November 7, 2021
Up on a hill on San Francisco’s northwestern end, flanked by fluorescent green golf courts, stands the Legion of Honor, deep in perennial ocean fog. En français, the words Honneur et Patrie welcome tourists and the odd city resident to this neoclassical pavilion’s rigid symmetry, rhythmically marked by an Ionic colonnade. A larger-than-life-size man in bronze, Rodin’s Thinker, governs the courtyard. Caught in internal struggle, he famously cogitates on a pedestal. Installed throughout the museum’s permanent collection galleries is I Am Speaking, Are You Listening?, a solo exhibition of work by the acclaimed Kenyan American artist Wangechi Mutu… Full Review
September 21, 2021
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Shawnya L. Harris, ed.
Exh. cat. Athens: Georgia Museum of Art, University of Georgia, 2021. 192 pp. Cloth $40.00 (9780915977468)
Georgia Museum of Art, University of Georgia, Athens, January 30–April 25, 2021; Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute, Utica, NY, June 19–September 12, 2021; Philadelphia Museum of Art, October 11, 2021–January 2, 2022
A week before Emma Amos: Color Odyssey was set to close and four days before Derek Chauvin’s guilty verdict for the murder of George Floyd, I invited my sister and niece to accompany me to Emma Amos’s retrospective at the Georgia Museum of Art, the first of three sites for the traveling exhibition. As we made the hour drive from Atlanta to Athens, news reports of Black bodies being killed by police lingered in the car, like unwelcome chaperones. Along with the current backlash against teaching the systemic racism that is the warp thread of the United States, these events… Full Review
September 16, 2021
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Michel Draguet
Brussels and New Haven, CT: Mercatorfonds in association with Yale University Press, 2020. 304 pp.; 210 color ills. Cloth $60.00 (9780300246506)
The work of Fernand Khnopff as one of Belgium’s foremost symbolist artists is increasingly attracting scholarly attention. It is no coincidence that in the past few years interesting exhibitions have been dedicated to Belgian symbolism and Fernand Khnopff, such as Dekadenz und Dunkle Träume: Der belgische Symbolismus at the Alte Nationalgalerie in Berlin (2020–21) and Fernand Khnopff: Le maître de l’énigme (1858–1921) at the Petit Palais in Paris (2018–19). One of the directors of the latter exhibition was the Khnopff specialist Michel Draguet, author of several journal articles on Belgian art that are also of particular interest for Khnopff, as… Full Review
September 14, 2021
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Aston Gonzalez
John Hope Franklin Series in African American History and Culture. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2020. 324 pp.; 36 b/w ills. Paper $29.95 (9781469659961)
In nineteenth-century America, images were powerful tools in the battle to confront slavery and racial oppression. Aston Gonzalez’s Visualizing Equality: African American Rights and Visual Culture in the Nineteenth Century explores how Black artists fashioned radical new imagery that engaged Americans in discussions concerning the politics of race and citizenship. Visualizing Equality focuses on Robert Douglass Jr., Patrick Henry Reason, Augustus Washington, and James Presley Ball, artist-activists who played a leading role in their respective communities, alongside William Wells Brown and Henry Box Brown, who brought real-life experiences of enslavement to their projects. Born free, Douglass, Reason, Washington, and Ball… Full Review
September 9, 2021
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Mamadou Diouf and Maureen Murphy, eds.
Dijon, France: Les presses du réel, 2020. 256 pp.; 55 ills. Paper €24.00 (9782378960988)
Déborder la négritude, despite its compact format, is a trove of rigorous scholarship and a pleasure to read, with striking visual representations of Dakar and its artistic milieu. Edited by Mamadou Diouf and Maureen Murphy, the book offers a series of reflections on the intertwining of art and politics in relation to négritude and the enduring impact of President Léopold Sédar Senghor (1906–2001). As a poet, philosopher, and statesman, Senghor made his mark in Senegal and abroad through his intellectual prowess and political agenda, two distinct legacies that became deeply intertwined over the course of his multifaceted career. In… Full Review
September 7, 2021
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Joe Houston, Frances Follin, Michael J. Anderson, Rosie May, Roja Najafi, Beau R. Ott, and Catherine Shotick
Exh. cat. Oklahoma City: Oklahoma City Museum of Art, 2021. 132 pp. Paper $25.99 (9780911919189)
Oklahoma City Museum of Art, February 20–May 16, 2021
Focusing on art forms often seen as mechanical and austere, the exhibition Moving Vision: Op and Kinetic Art from the Sixties and Seventies at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art (OKCMOA) offered a surprisingly humanistic and sensual take on those two closely related movements. The time is ripe for reevaluation of Op and Kinetic art, which were frequently dismissed by critics of their day due to the perception of the art’s easy consumption, coziness with industry and popular culture, and superficiality (one critic derided Op art as “empty spectacle,” for example). The OKCMOA exhibition countered that assessment by… Full Review
September 3, 2021
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Anna Russakoff
Text Image Context: Studies in Medieval Manuscript Illumination 7. Toronto and Turnhout, Belgium: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies in association with Brepols, 2019. 212 pp.; 94 ills. Cloth $95.00 (9780888442154)
Within the cult of the Virgin Mary, representations of the Virgin and her miracles in medieval sculpture and painting highlight and reinforce her intercessory powers for devotees. Anna Russakoff’s book Imagining the Miraculous adds to studies of Marian iconography through a focus not on the miraculous objects themselves, but rather on the representations of miraculous images in manuscript illuminations. The illuminations studied are found in thirteenth- to fifteenth-century vernacular French manuscripts containing Marian miracles, including Gautier de Coinci’s Miracles de Nostre Dame, the anonymous Vie de Pères, Jean de Vignay’s Miroir historial, the anonymous Ci nous dit, … Full Review
September 1, 2021
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Sarah R. Cohen
Material Culture of Art and Design. New York: Bloomsbury Visual Arts, 2021. 264 pp.; 10 color ills.; 83 b/w ills. Cloth $115.00 (9781350203587)
In the late 1750s a Parisian publisher brought out a luxury edition of Jean de La Fontaine’s fables, with engravings based on drawings by the great animal painter Jean-Baptiste Oudry. Oudry’s design for the fable “The Lion Beaten by the Man” shows a lion in conversation with a group of astonished men in turbans in front of an unstretched canvas hung from a tree depicting a human wrestling a lion into submission. In the accompanying text, the “real” lion remarks that the painter has deceived his human patrons: “We would have in truth prevailed / if my colleagues knew how… Full Review
August 30, 2021
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Claudia Swan
Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2021. 336 pp.; 140 color ills. Cloth $65.00 (9780691207964)
“Europe is literally the creation of the Third World. The wealth which smothers her is that which was stolen from the underdeveloped peoples.” This is of course Frantz Fanon’s famous (and perhaps overquoted, but here I am repeating that sin anyway) diagnosis from The Wretched of the Earth (English translation from Grove Press, 1963, 102). A few sentences earlier Fanon names “Latin America, China, and Africa” as key sites from which “Europe has stuffed herself inordinately with the gold and raw materials of the colonial countries.” Two years later, parallel formational geopolitics were explored in the first two books of… Full Review
August 27, 2021
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Rebecca Zorach
Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2019. 416 pp.; 124 color ills.; 1 b/w ills. Paper $29.95 (9781478001409)
With Art for People’s Sake: Artists and Community in Black Chicago, 1965–1975, Rebecca Zorach makes a valuable intervention in art historical discourse. Zorach emphasizes the importance of the Black Arts Movement for better understanding artistic engagement with site-specificity, social practice, and performance art. A central theme of the book—efforts to produce modes and spaces for Black culture to thrive—is introduced through the groundbreaking career of artist-organizer Margaret Burroughs, a formidable artist, author, poet, and educator who cofounded the South Side Community Art Center (SSCAC) and the DuSable Museum of African American History. The book then details later Black… Full Review
August 26, 2021
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