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

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Anne Derbes
Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2020. 384 pp.; 188 color ills. Cloth €150.00 (9782503579689)
The publication of Anne Derbes’s lavishly illustrated book on the baptistery of Padua is a welcome and timely contribution, both for this building and the city. Recently inserted in the UNESCO World Heritage List (Padova Urbs Picta) because of its late fourteenth-century frescoes by Giusto de’Menabuoi (1320–1391), the baptistery is now free of scaffolding following the two-year restoration of its wall paintings and altarpiece. Fina Buzzacarini’s tomb canopy has also been restored, allowing us to distinguish between carved elements that were subsequently painted and painting that mimicks carving. Indeed an observer from the ground can see that only… Full Review
January 14, 2022
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Irina Aristarkhova
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2020. 248 pp.; 11 color ills.; 46 b/w ills. Paper $30.00 (9781517908973)
Arrested Welcome is a thematically organized set of case studies on the strategies of hospitality in contemporary artists’ projects. Aristarkhova defines “hospitality” as “the practice of welcoming others” (xv), with collective potential extending from individual encounters. According to Aristarkhova, acts and forms of hospitality are used by artists “to bring back its original promise of a democratic, indiscriminate, unconditional welcome” (65). At the same time, Aristarkhova is clear about the problems with extrapolating social change from individual artistic practices. She notes that “individual welcoming acts do not solve big structural problems” (xviii), remarks that “it is problematic to act out… Full Review
January 12, 2022
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M. Elizabeth Boone
University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 2020. 272 pp.; 20 color ills.; 80 b/w ills. Cloth $99.95 (9780271083315)
In the past decade more scholars have abandoned an understanding of history based on contemporary political borders to embrace an understanding centering on the historical entanglement of empires. Such entanglement has resulted in our present power relations among nations in the Americas. Art historian M. Elizabeth Boone’s “The Spanish Element in Our Nationality” is an example of this shift in historical approaches, which complements work by scholars such as April Lee Hatfield, Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra, Katherine Manthorne, and Maggie M. Cao. More significantly, with its emphasis on the history of world’s fairs, this book creates a narrative where technology, art, science… Full Review
January 6, 2022
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Robin Schuldenfrei
Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2018. 336 pp.; 74 color ills.; 126 b/w ills. Cloth $65.00 (9780691175126)
In a reappraisal of German modernism, Robin Schuldenfrei’s Luxury and Modernism: Architecture and the Object in Germany 1900–1933 highlights issues of taste, class, and luxury in modern German design and interiors, ultimately underscoring a necessary distinction between objects actually suited to mass production and handcrafted objects made with a modern, mass-produced aesthetic. Schuldenfrei examines the tensions of the Bauhaus, which was founded on progressive principles but ultimately fell short of producing financially accessible products, instead reaching an elite class of consumers. The book’s introduction considers the retouching of a seemingly prosaic photograph taken by Lucia Moholy for the 1930 book… Full Review
January 4, 2022
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Diana Seave Greenwald
Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2021. 256 pp.; 55 color ills.; 9 b/w ills. Cloth $42.00 (9780691192451)
Diana Greenwald is trained as both an art historian and an economist, and in Painting by Numbers: Data-Driven Histories of Nineteenth-Century Art, she aims to bring the methods and explanatory force of both disciplines together in the analysis of nineteenth-century art. As suggested by the subtitle, the book is driven primarily by a methodological call to the field. In this, it is analogous to Matthew Jockers’s Macroanalysis: Digital Methods and Literary History (University of Illinois Press, 2017), which challenged literary scholars to use computational methods to enlarge the scale of literary history from the micro to the macro, moving… Full Review
December 21, 2021
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Chiyo Ishikawa
Exh. cat. Seattle: Seattle Art Museum, 2021. 80 pp. Cloth $19.95 (9780932216779)
Seattle Art Museum, July 1–October 17, 2021
For my first museum visit in the pandemic, I was looking forward to spending an afternoon with this focused exhibition. The work was sparsely hung with the requisite six-foot distance of our current era in mind, giving the viewer a considerable amount of space, although making the paintings themselves appear small on the large and imposing walls. This show was organized around a single painting, the only one by Claude Monet (1840–1926) in the collection of the Seattle Art Museum (SAM): namely, Fishing Boats at Étretat (1885). The exhibition was curated by Chiyo Ishikawa, the museum’s former deputy… Full Review
December 14, 2021
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Matthias Mühling and Stephanie Weber, eds.
Exh. cat. Munich: Hirmer, 2021. 336 pp.; 245 color ills. Cloth $45.00 (9783777433684)
Lenbachhaus, Munich, September 17, 2019–January 19, 2020; Museu de Arte de São Paulo, October 13–November 15, 2020; Denver Art Museum, December 13, 2020–April 11, 2021; Philadelphia Museum of Art, May 2–July 25, 2021
The year preceding Spring 2021, spent away from museums and most other social spaces, forced a collective recognition of our basic, fallible corporeality, of our relational occupation of space, and of our globally intertwined fates. Our spatial-social sensitivities had perhaps never before been so finely tuned, primed to appreciate the oeuvre of Senga Nengudi, who has engaged with such concerns since the beginning of her career in the late 1960s and early 1970s. At the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA), the recent exhibition of the artist’s work and its accompanying book, both titled Senga Nengudi: Topologies, offer an… Full Review
December 9, 2021
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Alison J. Clarke
Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2021. 360 pp.; 78 color ills. Cloth $40.00 (9780262044943)
In a moment of climate catastrophe and political crises, Alison Clarke’s Victor Papanek: Designer for the Real World joins other recent publications in demonstrating renewed interest in the design educator’s manifesto for socially and ecologically responsible design. With the benefit of a half-century’s distance from the 1971 English-language publication of Papanek’s influential Design for the Real World, Clarke covers an impressive amount of territory to show how the landmark book was not the straightforward product of a single designer’s motivated conscience, but rather was built atop a complex mesh of Cold War cultural politics, institutional structures, and the rocky… Full Review
December 7, 2021
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Diana Rodríguez Pérez, ed.
London: Routledge, 2020. 306 pp. Paper $48.95 (9780367595081)
A critical study of the contexts of artifacts requires a solid awareness of the methodologies available to investigate a wider network of relationships, as the Italian art historian Giovanni Previtali showed (G. Previtali, “Alcune opere ‘fuori contesto’: Il caso di Marco Romano,” Bollettino d’arte, 6th ser., 22, 1983, 43–68). This need is even more relevant today as researchers can now use a wider range of techniques to work on contexts, such as the many possible forms of archaeometric analysis, which require a firm methodological command by scholars in the humanities.  Important reflections on working on contexts with reference to… Full Review
December 2, 2021
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Bryan C. Keene and Karl Whittington, eds.
Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2020. 320 pp.; 200 color ills. Cloth €115.00 (9782503586182)
This volume of papers from the Andrew Ladis Trecento Conference held in 2018 attempts to relocate the study of Italian art, 1300–1400, a field historically dominated by attribution and connoisseurship, into new art historical methodologies and critical methods. The editors identify some of these as the study of gender, reception of art by diverse audiences, and interrelationships between artistic imagery, sermons, and vernacular texts; they also discuss the exploration of abstract concepts like time or knowledge, theoretical approaches to pictorial space, and a shift in scholarly attention to the later trecento. For this reviewer, the most innovative papers address the… Full Review
November 30, 2021
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