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

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Anthea Callen
London: Reaktion, 2015. 336 pp.; 143 color ills.; 56 b/w ills. Cloth $50.00 (9781780233550)
Anthea Callen, a foremost expert on the materials of French painting, makes one of her core arguments at the end of this important book: “Painting is a craft and a science as well as an art” (266). In addition to craft and science, the book’s emphasis falls—emphatically—upon art as labor (the work of art), and it therefore closely examines the character and connotations of the visible painted mark. She views it as the index of an artist’s working methods and tools, but also the... Full Review
October 26, 2016
Mara Ambrožič and Simon Njami, eds.
Exh. cat. Berlin, Frankfurt, and Washington, DC: Kerber in association with Museum für Moderne Kunst and National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, 2015. 376 pp.; 212 color ills. Cloth $85.00 (9783866789319)
Exhibition schedule: Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt, March 21–July 27, 2014; Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah, October 16, 2004–January 25, 2015; National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, April 8–November 1, 2015
Simon Njami remains a consistent voice in defining and elucidating twenty-first-century art created by African artists. The exhibitions he curates provide insights espoused by art practitioners of African descent with new interpretive criteria. Njami furthers this aim in his latest collaboration with Mara Ambrožič: The Divine Comedy: Heaven, Purgatory and Hell Revisited by Contemporary African Artists. This mammoth project is composed of three exhibitions, each dedicated to a realm of... Full Review
October 21, 2016
Erin E. Benay and Lisa M. Rafanelli
Visual Culture in Early Modernity. Burlington: Ashgate, 2015. 304 pp.; 6 color ills.; 58 b/w ills. Cloth $107.96 (9781472444738)
At first, the Noli me tangere and Doubting Thomas episodes may appear to be a rather curious pairing as the subject of a book. These two religious narratives are often represented separately and usually have been discussed as distinct topics throughout much of the history of Western art. They are not typically thought of as forming a unit. However, as co-authors Erin E. Benay and Lisa M. Rafanelli reveal, these two events are related. Central to both stories is the resurrected body of... Full Review
October 20, 2016
Jaś Elsner and Michel Meyer, eds.
New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014. 524 pp.; 129 b/w ills. Cloth $115.00 (9781107000711)
Art and Rhetoric in Roman Culture, edited by Jaś Elsner and Michel Meyer, makes a case for a prescriptive approach to the understanding of Roman visual culture. This prescription is outlined in Meyer’s preface and Elsner’s introduction. Both propose the model of Aristotle’s tripartite division of rhetoric into speaker (ethos), audience (pathos), and speech (logos) as the framework for the analysis of visual material. The preface defines the distinctive qualities of... Full Review
October 14, 2016
Peter Fux, ed.
Exh. cat. Zurich: Scheidegger and Spiess, 2013. 408 pp.; 334 color ills.; 46 b/w ills. Cloth $80.00 (9783858817310)
Exhibition schedule: Museum Rietberg, Zurich, November 23, 2012–March 10, 2013
The volume Chavín: Peru’s Enigmatic Temple in the Andes is a thoroughly researched scholarly complement to the blockbuster exhibition of the same name, held at the Museum Rietberg, Zürich, between November 23, 2012, and March 10, 2013. Edited by Peter Fux, the catalogue presents the work of a group of scholars who seek to reanalyze, reevaluate, and reconstruct the role of Chavín de Huántar in Andean scholarship. Rather than merely summarizing previous research, the articles present new... Full Review
October 13, 2016
Stacey Sell and Hugo Chapman, eds.
Exh. cat. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, in association with Princeton University Press, 2015. 320 pp.; 212 color ills. Cloth $49.95 (9780691166124)
Exhibition schedule: National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, May 3–July 26, 2015; British Museum, September 10–December 6, 2015
Six chapters of this conveniently quarto-sized catalogue examine the history of metalpoint’s use by artists in Italy, the Low Countries, Germany and Switzerland, nineteenth-century Britain, and more recently by U.S. artists as well as Otto Dix, Avigdor Arikha, and Shirazeh Houshiary, whose Shroud (2000; unillustrated) is mistakenly placed in Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery rather than the Tate (237). For those of us who have asserted glibly that metalpoint went out with tempera... Full Review
October 6, 2016
Krista A. Thompson
Durham: Duke University Press, 2015. 368 pp.; 143 color ills. Paperback $26.95 (9780822358077)
What is bling, if not more tightly focused shine? The Oxford English Dictionary defines bling (sometimes reduplicated as bling-bling) as both a material referent and multivalent signified: “A. n. (A piece of) ostentatious jewelry. Hence: wealth; conspicuous consumption. B. adj. Ostentatious, flashy; designating flamboyant jewelry or dress. Also: that glorifies conspicuous consumption; materialistic.” According to the rapper B.G., one of the coiners of term at the end of the last... Full Review
September 30, 2016
Arni Brownstone, ed.
Exh. cat. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press in association with Royal Ontario Museum, 2015. 216 pp.; 98 color ills. Paper $29.95 (9780806146300)
Lienzos are large painted cloths produced after the Spanish invasion of Mexico that relate the territory, historical deeds, and protagonists of local cacicazgos (city-states) throughout central and southern Mexico. Following the style and conventions of Mesoamerican pictography, such as the more famous Mixtec screenfolds, they greatly outnumber their surviving pre-Hispanic counterparts and offer an indigenous view of the changes that occurred in Mesoamerica in the wake of the... Full Review
September 29, 2016
Eik Kahng, ed.
Exh. cat. Santa Barbara: Santa Barbara Museum of Art in association with Yale University Press, 2013. 168 pp.; 130 color ills. Cloth $35.00 (9780300199444)
Exhibition schedule: Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara, October 27, 2013–January 26, 2014; Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, February 23–May 18, 2014
In 1998, French museums celebrated the bicentennial of the birth of Eugène Delacroix by staging a diverse, exciting series of exhibitions of his work. One of the smallest shows centered on a single painting, the monumental Battle of Taillebourg, made for the Galeries historique de Versailles in 1837 and now housed in the museum at the Château de Versailles, which hosted the exhibition. Accompanied by a modest but excellent catalogue, the show examined the painting and its preparatory... Full Review
September 29, 2016
Gennifer Weisenfeld
An Ahmanson-Murphy Fine Arts Book. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012. 400 pp.; 104 color ills.; 94 b/w ills. Cloth $65.00 (9780520271951)
The Great Tokyo Earthquake of 1923 was a defining moment in modern Japan’s history. The tremors and aftershocks caused significant damage, but even more destructive were the out-of-control fires that raged across the cityscape in the aftermath. Over forty-five percent of Tokyo and ninety percent of Yokohama were razed, with over ninety-one thousand people killed, thirteen thousand missing, and fifty-two thousand injured. While there were heartening episodes of self-sacrifice, other stories... Full Review
September 28, 2016