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

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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
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
Anne Monahan
New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2020. 264 pp.; 96 color ills.; 25 b/w ills. Cloth $50.00 (9780300243307)
Conceptions of race have limited the trajectory of American art history since its inception in the early nineteenth century. Anne Monahan reckons with this condition in Horace Pippin, American Modern, building her arguments alongside a systematic dismantling of the scaffolding of racist ideology that has supported many misunderstandings of the painter Horace Pippin (1888–1946). Her groundbreaking book helps to deracinate a powerful “art-historical caste system” that has consistently mistreated autodidacts, particularly those of color (2). Horace Pippin shines in the midst of an overdue racial reckoning in the United States, to which it makes a substantial scholarly contribution. Pivotal… Full Review
March 16, 2021
Natilee Harren
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2020. 304 pp.; 12 color ills.; 70 b/w ills. Cloth $50.00 (9780226354927)
“We had thought, too, about the tireless activity of the Fluxus group—but how could we have shown an infinite overproduction without instantly betraying and limiting it?” Such is Yve-Alain Bois’s explanation for excluding Fluxus from Formless, the exhibition and “user’s guide” he coorganized and cowrote with Rosalind E. Krauss (Zone Books, 1997, 24). Taking inspiration from Georges Bataille’s short, evocative dictionary entry on l’informe in the Surrealist journal Documents, the duo set out to “redeal modernism’s cards” (Bois and Krauss, 21). L’informe, they explained, denoted a leveling operation that could corrupt Clement Greenberg’s formalism without succumbing to… Full Review
March 11, 2021
Pauline Rose
Liverpool, UK: Liverpool University Press, 2020. 336 pp.; 20 color ills.; 101 b/w ills. Cloth $59.95 (9781789621563)
Working against the Grain: Women Sculptors in Britain c.1885–1950 comes at a timely moment in British art and sculpture studies. In addition to Arts Council Collection’s forthcoming touring exhibition Breaking the Mould: Sculpture by Women since 1945, the Royal Society of Sculptors is exploring the histories and practices of its women members through the research project “Pioneering Women.” Pauline Rose’s monograph was itself prompted by the 2011 online sculpture database Mapping the Practice and Profession of Sculpture in Britain and Ireland 1851–1951, the first in-depth study of sculptors and those in related trades active in Britain during the… Full Review
March 9, 2021
Trevor Stark
Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2020. 440 pp.; 10 color ills.; 60 b/w ills. Cloth $55.00 (9780262043717)
At the opening of Trevor Stark’s new book is a faded photograph by Paul Nadar of the poet Stéphane Mallarmé in 1895. Seated at a writing desk, with a shawl around his shoulders, he meets our gaze with an inscrutable expression. His pen is laden with ink from the bottle before him, but it hovers in the writer’s hand somewhere above the empty white page. It is an apt image to lead us into Total Expansion of the Letter: Avant-Garde Art and Language after Mallarmé, a rich and absorbing exploration of the stakes for radical art and language in… Full Review
March 4, 2021
Izumi Nakajima
Tokyo: Brücke, 2019. 362 pp.; 152 b/w ills. Cloth ¥3800.00 (9784434264696)
In this groundbreaking book, Izumi Nakajima defines “anti-action” as Japanese women artists’ counterapproach to “action” painting by male artists, emphasizing their creation in the 1950s and 1960s. The volume is not just about how gender shaped women’s artistic practice in the period, however; as indicated by its subtitle, another subject is postwar Japanese art itself. Nakajima aims to reinterpret the field as a whole by examining how gender colored contemporaneous art criticism and the subsequent narrative on the subject (by targeting discursive practices in Japan). This book is an ambitious undertaking—practically the first of its kind—as there have been few… Full Review
March 2, 2021
Gregory Zinman
Oakland: University of California Press, 2020. 392 pp.; 100 color ills. Paper $45.00 (9780520302730)
Halfway through Making Images Move: Handmade Cinema and the Other Arts, Gregory Zinman offers an engaging discussion of Thomas Wilfred’s Clavilux, a visual apparatus that premiered on January 10, 1922, at New York City’s Neighborhood Playhouse. The Clavilux projected abstract compositions of colored light through a keyboard that controlled an ingenious mechanical ballet of color filters and lenses. This sculpting of light signaled the beginning of what Wilfred described as the “eighth art of electric light.” Following a rhetoric of mediatic obsolescence, Wilfred argued that what he termed Lumia, a strictly visual and silent art form, had superseded… Full Review
February 25, 2021
Megan Brandow-Faller
University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 2020. 304 pp.; 27 color ills.; 60 b/w ills. Cloth $99.95 (9780271085043)
In 1910, Vienna’s recently founded Vereinigung bildender Künstlerinnen Österreichs opened its inaugural exhibition, aptly titled Die Kunst der Frau (The art of women; November 5, 1910–January 8, 1911). Erica Tietze-Conrat (1883–1958), Austria’s first woman with a PhD in art history, observed that this showcase of women’s art across the ages failed to advance contemporary women’s cause because it created a separate category of “feminine art” (weibliche Kunst) that was still measured against “masculine art” (männliche Kunst; “Die Kunst der Frau,” Zeitschrift für bildende Kunst 46, no. 22, 1911: 146). To a certain extent, this conundrum lies… Full Review
February 23, 2021