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

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John Giblin and Chris Spring
New York: Thames & Hudson, 2016. 256 pp.; 100 color ills. Hardcover $55.00 (9780500292839)
British Museum, London, October 27, 2016–February 26, 2017
South Africa: The Art of a Nation threads together a narrative of breathtaking chronological scope, beginning with the Makapangsgat Pebble, the earliest evidence—three million years old—of a hominid choosing to keep an object for aesthetic reasons, and ending with contemporary art that uses both local and global artistic idioms to grapple with the aftermath of apartheid. The catalogue of the British Museum’s 2016–17 exhibition of the same name, South Africa represents a... Full Review
April 9, 2018
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Neil Harris
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013. 616 pp.; 43 b/w ills. Cloth $35.00 (9780226067704)
Near the end of Capital Culture: J. Carter Brown, the National Gallery of Art, and the Reinvention of the Museum Experience, Neil Harris concedes that “[i]nstitutions are much more than the sums of their staff and supporters. They change over time, effacing the impact and even the memory of their earlier leadership” (508). Nevertheless, he argues that the impact of an exceptional director can be profound. Such was the case with J. Carter Brown and the National Gallery of Art in... Full Review
April 9, 2018
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Ali Behdad
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016. 224 pp.; 4 color ills.; 80 b/w ills. Paperback $30.00 (9780226356402)
In his new book, Camera Orientalis: Reflections on Photography of the Middle East, Ali Behdad connects Orientalist theory, photographic history, and the politics of the Middle East. This disciplinary confluence positions photographs in a cross-cultural dynamic where they “play a performative function in producing certain cultural and political meanings” (13). Camera Orientalis arrives on the heels of critical contributions from the fields of history, the history of art and... Full Review
April 6, 2018
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Edward J. Sullivan
Exh. cat. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014. 208 pp.; 81 color ills.; 18 b/w ills. Cloth $60.00 (9780300203202)
Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, June 14‒September 6, 2015. Brooklyn Museum, New York, October 2, 2015‒January 3, 2016. Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico, San Juan, January 29‒April 24, 2016
Edward Sullivan’s book-length disquisition on Francisco Oller is an engaging narrative that traverses a wide historical range, from the personal to the national to the transnational and to artworks and their histories. Oller, whom Sullivan describes as the most prominent Caribbean artist of the nineteenth century, lived and painted during a period of intense social and political transformation. Born in 1833 in Puerto Rico to a father who had migrated there from Spain, Oller... Full Review
April 6, 2018
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Kellie Jones
Durham: Duke University Press, 2017. 416 pp.; 32 color ills.; 93 ills. Paperback $29.95 (9780822361640)
Kellie Jones’s South of Pico: African American Artists in Los Angeles in the 1960s and 1970s illuminates a blind spot in existing histories of contemporary art in Los Angeles. Those who know Los Angeles know that the area “south of Pico”—dominated by the north-south arteries of Central and Crenshaw avenues, which connect the neighborhoods of Watts, Compton, Leimert Park, and Baldwin Hills—has historically been the center of black life in the city. As Jones writes,... Full Review
April 5, 2018
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Zainab Bahrani
New York: Thames & Hudson, 2016. 376 pp.; 414 ills. Paper $87.50 (9780500292754)
When teaching a course on the art of Mesopotamia, perhaps the greatest challenge has been the absence of a current textbook on the subject. As Zainab Bahrani notes in her introduction, “since the mid-twentieth century, books on Mesopotamian art have fallen out of favor” (8). This lack may be explained by the opinion of some scholars that the ancient Near East produced no art at all, on the assumption that the category of “art” excludes objects created for other purposes. The standard text... Full Review
April 4, 2018
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Yve-Alain Bois
Paris: Cahiers d'Art, 2015. 383 pp.; 450 color ills.; 483 b/w ills. Cloth $395.00 (9782851171900)
In late December 2015, American abstract master Ellsworth Kelly passed away at the age of 92. A month and a half before his death, Kelly had said to The Guardian that he “want[ed] to live another 15 years.” This zest for life came from his unwavering commitment to art making. In a career that spanned almost seven decades, Kelly produced over 1150 paintings, reliefs, sculptures, and large-scale commissions—works of bold shape and color that reveal his distinctive approach to... Full Review
April 4, 2018
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Gregory Battcock
Ed. Joseph Grigely. Cologne, Germany: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther Konig, 2016. 224 pp.; 38 color ills. Paperback $28.00 (9783863359331)
In the present cultural moment, the unearthing of previously obscure queer heroes is a much-needed balm to the rightward swing of the political pendulum. When asked to write this review, I admittedly came seeking some of that particular brand of soothing. I approached Joseph Grigely’s edited volume Oceans of Love: The Uncontainable Gregory Battcock as a curiosity of those heady days of queer New York, before the pall of the plague years descended upon us all. My experience of... Full Review
April 3, 2018
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Charmaine A. Nelson
New York: Routledge, 2016. 416 pp.; 16 color ills.; 26 b/w ills. Hardcover $128.00 (9781409468912)
In the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts appears a portrait of an Afro-Caribbean woman bearing a platter of tropical fruit and seated in front of a mountainous landscape. She is likely Marie-Thérèse Zémire, enslaved in Haiti and then in Montreal by the Québec-born François Malépart de Beaucourt. Beaucourt, an artist by trade, painted Zémire in 1786. The painting was originally titled Portrait of a Negro Slave and was renamed Portrait of a Haitian Woman by museum curators in the... Full Review
April 3, 2018
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Shantrelle P. Lewis
Exh. cat. New York: Aperture, 2017. 144 pp.; 4 color ills.; 140 b/w ills. Hardcover $35.00 (9781597113892)
Brighton Photo Biennial, United Kingdom, October 1–31, 2016; Lowe Museum of Art, Miami, February 23–May 21, 2017
In February 2015, music artist Jidenna released the video to his first single, “Classic Man.” Directed by Alan Ferguson, the video opens with Jidenna getting dressed: he tightens his tie up to his club collar, fastens his cuff links, and steps into his cap-toe oxfords. In a subsequent scene, he walks the streets of Brooklyn surrounded by a group of well-dressed black men in suits. When he spots two young men being handcuffed by two police officers, he intervenes. We don’t know... Full Review
April 2, 2018
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