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

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Penelope Curtis
New Haven and London: Yale University Press in association with The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, 2017. 324 pp.; 290 b/w ills. Hardcover $45.00 (9780300227222)
Sculpture Vertical, Horizontal, Closed, Open is based on the five lectures, collectively titled “Sculpture on the Threshold—An Enquiry into the Underlying Forms of Sculpture,” that Penelope Curtis delivered as the 2015 Paul Mellon Lectures at the National Gallery of Art in London. The framework of the lecture series, given biennially since 1994 by selected leading scholars of British art, accounts for the specific national focus of the book, though at times it seems incongruous for a project concerned with identifying something akin to a universal vocabulary of sculpture. Curtis justifies this exact issue in the preface, writing that beyond the… Full Review
January 22, 2019
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Wendy Kaplan and Staci Steinberger
Exh. cat. Munich: DelMonico Books-Prestel, 2017. 360 pp.; 243 color ills.; 104 b/w ills. Cloth $65.00 (9783791356709)
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, September 19, 2017–April 1, 2018
As the migration of people across national borders becomes an increasingly contentious issue, Found in Translation: Design in California and Mexico, 1915–1985 offers a history of the impact of one specific geographic migration of people and ideas back and forth across the Mexico-California border. This catalogue accompanies an exhibition that took place at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art from September 17, 2017, to April 1, 2018. The exhibition and catalogue were created to explore and complicate the history of design and architectural influence across the border and show the ways in which design and architecture in Mexico and… Full Review
January 22, 2019
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Brian D. Goldstein
Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017. 400 pp.; 42 b/w ills. Cloth $39.95 (9780674971509)
Angel David Nieves
Rochester: University of Rochester Press and Boydell & Brewer, 2018. 256 pp.; 36 b/w ills. Cloth $49.95 (9781580469098)
Architectural historians have reason to welcome The Roots of Urban Renaissance: Gentrification and the Struggle over Harlem and An Architecture of Education: African American Women Design the New South. Brian D. Goldstein, an architecture, urban, and planning historian, and Angel David Nieves, an architecture and urban historian with expertise in the digital humanities, tell important stories that enrich our understanding of architecture and planning in relationship to race, racism, gender, and grassroots social movements in the United States. The focus on the built environment in each case study, one of postwar Harlem and the other of the Jim Crow South… Full Review
January 16, 2019
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Jean-François Charnier
Skira, 2018. 128 pp.; 150 color ills. Paper $34.95 (9782370740748)
Jean-Luc Martinez and Juliette Trey
Exh. cat. Paris: Editions Xavier Barral, 2017. 381 pp.; 210 ills. Cloth €49.00 (9782365111546)
Louvre Abu Dhabi, with the Musée du Louvre and the Agence France-Museums, Abu Dhabi, UAE, December 21, 2017–April 7, 2018
In November 2017, the Louvre Abu Dhabi opened its magnificent buildings and dome, which reflect contemplatively on the conventional white-cube gallery and local architectural traditions. To this reviewer the building is eclipsed by the collection. The Louvre Abu Dhabi has acquired objects from 3000 BCE to 2016 with the accession of Ai Weiwei’s Fountain of Light. In addition, the Agence France-Muséums provides them, as part of a thirty-year agreement, management advice, object loans, and the use of the brand “Louvre” for $1.27 billion. They will host four temporary exhibitions a year from the thirteen partner museums in France. The… Full Review
January 14, 2019
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Linda Nochlin
New York: Thames & Hudson, 2018. 176 pp.; 128 b/w ills. Cloth $35.00 (9780500239698)
“I have made something graceful,” Gustave Courbet once said of his Young Ladies of the Village (127). When his painting of three elegantly dressed women charitably offering a piece of bread to a raggedy peasant girl appeared at the Salon of 1852, however, critics saw anything but grace. On the contrary, for Gustave Planche it manifested the artist’s “disdain for anything resembling beauty or formal elegance” (Revue des deux mondes, 670). Today, it is perhaps the work’s placid treatment of light, its constraint, and spatial distancing that strike us in the Metropolitan Museum of Art where it now… Full Review
January 11, 2019
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David O’Brien
University Park: Penn State University Press, 2018. 240 pp.; 53 color ills.; 45 b/w ills. Cloth $89.95 (9780271078595)
David O’Brien’s book is a timely addition to Delacroix literature at a significant moment when the great Romantic painter is once again in the limelight. A major retrospective exhibition—the first since 1963—of 180 of his works just opened at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, its only American venue, following the show’s display at the Louvre museum. A more intimate exhibition around Delacroix and the theme of “struggle” as exemplified in his Saint-Sulpice murals—their antecedents and their afterlife in modernist painting—ran parallel with the Louvre retrospective at the Musée National Eugène Delacroix in the painter’s atelier on the picturesque Place Fürstenberg… Full Review
January 10, 2019
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Peter Geimer
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2018. 288 pp.; 18 color ills.; 58 b/w ills. Cloth $55.00 (9780226471877)
Several years ago, an Egyptian fly who died in 1870 was belatedly elegized in the pages of a prominent cultural studies journal. This poor airborne creature had lost its way, navigating into the camera of Antonio Beato and careening into the sticky collodion that coated the photographer’s glass plate negative. The fly’s treacly end would secure its immortality, for when the image was printed, the carcass loomed monstrously large over the citadel that was Beato’s putative subject. Occupying the flat surface of the plate and of the print, the mummified fly makes a travesty of the perspectival construction of the… Full Review
January 9, 2019
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Peggy McCracken
University of Chicago Press, 2017. 240 pp.; 16 color ills. Cloth $45.00 (9780226458922)
Peggy McCracken’s new book is about power. Although the burgeoning field of human-animal studies has been dominated by literary historians like herself, McCracken’s approach is refreshingly interdisciplinary and opens the door to new ways in which scholars in other disciplines might enter this increasingly important discourse. In her introduction, McCracken’s thesis is crystal clear: “literary texts use human-animal encounters to explore the legitimacy of authority and dominion over others” (1). Her sources are wide ranging and include fables, bestiaries, romances, and the Bible. As the title suggests, actual animal skins function on multiple levels by forming (or concealing) identity and… Full Review
December 21, 2018
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Shari Tishman
London: Routledge, 2017. 156 pp.; 22 color ills.; 23 b/w ills. Paper $39.95 (9781138240414)
Shari Tishman’s Slow Looking: The Art and Practice of Learning Through Observation is a book that covers the whole field of education, beginning with children in primary school to adults visiting museums. Though I intend to discuss the entire scope of the book here, my primary concern is how its thesis applies to people, of any age, when they look at art in museums. My first thought when asked to review the book was that the concept of “slow looking” is appealing, but is it realistic? Our tendency for multitasking, fast looking, and immediate information saturates our lives today. Can… Full Review
December 19, 2018
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Caroline A. Jones
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017. 400 pp.; 37 color ills.; 128 b/w ills. Hardcover $65.00 (9780226291741)
What does it mean to say that an artwork is “global” or “contemporary”? Such claims, which are often both implicit and based on unreflective judgments, are nothing less than a condition of possibility for virtually any kind of discourse or practice related to contemporary art. Yet despite the ubiquity or even the necessity of “the global” and “the contemporary,” it is by no means clear how these terms function rhetorically; it isn’t even clear that they refer to determinate concepts or that they can be distinguished analytically. This intense ambiguity presents severe hazards for those who wish to operate critically… Full Review
December 11, 2018
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