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

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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
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
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
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
Kristen Seaman
New York: Cambridge University Press, 2020. 206 pp.; 8 color ills.; 50 b/w ills. Cloth $99.99 (9781108490917)
“Why did some notable examples of Hellenistic Art look so different from previous Greek art? And why did some key elements of Hellenistic art and literature appear so similar?” (xi). Kristin Seaman’s work is built and developed around these essential questions of differences across time and similarities between media. By recognizing the central role of rhetorical education in Greek society, the author emphasizes the close association between innovative visual production and textual culture in the Hellenistic courts. Within this context, the practice of progymnasmata held a distinctive position. The composition and delivery of orations appears to have been incorporated into… Full Review
November 10, 2021
Sarah Thomas
London and New Haven: Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art in association with Yale University Press, 2019. 304 pp.; 168 ills. (9781913107055)
John Simpson’s The Captive Slave (1827, Art Institute of Chicago) graces the cover of Witnessing Slavery: Art and Travel in the Age of Abolition, a compelling book that examines eyewitness accounts of slavery largely produced by British artists during the seventy-year period between 1770 and 1840. Although a poignant and absorbing image, Simpson’s painting is one of the few works in the book that is not an eyewitness account, but instead a formal portrait of an anonymous slave said to have been modeled by Ira Aldridge, the first black actor to play Othello on the London stage. This paradox… Full Review
November 4, 2021
Hanneke Grootenboer
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2020. 240 pp.; 16 color ills.; 26 b/w ills. Cloth $35.00 (9780226717951)
Thinking is something we get to enjoy alone, and yet, as Hanneke Grootenboer shows in The Pensive Image: Art as a Form of Thinking, it is also collective. Grootenboer’s own thinking builds on foundations laid by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Martin Heidegger, Walter Benjamin, Roland Barthes, Gaston Bachelard, and Jacques Rancière, as well as by artists, from painters to filmmakers. More unruly and less policed than the discipline of philosophy proper, it belongs to that praxis we know as “theory.” For thinking along with art, Grootenboer demonstrates, discrete ideas, pensées, or Denkbilder, whose compactness already begins to… Full Review
October 20, 2021
J. P. Park, Burglind Jungmann, and Juhyung Rhi, eds.
Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell, 2020. 568 pp. Ebook $156.00 (9781118927007)
Twenty years after Jane Portal’s introductory survey Korea: Art and Archaeology (Thames and Hudson, 2000), this long-awaited edited volume offers a chance to review the historiography of Korean art history and to see the astonishing developments the field has made over the past number of years. In general, the volume covers cross-cultural connections that deemphasize ahistorical national narratives and illustrate the increasing depth of research on modern and contemporary art. Leading scholars in Korean art provide insightful essays with a preference for historical and social contexts over stylistic analysis. Donald L. Baker’s introduction provides an excellent historical overview. It is… Full Review
October 6, 2021
Emily Hage
New York: Bloomsbury Visual Arts, 2021. 256 pp.; 10 color ills.; 58 b/w ills. Cloth $115.00 (9781501342660)
Emily Hage’s well-written and lucidly argued book is a valuable contribution to the Dada scholarship. It is not the first study to emphasize the centrality of journals to the Dada movement—Dawn Ades’s pioneering exhibition catalog Dada and Surrealism Reviewed of 1978 did that, as did her Dada Reader, coedited with Hage in 2006. But whereas those volumes (along with the chapters devoted to Dada in The Oxford Critical and Cultural History of Modernist Magazines, vol. 3, 2013) function as surveys and as essential reference resources, Hage’s book offers something different. It provides an introduction, a cohesive narrative, and… Full Review
September 30, 2021
Joshua I. Cohen
Oakland: University of California Press, 2020. 304 pp.; 83 color ills.; 18 b/w ills. Cloth $65.00 (9780520309685)
I winced the first time I read the title of this book. The cause of my trepidation was the quotation marks that enshrined “Black Art.” As a Black queer woman artist who is invested in the representation of Otherness in visual art, the symbols were striking in their evocation because, for me, they immediately raised several questions related to authenticity, aesthetics, and identity. However, my reservations lessened as I read the introductory pages and recognized the exhaustive care and attention that the author devoted to understanding the role canonical African sculpture played in the rise of modernisms in the… Full Review
September 28, 2021