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

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David Leatherbarrow
Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1999. 335 pp.; 87 b/w ills. Cloth $37.95 (0262122308)
Since the mid-1960s, art and design critics, theorists, and practitioners have wholeheartedly embraced issues of site and context as part of the creative process. When Jack Burnham published "Systems Esthetic" in the September 1968 issue of Artforum, he identified a body of work that could not be described or evaluated according to narrowly construed modern-art criteria that valued an autonomous, bounded object. The site-specific works, happenings, and process pieces that Burnham noted... Full Review
August 14, 2001
Michael Shapiro and Brett Miller
Berkeley: American Association of Museums, 1999. 120 pp.; 99 color ills.; 22 b/w ills. Paper $24.95 (0931201632)
At the stroke of midnight, December 31, 1977, valuable collections vanished suddenly and probably forever from museums all over the United States. The dollar value of the loss has never, to my knowledge, been assessed. Yet, it certainly ranked in the many millions. Surprisingly, museum officials at first took little notice of their loss. They filed no police reports, made no insurance claims. In the days and weeks that followed, there were no mass protests against the vast conspiracy,... Full Review
August 14, 2001
Kumiko Maekawa
Bern: Peter Lang, 1999. 349 pp. Cloth $52.95 (0820435813)
A book with the title Narrative and Experience: Innovations in Thirteenth-Century Picture Books seems to promise insights into how stories function and work upon readers; or perhaps, how narratives come to be significant within cultures. Alternately, such a study might immerse its readers in the intricacies of the working of a few particularly intriguing stories. Unfortunately, in terms of these sorts of expectations, Kumiko Maekawa's book delivers only disappointment. Nonetheless,... Full Review
August 13, 2001
Anne D. Hedeman
Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2001. 123 pp.; 8 color ills.; 39 b/w ills. Cloth $49.95 (0252026144)
Anne D. Hedeman's Of Counselors and Kings offers a comprehensive investigation of the Dialogues of Pierre Salmon. Salmon was an advisor to the ill-starred French king Charles VI (r. 1380-1422), whose debilitating mental illness contributed to a series of profound crises during his reign. The manuscripts consist of a set of questions purportedly posed by the king to Salmon—first concerning political issues and then theological matters—followed by a collection of transcribed... Full Review
August 10, 2001
David Van Zanten
New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2000. 179 pp. Cloth $60.00 (0393730387)
A temptation with formal analysis is to detach the object of study from larger life, to concentrate on its properties that inhere in similar objects, and to restrict art's importance to art itself. Analysis of form is David Van Zanten's strength, but by narrowing his perspective, it leads to questionable conclusions. For example, the point where this stimulating book begins to unravel is when the authors claims that "Sullivan's Houses are as Important as His Banks," almost the title of... Full Review
August 10, 2001
Lev Manovich
Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2001. 354 pp. Cloth $34.95 (0262133741)
Given this book's title, it bears asking what comprises the new media? Lev Manovich enumerates them early on: "Web sites, virtual worlds, virtual reality (VR), multimedia, computer games, interactive installations, computer animation, digital video, cinema, and human-computer interfaces" (8-9). What, then, is the new media's "language"? By language, Manovich intends both the diverse conventions used by new-media practitioners to organize data and structure the user's experience, and... Full Review
August 3, 2001
William J. Diebold
Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1999. 160 pp.; 4 color ills.; 63 b/w ills. Cloth $40.00 (0813335779)
Good things come in small packages. Diebold's book should join the ranks of other petit books that have made a large contribution not only to their field of specialization but also to a wider audience. Word and Image: An Introduction to Early Medieval Art has found a place on my personal bookshelf alongside Arnold van Gennep's Les rites de passage (1909) and Peter Brown's The World of Late Antiquity (1971). Diebold offers a fine, lively text—free of inhibiting scholarly... Full Review
August 1, 2001
Janet Ward
Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001. 357 pp.; 63 b/w ills. Paper $19.95 (0520222997)
Janet Ward's Weimar Surfaces: Urban Visual Culture in 1920s Germany offers a rich, ambitious, and theoretically acute analysis of this subject and its legacy in our own time. In this book, Weimar visual culture emerges in its various guises—architectural, cinematic, and consumerist—to reveal the transition from the modern to the postmodern and the merging of high and low culture. These developments in turn prefigure our own current state of saturation with regard to the... Full Review
July 26, 2001
Bette Talvacchia
Princeton University Press, 1999. 320 pp.; 6 color ills.; 52 b/w ills. Cloth $35.00 (0691026327)
The series of erotic pictures known as I modi, or The Positions, from which this book takes its allusive title, acts as a catalyst for a study of the erotic in Renaissance culture that makes an unprecedented attempt to determine—in terms untainted by modern day squeamishness or purulent curiosity—the origins, proliferation, and circulation of erotic and obscene material in early sixteenth-century Italy. Bette Talvacchia’s painstaking reconstruction of the fluctuating... Full Review
July 25, 2001
Francis Haskell
New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999. 208 pp.; 60 b/w ills. Cloth $25.00 (0300085364)
As Francis Haskell reminds us in this meticulously researched book, the idea of a permanent collection of paintings is slowly becoming a thing of the past. The collecting, arranging, and display of art works in museums reflects an increasingly ephemeral experience determined by the needs of museums and galleries to prove their worth in a world of accountability. In a witty introduction, the author reminds us that as jets are ferrying their precious cargo to blockbuster exhibitions throughout... Full Review
July 18, 2001