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

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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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David B. Dearinger, ed.
University Press of New England, 1999. 305 pp.; 80 color ills.; 70 b/w ills. Paper $39.95 (1887149058)
National Academy of Design, New York, Sept. 20-Dec. 31, 2000; Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa, OK Jan. 31-April 1, 2001; Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianaoplis, IN, April 29-July 1, 2001.
In cities and towns across the United States, museums and galleries stage countless art exhibitions in the course of a season. Direct mailings and advertisements may lure us in, but it is often a critic who persuades us to go or stay home. Revered or reviled, art critics have an effect on our actions and opinions. And to whatever extent we agree or dispute with these critics, we read their reviews. Or do we? That question haunts Rave Reviews: American Art and Its Critics, 1826-1925,... Full Review
July 17, 2001
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Paul Corby Finney, ed.
Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999. 539 pp. $65.00 (080283860X)
With the collection of nineteen essays in Seeing Beyond the Word: Visual Arts and the Calvinist Tradition, Paul Corbey Finney promises to provide a revisionist account of the relationship between Calvinism and the visual arts by challenging the presumed, prevalent view that Calvinism had either no impact or a purely negative effect on the development of the visual arts. Rather than focus on acts of Reformed iconoclasm, Finney calls his readers to examine the positive contribution that... Full Review
July 17, 2001
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Giovanni Ciappelli and Patricia Lee Rubin, eds.
Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000. 316 pp.; some b/w ills. Cloth $90.00 (0521643007)
This is a valuable book for both historians and art historians concerned with Renaissance Florence. It boasts the intriguing topic, "Art, Memory, and Family," and contains scholarly essays from leading historians and art historians in their respective fields. As discussed by the art historian Patricia Lee Rubin in the book's preface, the essays originated in a symposium held at the National Gallery in London in 1996. Although some of the conference papers have since appeared elsewhere in... Full Review
July 16, 2001
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Amy Newman
New York: SOHO Press, 2000. 560 pp. Cloth $42.00 (1569472076)
The text that comprises Challenging Art: Artforum 1962–1974 is, to borrow from Roland Barthes (writing around the time Artforum became an established art-world institution), not “a line of words releasing a single ‘theological’ meaning,” but rather “a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centers of culture.”[1] Consisting of fragments of interviews woven together to produce a narrative that chronicles the first twelve years of Artforum’s publication,... Full Review
July 12, 2001
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