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

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Darby English and Charlotte Barat, eds.
New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2019. 488 pp.; 403 ills. Cloth $65.00 (9781633450349)
Though published last fall, Among Others: Blackness at MoMA takes on strategic resonance in the current moment as individuals and institutions are called to rectify their approaches to race, representation, and decolonization. A product of Darby English’s six-year tenure as consulting curator at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), Among Others is a three-part publication that analyzes the museum’s tumultuous historical relationship with Black artists and Black audiences, its role in shaping the cultural politics of race, and the shortcomings of its collection, programs, and practices. As signaled by the title of the first essay, “Blackness at MoMA: A Legacy… Full Review
September 8, 2020
Katherine Guinness
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2019. 232 pp.; 44 b/w ills. Paper $30.00 (9781517905583)
Printed sideways, Katherine Guinness’s cover image for Schizogenesis: The Art of Rosemarie Trockel immediately evokes the hypnotic and disorienting effects of Trockel’s art. What appear to be wide-eyed conjoined twins, women with distinctly late-1980s tousled hairstyles, stare out of the image. With one hand stalwartly posed on each hip, they are enclosed within a single, double-headed black sweater. Guinness uses this emblematic work by Trockel, Untitled (Schizo-Pullover) (1988), as her central node. From this knotty intersection she begins to unravel and reknit the entwined narratives of the German artist’s prolific practice. Guinness’s decision to begin here is savvy. She opens… Full Review
September 3, 2020
Maureen G. Shanahan and Ana María Reyes, eds.
Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2017. 288 pp.; 16 color ills. Paper $35.00 (9780813054490)
How does a revolutionary figure, an individual who demands fundamental and radical change in political organization, become the symbol of political order? And what is the impact of rebellion and authority coming together in a single visage? These questions framed my own investigations of Emiliano Zapata, general of the Southern Forces of the Mexican Revolution (1910–19), whose image has multiple and often oppositional meanings. Zapata, the most wanted revolutionary figure in Mexican history—someone labeled a barbarian and bandit during his lifetime—has become a global symbol of Mexico. Similarly, according to Maureen G. Shanahan and Ana María Reyes, editors of this… Full Review
September 1, 2020
Jie Shi
Tang Center Series in Early China. New York: Columbia University Press, 2020. 368 pp.; 5 color ills.; 74 b/w ills. Cloth $60.00 (9780231191029)
It is generally assumed that a Chinese tomb was a private space of concealment, where the occupant would enjoy an idealized afterlife primarily concerned with personal welfare. In Modeling Peace: Royal Tombs and Political Ideology in Early China, however, Jie Shi presents the lavishly embellished royal tombs of the Western Han empire (206 BCE–8 CE) as public monuments that announced the ideological agendas of their elite owners. The book is structured around an in-depth case study of the renowned Mancheng tombs, where Liu Sheng (r. 154–113 BCE), the regent of the enfeoffed Zhongshan kingdom, and his wife, Dou… Full Review
August 28, 2020
FROM THE ARCHIVE: This summer, is revisiting reviews that relate to the social issues of the present, at a time when the field is taking them up in renewed ways. Delve into Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power, catalog for the monumental 2017–19 exhibition of the same name, with Adrienne L. Childs. Full Review
August 26, 2020
Michael Gaudio
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2019. 224 pp.; 16 color ills.; 67 b/w ills. Cloth $120.00 (9781517907396)
Struck by lightning at his Philadelphia house in 1745, Benjamin Franklin’s friend Gilbert Tennent penned a sermon on God’s “Majestick Voice in the Thunder,” a warning to those disputing divine power over the wicked and the good. “Who can stand before this Holy Lord God,” Tennent wrote, “when once his Anger begins to burn?” Franklin himself was experimenting with electricity nearby, wielding rods and bells, harnessing invisibilities in less prophetic but equally noisy ways. The alternate poles of “enchantment or enlightenment” (ix), as Michael Gaudio’s brilliant new book argues, tacking between sensory deception and revelation, colored both men’s understanding of… Full Review
August 13, 2020
FROM THE ARCHIVE: This summer, is revisiting reviews that relate to the social issues of the present, at a time when the field is taking them up in renewed ways. Today we travel to the Seattle Art Museum exhibition Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas in a review by Lacey Baradel. Full Review
August 12, 2020
Anne Lafont
Dijon, France: Les presses du réel, 2019. 476 pp.; 132 color ills.; 8 b/w ills. Paper €32.00 (9782378960162)
The polysemous nature of the concept of race in the eighteenth century meant that while the term’s employment was widespread, its meaning was hardly fixed. Regardless, what united its many different usages was a consensus that it was defined by visual traits, thus making the visual arts one of the most important disseminators and delineators of racial information. As Anne Lafont states in her impressively researched and comprehensive L’art et la race: Race is indeed anchored in the body regardless of the will of those who are its carriers. . . . Its absence of categorical fixity during the… Full Review
August 11, 2020
Elizabeth Otto and Patrick Rössler
New York: Herbert Press, 2019. 192 pp.; 200 ills. Cloth $40.00 (9781912217960)
Elizabeth Otto and Patrick Rössler’s Bauhaus Women: A Global Perspective tells the stories of forty-five female designers, artists, and architects who graduated from the renowned Bauhaus school of design, architecture, and applied arts. Each story offers an invigorating look at the artist’s process, exploring art and life as well as the confronting of self and society. The juxtaposition of these artists’ paradoxical dilemmas between individuality and cultural collectivity demonstrates that they deserve deeper understanding from us. They connect the Bauhaus to the wider world, as asserted by the authors—even though they do not clarify the specific ways such a connection… Full Review
August 6, 2020
FROM THE ARCHIVE: This summer, is revisiting reviews that relate to the social issues of the present, at a time when the field is taking them up in renewed ways. Today’s highlight is Otherwise: Imagining Queer Feminist Art Histories by Amelia Jones and Erin Silver, reviewed by Alison Syme. Full Review