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

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Roald Nasgaard and Gwendolyn Owens
Fredericton, New Brunswick and Kleinburg, Ontario: Goose Lane Editions and McMichael Canadian Art Collection, 2017. 204 pp.; 82 color ills.; 13 b/w ills. Hardcover $50.00 (9780864929655)
The aim of Higher States, as explained in the preface, is “to be a richly illustrated resource on the first half of [Lawren] Harris’s abstract painting career within a transnational context,” and the essays by Roald Nasgaard and Gwendolyn Owens describe “the social, intellectual, and aesthetic milieu in which Harris immersed himself, in both Canada and the United States, from the mid to late 1920s up to and about the end of World War II.” In “Harris’s Modernity: The Engineering... Full Review
June 14, 2019
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B. Alexandra Szerlip
Brooklyn: Melville House Books, 2017. 368 pp. Cloth $27.99 (9781612195629)
Nicolas P. Maffei
Cultural Histories of Design. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2018. 256 pp.; 150 b/w ills. Paperback £ 21.99 (9781474284615)
In the 1950s Norman Bel Geddes drafted his autobiography, I Designed My Life. His story covered the entirety of his vast career in one million words. Miracle in the Evening, the edited version published in 1960 two years following his death, focused solely on Bel Geddes’s theater work, simplifying his legacy to only one area of design. But in fact, there was hardly an area of design that Bel Geddes did not influence. As his point of view oscillated between futurist and... Full Review
June 10, 2019
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Henry Taylor, Zadie Smith, Sarah Elizabeth Lewis, Charles Gaines, and Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah
New York and Los Angeles: Rizzoli Electa and Blum & Poe, 2018. 320 pp.; 198 color ills. Cloth $65.00 (9780847863105)
Henry Taylor: The Only Portrait I Ever Painted of My Momma Was Stolen, the first monograph on Henry Taylor, offers a near-encyclopedic visual record of his work. It is filled with almost two hundred large, glossy, full-color plates that feature carefully photographed gallery installations among beautiful reproductions of the paintings for which Taylor is best known. Paging through this record, readers will find that Taylor’s decades of practice have yielded a distinct form of... Full Review
June 3, 2019
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Jennifer L. Shaw
London: Reaktion Books, 2017. 256 pp.; 100 color ills.; 80 b/w ills. Cloth £ 30.00 (9781780237282)
“I’m obsessed with the exception. I see it as bigger than nature. It’s all I see. The rule interests me only for its leftovers with which I make my swill. In this way, I deliberately downgrade myself. Too bad for me” (102). This quote from Claude Cahun, drawn from Cahun and Marcel Moore’s 1930 publication, Aveux non avenus (Disavowals), appears about three-quarters of the way through Jennifer L. Shaw’s Exist Otherwise: The Life and Works of Claude Cahun. However, its... Full Review
May 31, 2019
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Michael Marrinan
Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 2017. 400 pp.; 136 color ills.; 59 b/w ills. Hardcover $69.95 (9781606065075)
Gustave Caillebotte has long presented historians of nineteenth-century art with contradictions: here was a champion of and participant in the Impressionist movement who grew up with privilege and became, by dint of his father’s business acumen, a millionaire. Accounts of his artistic production (working from a scant archive) must always contend with how Caillebotte could produce paintings that look more naturalist than Impressionist and would seem to presage social critiques more common... Full Review
May 29, 2019
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Denise Murrell
Exh. cat. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2018. 224 pp.; 177 color ills. Cloth $ 50.00 (9780300229066)
Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery, Columbia University, New York, October 24, 2018–February 10, 2019; Musée d’Orsay, Paris, March 25–July 14, 2019
Scholars are continually engaged in reassessing evidence, and if they are diligent and perceptive enough they discover new ways of seeing our world. Such is the achievement of Denise Murrell’s 2013 dissertation, “Seeing Laure: Race and Modernity from Manet’s Olympia to Matisse, Bearden and Beyond,” written for the Department of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University under the supervision of Professor Anne Higonnet. Three of Murrell’s other committee members—Alexander... Full Review
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Gary Garrels, Jon-Ove Steihaug, and Sheena Wagstaff, eds.
Exh. cat. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2017. 256 pp.; 120 color ills. Hardcover $45.00 (9781588396235)
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, June 24–October 9, 2017; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, November 15, 2017–February 4, 2018; The Munch Museum, Oslo, May 12–September 9, 2018
“My art has been an act of confession.” So opens the preface to Gary Garrels, Jon-Ove Steihaug, and Sheena Wagstaff’s exhibition catalogue for Edvard Munch: Between the Clock and the Bed, which took place in San Francisco, New York, and Oslo from June 2017 to September 2018. Edvard Munch (1863–1944) made this comment toward the end of his life, which is significant since the paintings he produced in his later years formed the focus of the exhibition and its accompanying catalogue,... Full Review
May 23, 2019
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Shelley Drake Hawks
Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2017. 304 pp.; 96 color ills. Cloth $65.00 (9780295741956)
Shelley Drake Hawks’s The Art of Resistance: Painting by Candlelight in Mao’s China is a valuable contribution to Chinese art history and China studies that illuminates the plight of artists during the Cultural Revolution (1966­­–76). Hawks argues that in spite of overwhelming oppression, Chinese artists endured the Cultural Revolution by visualizing their feelings of disillusionment and dissent through art. The expression “painting by candlelight” (ix) refers to the unsanctioned,... Full Review
May 22, 2019
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Kathryn Brown
London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2017. 392 pp.; 8 color ills.; 82 b/w ills. Cloth £ 110.00 (9781501326837)
From the end of World War I to his death in 1954, Henri Matisse engaged in a number of notable experiments with the livre d’artiste. Kathryn Brown’s expansive study aims to show how Matisse’s artistic production and his thinking on creativity developed through an ongoing dialogue with literary texts, bringing to the fore the important role played by book production within the artist’s overall output. Through multiple fascinating case studies, Brown explores a range of intersecting... Full Review
May 20, 2019
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William Schaefer
Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2017. 304 pp.; 8 color ills.; 38 b/w ills. Paperback $27.95 (9780822369196)
A picture of flickering bamboo leaves in a slick Shanghai magazine is carefully inscribed in Chinese characters as a “painting album” (huaben) and is impressed with an artist’s seal—not of a brush-and-ink painter, but of the photographer of the plant.A short story features a narrator who spots an earthen mound from a train window and imagines an Egyptian-style mummy of a royal concubine entombed within emerging to haunt the streets of Shanghai.A painting entitled... Full Review
May 17, 2019
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