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

Browse Recent Book Reviews

Suzanne P. Hudson
Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009. 315 pp.; 112 color ills. Cloth $39.95 (9780262012805)
Robert Ryman’s paintings are indifferent to discourse. They require no insider knowledge or textual elaboration. On the contrary, words often only muddy the waters. In Ryman’s words, “You cannot understand painting by explaining something. You can only understand painting by experience” (192). This makes the task of writing about Ryman’s work exceedingly difficult. However, in Robert Ryman: Used Paint, Suzanne Hudson writes with eloquence and perspicuity to bring Ryman’s work to a... Full Review
February 22, 2017
Ulrike Gehring and Peter Weibel, eds.
Munich: Hirmer, 2014. 512 pp.; 350 color ills. Cloth $75.00 (9783777422305)
Elizabeth A. Sutton
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015. 184 pp.; 27 b/w ills. Cloth $50.00 (9780226254784)
The two books under review offer distinct takes on the way space was understood and reproduced in the Low Countries (the Dutch Republic, in particular, although both volumes explore Flemish sources as well). Both are concerned with the production of space in two-dimensional forms—in maps, prints, and paintings, above all. And while the arguments and claims made by the respective volumes are not quite mutually exclusive, the implications and trajectories they sketch out are markedly... Full Review
February 16, 2017
Gordon Hughes
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014. 169 pp.; 92 color ills.; 46 b/w ills. Cloth $45.00 (9780226159065)
I inevitably discuss Alfred Barr’s 1936 diagram from the cover of Cubism and Abstract Art when I teach surveys of modernism, but I had never noticed a curious point that Gordon Hughes raises in the introduction of his Resisting Abstraction: Robert Delaunay and Vision in the Face of Modernism. Of all the movements charted along the way to the two destinations, non-geometrical and geometrical abstract art, only Orphism “goes exactly nowhere” (3). In his sumptuously illustrated and... Full Review
February 16, 2017
Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw and Richard J. Powell
Exh. cat. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2014. 224 pp. Cloth $42.00 (9780876332498)
Exhibition schedule: Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, January 10–April 5, 2015
Represent: 200 Years of African American Art in the Philadelphia Museum of Art is that institution’s first survey of their collection of art by Americans of African descent. Each of the essays in the catalogue provides critical justifications for treating art and craftsmanship produced by African Americans as separate from a larger body of American art, while also noting the tenuousness of doing so. In the catalogue’s foreword, Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) Director and Chief... Full Review
February 14, 2017
Rune Frederiksen, Elizabeth Gebhard, and Alexander Sokolicek, eds.
Monographs of the Danish Institute at Athens, Vol. 17. Aarhus, Denmark: Aarhus University Press, 2015. 468 pp.; 37 color ills.; 239 b/w ills. Cloth $70.00 (9788771243802)
Greek tragedy and comedy form a central strand of ancient life that we have inherited and made our own: ancient plays are still performed, still inspire new authorship, still inform us about ancient life; but they also established the very genres that continue in our operas, musicals, television, and film. By the end of the fourth-century BCE, any ambitious Greek city had a stone theater of some sort, and remains of ancient theaters are ubiquitous in Mediterranean landscapes. This handsome... Full Review
February 14, 2017
Peter John Brownlee, Valéria Piccoli, and Georgiana Uhlyarik, eds.
Exh. cat. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015. 280 pp.; 260 color ills. Cloth $65.00 (9780300211504)
Exhibition schedule: Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, June 20–October 20, 2015; Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR, November 7, 2015–January 18, 2016; Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo, São Paulo, February 27–May 29, 2016
The global turn in art history is transforming the study of American art, whether that means the art of the United States or the art of the Americas. Since the turn of the millennium, an increasing number of exhibitions, publications, and symposia have been challenging the once-firm boundaries that isolated the Western hemisphere’s national art histories, emphasizing cross-cultural comparison, connection, friction, hybridity, and exchange. I am thinking of exhibitions such as Dennis Carr’s... Full Review
February 8, 2017
Nancy J. Scott
Critical Lives. London: Reaktion Books, 2015. 253 pp.; 40 b/w ills. Paper $16.95 (9781780234281)
Nancy J. Scott has added another biography to the long list of studies of Georgia O’Keeffe. Like these earlier efforts, Scott organizes her book chronologically, with each chapter focusing on a different phase of O’Keeffe’s life and career. However, unlike her predecessors, Scott has had access to the extensive correspondence, which only became available in 2006, between O’Keeffe and her husband, the photographer and promoter of early American modernism, Alfred Stieglitz. She quotes passages... Full Review
February 7, 2017
Kaira M. Cabañas
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014. 192 pp.; 90 b/w ills. Paper $27.50 (9780226174594)
In Introduction à une nouvelle poésie et à une nouvelle musique (Paris: Gallimard, 1947), Isidore Isou declares “ISOU will unmake words into their letters,” completing what he identifies as modern poetry’s “phase ciselant” (chiseling or reductive phase)—the avant-gardist project of purifying language of all semantic function inaugurated by Charles Baudelaire’s elevation of form above poetic “anecdote.” Isou founded the literary movement Lettrism in 1946 shortly after fleeing his... Full Review
February 7, 2017
Alexandra Stara
The Histories of Material Culture and Collecting, 1700–1950. Burlington: Ashgate, 2013. 198 pp.; 40 b/w ills. Paper $54.95 (9781138245402)
When Alexandra Stara learned the Louvre was mounting an exhibition accompanied by a catalogue with twenty-seven contributors on the same subject as her recent Oxford doctoral thesis—the Museum of Monuments, as she refers to it—she must have anticipated being run over by a Gallic bus. It is fortunate, therefore, that the Louvre’s publication Un musée révolutionnaire: Le musée des Monuments français d’Alexandre Lenoir (Paris: Hazen, 2016) not only confirms the significance of this... Full Review
February 3, 2017
Mary Ellen Miller and Claudia Brittenham
Austin and Mexico City: University of Texas Press and Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, 2013. 285 pp.; 600 ills. Cloth $75.00 (9780292744363)
When a group of late eighth-century Maya painters working at the modestly sized site of Bonampak rendered a dazzling mural program that presented local nobility with pomp and optimism, they were unaware that theirs would be among the final artistic efforts of the southern lowland Maya region. Their paintings, dating to 791 CE, span the walls of a three-room building in the rainforest of Chiapas, Mexico, and present confident scenes of military victory and courtly pageantry that appear at odds... Full Review
February 2, 2017