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

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Izumi Nakajima
Tokyo: Brücke, 2019. 362 pp.; 152 b/w ills. Cloth ¥3800.00 (9784434264696)
In this groundbreaking book, Izumi Nakajima defines “anti-action” as Japanese women artists’ counterapproach to “action” painting by male artists, emphasizing their creation in the 1950s and 1960s. The volume is not just about how gender shaped women’s artistic practice in the period, however; as indicated by its subtitle, another subject is postwar Japanese art itself. Nakajima aims to reinterpret the field as a whole by examining how gender colored contemporaneous art criticism and the subsequent narrative on the subject (by targeting discursive practices in Japan). This book is an ambitious undertaking—practically the first of its kind—as there have been few… Full Review
March 2, 2021
Gregory Zinman
Oakland: University of California Press, 2020. 392 pp.; 100 color ills. Paper $45.00 (9780520302730)
Halfway through Making Images Move: Handmade Cinema and the Other Arts, Gregory Zinman offers an engaging discussion of Thomas Wilfred’s Clavilux, a visual apparatus that premiered on January 10, 1922, at New York City’s Neighborhood Playhouse. The Clavilux projected abstract compositions of colored light through a keyboard that controlled an ingenious mechanical ballet of color filters and lenses. This sculpting of light signaled the beginning of what Wilfred described as the “eighth art of electric light.” Following a rhetoric of mediatic obsolescence, Wilfred argued that what he termed Lumia, a strictly visual and silent art form, had superseded… Full Review
February 25, 2021
Megan Brandow-Faller
University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 2020. 304 pp.; 27 color ills.; 60 b/w ills. Cloth $99.95 (9780271085043)
In 1910, Vienna’s recently founded Vereinigung bildender Künstlerinnen Österreichs opened its inaugural exhibition, aptly titled Die Kunst der Frau (The art of women; November 5, 1910–January 8, 1911). Erica Tietze-Conrat (1883–1958), Austria’s first woman with a PhD in art history, observed that this showcase of women’s art across the ages failed to advance contemporary women’s cause because it created a separate category of “feminine art” (weibliche Kunst) that was still measured against “masculine art” (männliche Kunst; “Die Kunst der Frau,” Zeitschrift für bildende Kunst 46, no. 22, 1911: 146). To a certain extent, this conundrum lies… Full Review
February 23, 2021
Peter Eisenman and Elisa Iturbe
Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2020. 120 pp.; 39 b/w ills. $26.95 (9780691147222)
Reading Lateness, Peter Eisenman’s new book with Elisa Iturbe, causes a cascade of ideas from Eisenman’s fifty years of production to come to the surface. They arrive, in effect, late—in stages, de-sorted—and as Lateness suggests, “apart from time.” It is difficult to view the book in isolation, yet there is a very new quality to the work. The tangential aspect to time—lateness—is in itself novel in Eisenman’s work. It portends an eventual, delayed rather than negated reconciliation with the times. Not with a would-be zeitgeist, but still far from the resistance often attributed to earlier work by Eisenman. … Full Review
February 18, 2021
Michelle C. Wang
Sinica Leidensia 139. Leiden, the Netherlands: Brill, 2018. 336 pp.; 130 ills. Cloth $147.00 (9789004357655)
This book tracks the visual traces of a dialogue as conceived between two ethnicities—Han Chinese and Tibetan—and two modes of Buddhist Mahāyāna thought and practice, exoteric (such as Huayan) and Esoteric Buddhism, both operating in the Dunhuang region of eastern Central Asia (now in Gansu Province, China) in the eighth to tenth century. A series of “cultural negotiations” plays out in complex programs of murals on cave walls and ceilings through the incorporation of motifs associated with Esoteric Buddhism into a matrix that is, according to the author, focused on repentance rituals and reverence for bodhisattvas. The book presents an… Full Review
February 16, 2021
Chiara Franceschini, Steven F. Ostrow, and Patrizia Tosini, eds.
Milan: Officina Libraria, 2020. 272 pp.; 120 color ills.; 10 b/w ills. Paper €45.00 (9788899765934)
The goal of this well-rounded edited collection is to bring new scholarship on Rome’s remarkable early modern chapels to a “wider public” (5), in line with the mission of the Fondo Edifici di Culto (FEC) of the Ministry of the Interior of Italy. Happily, FEC sponsorship allowed for new high-quality photographs to produce a richly illustrated book. The volume comprises an introduction and nine essays in English by Italian and American scholars. Each essay carefully lays out the scholarly apparatus of construction dates, vicissitudes of patronage, and issues of attribution. Most of the essays offer previously unpublished archival… Full Review
February 9, 2021
Emily Engel
Austin: University of Texas Press, 2020. 184 pp.; 24 color ills.; 79 b/w ills. Cloth $60.00 (9781477320594)
In January 1823, a month before he was named the first president of the Republic of Peru, José de la Riva Agüero asked the city council of Lima to remove the portrait of Viceroy José Fernando de Abascal y Sousa (r. 1806–16) from their chambers and contribute it to a nascent national collection of portraits. The councilors, however, could not comply with the request. The Lima-based artist Mariano Carrillo had painted his portrait of José de San Martín, the general who had declared Peru’s independence in 1821, over the image of Viceroy Abascal. As Emily Engel shows, however, not all… Full Review
February 4, 2021
Charlotte Fiell and Clementine Fiell
London: Laurence King Publishing, 2019. 256 pp.; 500 ills. Paper £35.00 (9781786275318)
The story of design history, like that of art history, has often revolved around a series of important philosophies and innovations that are associated with prominent male figures. In Women in Design, Charlotte Fiell and Clementine Fiell have provided a valuable resource, a welcome addition to the literature of design history, filling in some of the gaps in the accepted narrative of the field by highlighting the role of women designers. Although the names of many of the designers covered in the book will be familiar to scholars, the details of their accomplishments and inventions and their roles within… Full Review
January 28, 2021
Melissa Percival and Muriel Adrien, eds.
Oxford University Studies in the Enlightenment. Liverpool, UK: Voltaire Foundation in association with Liverpool University Press, 2020. 325 pp.; 69 b/w ills. Paper $99.99 (9781789620030)
In American English, “fancy” has come to indicate upscale and expensive, undercut by a sense of the pretentious, staged, and overblown. British English keeps closer to meanings employed during the eighteenth-century heyday of the word: as an adjective, to describe art, clothing, or goods inspired by an active, sometimes idiosyncratic imagination; or, as a verb, to express liking someone or something, literally to envision the object of desire within one’s own projected fantasies. In her deft introduction to this slippery term for the volume Fancy in Eighteenth-Century European Visual Culture, coeditor Melissa Percival describes “an aesthetics of fancy—a dynamic… Full Review
January 21, 2021
Carl Einstein
Trans. Charles W. Haxthausen. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2019. 408 pp.; 78 b/w ills. Cloth $50.00 (9780226464138)
This new selection of Carl Einstein’s critical and art historical writing, edited and translated by Charles W. Haxthausen, greatly expands the ability of anglophone scholars to grapple with one of the most consequential chroniclers of the avant-garde’s heroic years. Of the fourteen texts Haxthausen has selected for this volume, eleven are translated into English for the first time. They represent Einstein’s published books through successive revisions; reviews and topical articles on art, artists, museums, and purely conceptual matters; personal correspondence, where it bears upon such matters; and posthumously published manuscript material. Einstein is an intensely ruminative, ferociously critical writer whose… Full Review
January 15, 2021