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

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FROM THE ARCHIVE: This autumn, 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, in a piece relevant to the United States' current election season, explore Ila Sheren's review of Beyond the Pink Tide: Art and Political Undercurrents in the Americas by Macarena Gómez-Barris, about the intersection of art and the wave of progressive governments elected across Latin America in the early twenty-first century. Full Review
October 5, 2020
Matthew Looper
Linda Schele Series in Maya and Pre-Columbian Studies. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2019. 288 pp.; 190 b/w ills. Cloth $60.00 (9781477318058)
As ubiquitous in the ancient Maya world (encompassing modern-day Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and parts of Honduras and El Salvador) as they are today, deer provided a core food source to ancient populations. The Maya developed a complex approach to deer remains and imagery as a result, varying from a focus on economic signifiers to mythological or political content or, given the multivalence of Maya objects, a combination of all three. This heritage lasted beyond the Spanish arrival in the sixteenth century; modern populations continue to demonstrate a rich, enduring ritual tradition (albeit one now also influenced by Catholicism) surrounding the… Full Review
September 23, 2020
FROM THE ARCHIVE: This autumn, 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. Stephennie Mulder examines the impact of genocide on not just a people but also on their very cultural survival through the destruction of precious material artifacts. Read her review of The Missing Pages: The Modern Life of a Medieval Manuscript, from Genocide to Justice by Heghnar Zeitlian Watenpaugh. Full Review
September 17, 2020
FROM THE ARCHIVE: This autumn, 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. At a crucial juncture for museums and other institutions, we revisit the founding of the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture. Read Deborah Ziska‘s review of A Fool’s Errand: Creating the National Museum of African American History and Culture in the Age of Bush, Obama, and Trump by Lonnie G. Bunch III. Full Review
September 16, 2020
Peter Schwenger
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2019. 192 pp.; 9 color ills.; 51 b/w ills. Paper $25.00 (9781517906979)
Peter Schwenger’s new book is that vital and fateful thing: “a solid first map of a territory previously unknown to academic study,” as one of the prepublication blurbs puts it. “Solid” is uncharitable; “deft” is more just. But “first” is spot on, and the point about academic study correctly identifies the gap Schwenger sets out to fill as well as his target audience. Asemic: The Art of Writing is vital because it charts the rise of an extraordinary creative practice that came into its own in the late 1990s: writing that is “without meaning” but “not without significance” (17). Like… Full Review
September 10, 2020
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