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

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Justus Nieland
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2020. 424 pp.; 20 color ills.; 124 b/w ills. Paper $39.95 (9781517902056)
By the mid-twentieth century, designers were no longer autonomous creators of autonomous objects. Through experimentation with film and multimedia and by transcending disciplinary boundaries, they became “manager[s] of epochal change” (11) in the technoscientific and social environments of the postwar world. Happiness by Design: Modernism and Media in the Eames Era presents a history of midcentury media practice, pedagogy, and administration, looked at through the lens of the multimedia experiments of designer couple Charles and Ray Eames and their designing, filming, and knowledge-producing contemporaries. In their work, happiness was a mode of production that built toward a democratic life. Instead… Full Review
January 14, 2021
Danielle A. Jackson and Simone Austin, eds.
Living Collections Catalogue, vol. 4. Minneapolis: Walker Art Center, 2020. Online (9781935963226)
(Click here to view the online multimedia publication.) A bare stage; a single microphone. Concentrated applause, and then a young Anthony Braxton (blue cardigan, saxophone in hand) walks into the frame and takes center stage at the Walker Art Center’s 1980 New Music America Festival in Minneapolis. Leaning close to the mic, he opens his set with a circular motif, repeated and varied, varied and expanded, all the way to a first cadence marked by a slow, resonant vibrato. This twenty-seven-minute performance video, previously consigned to the back room of the Walker’s archive and library, is now available… Full Review
January 8, 2021
Christiane Hertel
University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 2019. 304 pp.; 35 color ills.; 85 b/w ills. Cloth $124.95 (9780271082370)
Christiane Hertel’s new book, Siting China in Germany: Eighteenth-Century Chinoiserie and Its Modern Legacy, is both immensely important and highly unusual. An expert in early modern art and culture, the author presents a volume of critical essays that not only explore Chinese influences in the German lands but also offer an analysis of and argument for a distinct perception of China and a different engagement with Chinese import art in Germany, relative to the rest of Europe. Her account is based partially on the observation that because the German principalities had no East India companies and no direct access… Full Review
January 6, 2021
Lily Woodruff
Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2020. 336 pp.; 17 color ills.; 81 b/w ills. Paper $28.95 (9781478008446)
On May 19, 1968, French president Charles de Gaulle met with his cabinet ministers to address the mounting national conflagration that had erupted earlier in the month, when university students around Paris instigated a mass protest movement. By mid-May, a general strike had unexpectedly transformed the movement into a serious threat to the economy and the state. In addition to violent street battles between protesters and police, there were now millions of workers in almost every industry walking off their jobs or occupying their worksites and making radical demands. The only statement by de Gaulle from the May 19 meeting… Full Review
December 23, 2020
Susan Stewart
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2020. 368 pp.; 11 color ills.; 80 b/w ills. Cloth $35.00 (9780226632612)
Ruin sentiment, Henry James suggested, is something of a perverse pleasure, for it must be a “heartless pastime” that takes delight in desolation and destruction (20). So why is it, then, that ruins have been so frequently depicted and described, pondered and praised in Western art and literature? This is the question Susan Stewart pursues in The Ruins Lesson, her minutely researched and beautifully written study of the enduring allure of ruins and ruination in Western culture. Poised between preservation and obliteration, ruins represent both a presence and an absence that give rise to a range of complex and… Full Review
December 17, 2020
Maile S. Hutterer
University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 2020. 224 pp.; 105 b/w ills. Cloth $99.95 (9780271083445)
Flying buttresses are massive masonry structures wrapping around the exterior of (usually) a church: rows of robust uprights and bridge-like flyers form a lithic forest sometimes so thick it obscures the church itself. Developed in the mid-twelfth century in Île-de-France and quickly becoming an identifier of Gothic architecture, flying buttresses have been credited for their structural prowess. Little wonder that generations of scholars have analyzed how flying buttresses stabilize and support magnificent churches. For Maile S. Hutterer, buttressing is far more than a structural wonder. In Framing the Church: The Social and Artistic Power of Buttresses in French Gothic Architecture… Full Review
December 15, 2020
Emily Byrne Curtis
Routledge Research in Art History. New York: Routledge, 2020. 142 pp.; 23 b/w ills. Cloth $160.00 (9781472427106)
In Chinese-Islamic Works of Art, Emily Byrne Curtis takes us on a journey through China’s history, its relationship with the Islamic world, and its rich artistic heritage. The author not only describes artifacts showing connections to the Islamic world during the Qing period but also provides a detailed discussion of the historical and social context that produced such amazing works of art. Examining different materials—from glassware to porcelain, from cloisonné enamelware to snuff bottles—Curtis reconstructs a detailed history of technological developments in the imperial Chinese industry. By using works of art from international collections and archival sources (from European… Full Review
December 10, 2020
Karen Benezra
Studies on Latin American Art. Oakland: University of California Press, 2020. 256 pp.; 14 color ills.; 8 b/w ills. Cloth $50.00 (9780520307063)
In Dematerialization: Art and Design in Latin America, Karen Benezra offers, with impressive theoretical sophistication, new grounds for understanding the criticism, experimental art, and design practices in Argentina, Mexico, and Chile in the 1960s and 1970s. Focusing mainly on the work of Oscar Masotta (Argentina, 1930–1979), Octavio Paz (Mexico, 1914–1998), Felipe Ehrenberg (Mexico, 1943–2017), Tomás Maldonado (Argentina, 1922–2018), and Gui Bonsiepe (Germany, b. 1943), Benezra employs “dematerialization” to frame how debates over materiality were concerned with the capacity of art and design to generate social transformation; her approach stands in contrast to the more familiar use of the term… Full Review
December 8, 2020
Niko Vicario
Studies on Latin American Art. Oakland: University of California Press, 2020. 312 pp.; 40 color ills.; 20 b/w ills. Cloth $50.00 (9780520310025)
In his important new book, Niko Vicario reconfigures how we understand Latin American art by mapping a set of relations among key protagonists from Mexico, Uruguay, Cuba, and the United States between 1933 and 1945. All prominent artists, curators, and cultural influencers, they participated in a vigorous conversation centered on economic policy, industry, and art. Vicario chronicles their interactions and the objects they produced in a narrative that revolves around David Alfaro Siqueiros, Joaquín Torres-García, and Mario Carreño. Nelson Rockefeller, as the patron responsible for the acquisition of a collection of Latin American art by the Museum of Modern Art… Full Review
December 3, 2020
Genevieve Hyacinthe
Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2019. 352 pp.; 78 color ills.; 16 b/w ills. Cloth $39.95 (9780262042703)
Genevieve Hyacinthe’s Radical Virtuosity: Ana Mendieta and the Black Atlantic bridges a gap in scholarship on Ana Mendieta (1948–1985), exploring the role of Afro-Caribbean syncretism in the Cuban artist’s work. Although the titles of her Earthworks, performances, photographs, and moving-image works directly reference non-Western deities, and while several scholars note the importance of spirituality for Mendieta, no publication until now has extensively contextualized her work in Black Atlantic cultures. Hyacinthe convincingly argues that a Black Atlantic lens sharpens our interpretation of the sculptor’s practice. At its most successful, Radical Virtuosity revitalizes readings of Mendieta’s artworks by theorizing Black Atlantic rituals… Full Review
November 24, 2020