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

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Lowery Stokes Sims, ed.
Exh. cat. Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 2015. 256 pp.; 145 color ills. Cloth $50.00 (9780878468157)
In 2015, the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), Boston, produced a large, handsome catalogue featuring approximately one hundred works by African American artists from its permanent collection, all of which were acquired over the past four decades. Three factors had a significant impact in amassing this art. Since 1969, Edmund Barry Gaither, curator and director of the National Center of Afro-American Artists (NCAAA) in Boston, has also served as a curator and consultant to the MFA. In 2005, the MFA... Full Review
December 1, 2016
James Raven, ed.
New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015. 150 pp. Cloth $67.50 (9781137520760)
David Lowenthal contends that the heritage conservation movement came about largely as a result of “a sense of loss,” as humans saw their built environment vanish at alarming rates during the last century (David Lowenthal, The Past Is a Foreign Country, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1985). In the United Kingdom, an island nation, the loss of each historic building often seems to be magnified by longstanding introspection, as the British worry over every facet of their... Full Review
November 30, 2016
Kaja Silverman
Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2015. 240 pp.; 30 color ills.; 96 b/w ills. Paperback $21.95 (9780804793995)
How do we know the world exists? This question, which precedes Martin Heidegger’s examination of the meaning of Being itself in Being and Time (trans. Joan Stambaugh, Albany: SUNY Press, 1996), brings Heidegger quickly to the terms by which we can “know” the material world. His argument singles out “useless things” as key to the process by which the world discloses itself to us, for these disturb the instrumental order of everyday existence, opening an awareness of the “totality.”... Full Review
November 25, 2016
Stella Nair
Austin: University of Texas Press, 2015. 304 pp.; 28 color ills.; 136 b/w ills. Paper $45.00 (9781477302507)
Stella Nair’s excellent new study of the Inca royal estate at Chinchero, Peru, At Home with the Sapa Inca: Architecture, Space, and Legacy at Chinchero, examines the experiential aspects of this site in relation to indigenous ideologies of space and the built environment. The book is divided into chapters that consider Inca ideas of place and time; specific architectural features; the community that built Chinchero under the direction of the tenth Inca king, Topa Inca; and that same... Full Review
November 9, 2016
Seth Price
New York: Leopard, 2015. 122 pp. Paper $20.00 (9780981546834)
Visual artist Seth Price’s Fuck Seth Price declares itself a novel. It claims this clearly on the cover: A Novel—with a capital “N.” While Fuck Seth Price is the artist’s fourth book, it is his first self-declared novel, though its qualifications to this identity begin to disintegrate even before one flips open the small volume’s die-cut cover. What readers find in the relatively short span of the book’s 122 pages is not a novel in any recognizable sense (though it makes... Full Review
November 2, 2016
Julia I. Miller and Laurie Taylor-Mitchell
University Park: Penn State University Press, 2015. 264 pp.; 34 color ills.; 47 b/w ills. Cloth $74.95 (9780271065038)
Julia I. Miller and Laurie Taylor-Mitchell’s From Giotto to Botticelli: The Artistic Patronage of the Humiliati in Florence, a long-awaited study on art related to the Humiliati (“humbled ones”), provides a fresh approach to examining the patronage of religious orders. Originating in the eleventh century near Milan, the Humiliati were officially recognized by Pope Innocent III in 1201 and the male branch suppressed in 1571, following the failed assassination of Cardinal Carlo Borromeo... Full Review
October 28, 2016
Ruth E. Iskin
Interfaces: Studies in Visual Culture. Hanover, NH: Dartmouth College Press, 2014. 408 pp.; 48 color ills.; 188 b/w ills. Paper $50.00 (9781611686173)
Posters have long occupied a paradoxical position in the history of nineteenth-century art. Despite their appearance at the center of many exhibitions and textbook studies of the period, posters remain mostly peripheral to art history’s disciplinary foci. Ruth Iskin’s The Poster: Art, Advertising, Design, and Collecting, 1860s–1900s offers an important antidote to the exclusion of posters from substantive art-historical analysis. As her title asserts, “the poster” merits new... Full Review
October 28, 2016
Anthea Callen
London: Reaktion, 2015. 336 pp.; 143 color ills.; 56 b/w ills. Cloth $50.00 (9781780233550)
Anthea Callen, a foremost expert on the materials of French painting, makes one of her core arguments at the end of this important book: “Painting is a craft and a science as well as an art” (266). In addition to craft and science, the book’s emphasis falls—emphatically—upon art as labor (the work of art), and it therefore closely examines the character and connotations of the visible painted mark. She views it as the index of an artist’s working methods and tools, but also the... Full Review
October 26, 2016
Mara Ambrožič and Simon Njami, eds.
Exh. cat. Berlin, Frankfurt, and Washington, DC: Kerber in association with Museum für Moderne Kunst and National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, 2015. 376 pp.; 212 color ills. Cloth $85.00 (9783866789319)
Exhibition schedule: Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt, March 21–July 27, 2014; Savannah College of Art and Design, Savannah, October 16, 2004–January 25, 2015; National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, April 8–November 1, 2015
Simon Njami remains a consistent voice in defining and elucidating twenty-first-century art created by African artists. The exhibitions he curates provide insights espoused by art practitioners of African descent with new interpretive criteria. Njami furthers this aim in his latest collaboration with Mara Ambrožič: The Divine Comedy: Heaven, Purgatory and Hell Revisited by Contemporary African Artists. This mammoth project is composed of three exhibitions, each dedicated to a realm of... Full Review
October 21, 2016
Erin E. Benay and Lisa M. Rafanelli
Visual Culture in Early Modernity. Burlington: Ashgate, 2015. 304 pp.; 6 color ills.; 58 b/w ills. Cloth $107.96 (9781472444738)
At first, the Noli me tangere and Doubting Thomas episodes may appear to be a rather curious pairing as the subject of a book. These two religious narratives are often represented separately and usually have been discussed as distinct topics throughout much of the history of Western art. They are not typically thought of as forming a unit. However, as co-authors Erin E. Benay and Lisa M. Rafanelli reveal, these two events are related. Central to both stories is the resurrected body of... Full Review
October 20, 2016