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

Browse Recent Book Reviews

Jean Hélion
New York: Arcade, 2014. 464 pp. Paper $19.95 (9781628723762)
On August 18, 1939, the French abstract painter Jean Hélion wrote to Raymond Queneau from his studio in Rockbridge Baths, Virginia, to say that he was ready to return to France and throw himself back into what he called the “torment of Europe” (Lettres d’Amérique: Correspondance avec Raymond Queneau 1934–1967, Paris: IMEC, 1996, 146). In leaving Paris for New York in 1936 in the aftermath of the collapse of the Popular Front, Hélion had left behind the aesthetic and political... Full Review
June 1, 2017
Thumbnail
Gretchen E. Henderson
London: Reaktion Books, 2015. 240 pp.; 67 b/w ills. Cloth $25.00 (9781780235240)
In Ugliness: A Cultural History, Gretchen E. Henderson ventures on a critical journey through the history of ugliness, viewing the concept through the lens of culture and corporeality. Henderson packs an abundance of fascinating case studies and thought-provoking insights into a stimulating conceptual framework, all in the service of her argument about past and contemporary relationships with ugliness. Her aim is not to redefine ugliness but to trace the use and perceptions of it from... Full Review
May 31, 2017
Thumbnail
Thomas Brent Smith, ed.
Exh. cat. The Charles M. Russell Center Series on Art and Photography of the American West. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2016. 208 pp.; 125 color ills.; 27 b/w ills. Cloth $45.00 (9780806151984)
Exhibition schedule: Denver Art Museum, Denver, December 13, 2015–April 24, 2016; Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, May 22–August 28, 2016
Scholarship on the art of the American West has greatly expanded in the last decade, with the northern New Mexico art colonies of Taos and Santa Fe receiving particular attention.[1] A Place in the Sun, a multi-authored volume that accompanied a traveling exhibition, considers two of the leading artists of Taos, Walter Ufer (1876–1936) and E. Martin Hennings (1886–1956). Their many parallels make it logical to consider their careers together. As German-Americans, they shared a... Full Review
May 26, 2017
Thumbnail
Wade Guyton
Edition of 500. New York: Karma, 2014. 368 pp.; Many color ills. Paper $45.00 (9781938560743)
On January 13, 2013, the contemporary artist Wade Guyton visited a blog on Tumblr, the less-is-more, image-driven social-media platform that resembles an online corkboard. He downloaded thirty days’ worth of the blog’s contents and transposed them into that good old thing, the book, calling it One Month Ago. The title refers to the way in which Tumblr automatically tells website visitors how far away they are, temporally speaking, from the post they are currently looking at (from, say,... Full Review
May 25, 2017
Thumbnail
Erin Griffey
New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016. 384 pp.; 84 color ills.; 46 b/w ills. Cloth $85.00 (9780300214000)
The title of Erin Griffey’s meticulously researched book is well suited to its principal argument: that early modern sovereigns, especially powerful women such as Queen Henrietta Maria of England, projected their authority through the specific and calculated allure of their material luxuries. All aspects of dress, appurtenances, architecture, and furnishings (including paintings and other fine arts) contributed to an overall “magnificence” which did not burnish the image of the monarch so... Full Review
May 25, 2017
Thumbnail
Junko Aono
Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2015. 272 pp.; 129 color ills. Cloth $99.00 (9789089645685)
Junko Aono’s Confronting the Golden Age: Imitation and Innovation in Dutch Genre Painting, 1680–1750 focuses on the generation of Dutch genre painters that succeeded the “great masters” of the seventeenth-century such as Gerard Dou and Frans van Mieris I. The book’s main objective is to investigate how artists working in the waning light of the Golden Age dealt with the illustrious artistic past, and particularly how they emulated the inventions of their predecessors in order to create... Full Review
May 24, 2017
Thumbnail
Cynthia Burlingham, Andrew Hunter, Steve Martin, and Karen E. Quinn
Exh. cat. New York: Prestel, 2015. 160 pp.; 94 color ills.; 10 b/w ills. Cloth $49.95 (9783791354705)
Exhibition schedule: Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, October 11, 2015–January 24, 2016; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, March 12–June 12, 2016; Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, July 1–September 18, 2016
Lawren Harris is among the most famous Canadian painters. The general public in Canada know him as one of the members of the Group of Seven, artists who exhibited together in the 1920s, popularizing a new, colorful, modernist style of painting that celebrated the Canadian landscape. But Harris’s celebrity status stops at the border. The Idea of North: The Paintings of Lawren Harris, published in conjunction with an exhibition organized by the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, attempts to... Full Review
May 18, 2017
Thumbnail
Yve-Alain Bois, ed.
3 Vols. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2016. 824 pp.; 606 color ills.; 50 b/w ills. Cloth $350.00 (9780500239414)
Matisse in the Barnes Foundation continues a laudable program to publish the holdings of this renowned collection of modern European, African, and American art in systematic, scholarly catalogues. Yve-Alain Bois, long one of the most compelling writers on Henri Matisse, is the project director, editor, and lead author, joined by Karen K. Butler and Claudine Grammont. Conservation and condition issues, now a welcome concern in many major museum publications, are treated by Barbara A.... Full Review
May 18, 2017
Thumbnail
Jason Weems
Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis, 2015. 368 pp.; 16 color ills.; 116 b/w ills. Paper $35.00 (9780816677511)
The role of modernity in influencing vision has produced such a wealth of insightful scholarship that it can be surprising when a new study contributes substantially to the field. Jason Weems’s Barnstorming the Prairies: How Aerial Vision Shaped the Midwest provides an engaging and thoughtful analysis of how the elevated vantage point helped to create the modern Midwestern landscape and, in turn, informed the region’s identity. Weems explores how the aerial, synoptic view of the... Full Review
May 17, 2017
Thumbnail
Rachel Cohen
New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013. 344 pp.; 23 b/w ills. Cloth $27.95 (9780300149425)
Rachel Cohen’s clear, concise, and gracefully written retelling of the life of Bernard Berenson is far more manageable than Ernest Samuels’s long, magisterial biography published in 1979 (Ernest Samuels, Bernard Berenson: The Making of a Connoisseur, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press). It would be unfair to think a much shorter account would cover any part of Berenson’s life in equal depth to Samuels’s study, but a reader might reasonably form that expectation about at least one... Full Review
May 17, 2017
Thumbnail