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

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Zainab Bahrani
New York: Thames & Hudson, 2016. 376 pp.; 414 ills. Paper $87.50 (9780500292754)
When teaching a course on the art of Mesopotamia, perhaps the greatest challenge has been the absence of a current textbook on the subject. As Zainab Bahrani notes in her introduction, “since the mid-twentieth century, books on Mesopotamian art have fallen out of favor” (8). This lack may be explained by the opinion of some scholars that the ancient Near East produced no art at all, on the assumption that the category of “art” excludes objects created for other purposes. The standard text... Full Review
April 4, 2018
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Yve-Alain Bois
Paris: Cahiers d'Art, 2015. 383 pp.; 450 color ills.; 483 b/w ills. Cloth $395.00 (9782851171900)
In late December 2015, American abstract master Ellsworth Kelly passed away at the age of 92. A month and a half before his death, Kelly had said to The Guardian that he “want[ed] to live another 15 years.” This zest for life came from his unwavering commitment to art making. In a career that spanned almost seven decades, Kelly produced over 1150 paintings, reliefs, sculptures, and large-scale commissions—works of bold shape and color that reveal his distinctive approach to... Full Review
April 4, 2018
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Gregory Battcock
Ed. Joseph Grigely. Cologne, Germany: Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther Konig, 2016. 224 pp.; 38 color ills. Paperback $28.00 (9783863359331)
In the present cultural moment, the unearthing of previously obscure queer heroes is a much-needed balm to the rightward swing of the political pendulum. When asked to write this review, I admittedly came seeking some of that particular brand of soothing. I approached Joseph Grigely’s edited volume Oceans of Love: The Uncontainable Gregory Battcock as a curiosity of those heady days of queer New York, before the pall of the plague years descended upon us all. My experience of... Full Review
April 3, 2018
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Charmaine A. Nelson
New York: Routledge, 2016. 416 pp.; 16 color ills.; 26 b/w ills. Hardcover $128.00 (9781409468912)
In the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts appears a portrait of an Afro-Caribbean woman bearing a platter of tropical fruit and seated in front of a mountainous landscape. She is likely Marie-Thérèse Zémire, enslaved in Haiti and then in Montreal by the Québec-born François Malépart de Beaucourt. Beaucourt, an artist by trade, painted Zémire in 1786. The painting was originally titled Portrait of a Negro Slave and was renamed Portrait of a Haitian Woman by museum curators in the... Full Review
April 3, 2018
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Shantrelle P. Lewis
Exh. cat. New York: Aperture, 2017. 144 pp.; 4 color ills.; 140 b/w ills. Hardcover $35.00 (9781597113892)
Brighton Photo Biennial, United Kingdom, October 1–31, 2016; Lowe Museum of Art, Miami, February 23–May 21, 2017
In February 2015, music artist Jidenna released the video to his first single, “Classic Man.” Directed by Alan Ferguson, the video opens with Jidenna getting dressed: he tightens his tie up to his club collar, fastens his cuff links, and steps into his cap-toe oxfords. In a subsequent scene, he walks the streets of Brooklyn surrounded by a group of well-dressed black men in suits. When he spots two young men being handcuffed by two police officers, he intervenes. We don’t know... Full Review
April 2, 2018
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Thomas Crow
Sydney: Power Publications, 2017. 144 pp.; 50 color ills. Paperback $30.00 (9780909952990)
The role that religion has played in the cultural production of the last three centuries is something that many art historians have been slow to recognize and/or hesitant to acknowledge. The potential pitfalls of pursuing this subject are myriad, the most obvious being that of appearing to endorse any theological doctrine—a cardinal sin against post-Enlightenment scholarly disinterestedness. For historians of modern art, consideration of religion is particularly difficult given the extent... Full Review
April 2, 2018
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Tacita Dean
London: MACK, 2016. 112 pp.; 112 color ills. Hardcover $95.00 (9781910164280)
Pier Paolo Pasolini concluded his 1971 film The Decameron, adapted from Boccaccio’s fourteenth-century text, with a question: “Why complete a work,” the director asks, playing a disciple of Giotto in the film, “when it’s so beautiful just to dream it?” Pasolini’s character poses the question while gazing up at a recently completed fresco, and his thoughts have already turned to a future project, glimpsed earlier in a dream. After the line is delivered, the film ends and the credits... Full Review
April 2, 2018
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Fredie Floré and Cammie McAtee, eds.
New York: Routledge, 2017. 214 pp. Hardcover $124.00 (9781472453556)
One of the critic Mario Praz’s (1896–1982) achievements is that he applied art-historical methods to interiors. His writing elevated the status of interiors to positions previously held by painting, sculpture, and architecture. Praz’s books from the 1960s constituted a call that the “minor” arena of decorative arts be taken seriously. Yet, with notable exceptions, his efforts to edge the decorative arts, chiefly furniture, onto an equal plane with art and architecture went largely... Full Review
March 29, 2018
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Lisa Farrington
New York: Oxford University Press, 2016. 480 pp.; 230 ills. Hardcover $69.95 (9780199995394)
Lisa Farrington’s African-American Art: A Visual and Cultural History is invaluable for those teaching surveys of African American art as well as any reader interested in the subject. Staple publications in this area include Sharon Patton’s African-American Art (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998) and Richard J. Powell’s Black Art and Culture in the 20th Century (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1997; reproduced in its second edition as Black Art: A... Full Review
March 29, 2018
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Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts at Harvard University
Cambridge, MA: Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts at Harvard University, 2016.
Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Harvard University, October 27, 2016–January 8, 2017
In last year’s exhibition of Chilean art at the Carpenter Center for Visual Art at Harvard University, absence signaled the latency of bodies that feel pain, that suffer longing, or, in a powerful twist, that even travel from 1970s Santiago to present-day Boston. In the works on view in Embodied Absence: Chilean Art of the 1970s Now, artists used the tactics of conceptual art to respond to the traumas inflicted on citizens after the socialist president Salvador Allende was... Full Review
March 29, 2018
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