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

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Basile Baudez
Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2021. 288 pp.; 176 color ills. Hardcover $65.00 (9780691213569)
Carefully rendered wash drawings in a variety of hues, prints enhanced by gouache and watercolor—the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries saw a progressive expansion of polychromy in architectural representations and are analyzed by Basile Baudez in Inessential Colors. Architecture on Paper in Early Modern Europe. Throughout his extensively illustrated work the author interrogates this phenomenon, which initially served to bring clarity to a building’s design and later engaged in a visual language intended to captivate the viewer. The field of study is vast, from Italy to the Netherlands, Great Britain to France, by way of Russia, Spain, or Germany. The author… Full Review
October 14, 2022
James Nisbet
POINT: Essays on Architecture. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2022. 144 pp.; 29 color ills.; 5 b/w ills. Cloth $29.95 ( 9780691194950)
Land art is back in the limelight. On September 2, 2022, Michael Heizer publicly unveiled his colossal City (1970–2022), which comprises a mile-and-a-half-long by half-mile-wide installation of mounds and depressions made of dirt, rock, and concrete in the Nevada desert. In recent contemporary art scholarship, many have looked to histories of Land art or earthworks from the late 1960s and 1970s to think through our current environmental crises and Heizer’s City seems remarkably timed for this discussion. How informed or invested were first-generation Land artists, particularly in the American West, in ecological issues? To what degree did their monumental or… Full Review
October 5, 2022
Niharika Dinkar
Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2019. 304 pp.; 22 color ills.; 38 b/w ills. Cloth £80.00 (9781526139634)
Light and vision have been considered central to the experience of Western modernity, from the rhetoric of illumination in the European Enlightenment to visual technologies that produced new subjectivities, public and private spaces, and modes of surveillance and control. Niharika Dinkar’s Empires of Light: Vision, Visibility and Power in Colonial India not only probes the ideology and materiality of light in modern empire building, but also turns to the shadows—the dark, mysterious, and uncivilized colony that “the empire of light and reason” (1) sought to illuminate and inscribe. Drawing upon a broad range of representational practices engendered by new visual… Full Review
September 28, 2022
Ming-Yuen S. Ma
Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2020. 280 pp. Cloth £80.00 (9781526142122)
In There Is No Soundtrack, Ming-Yuen S. Ma contends that contemporary media art challenges understandings of image and sound that privilege visuality. This visual bias, according to Ma, appears in art history, art criticism, media theory, and more broadly throughout the humanities. Even in the field of film and media studies, which has produced dedicated treatments of cinematic sound, “visual hegemony” and “ocularcentrism” persist (2, 5). Ma offers a corrective in his series of analyses that emphasize the aural dimension of artworks by Paul D. Miller (a.k.a. DJ Spooky, That Subliminal Kid), Tanya Tagaq, Chris Marker, Trinh T. Minh-ha… Full Review
September 21, 2022
Frank Fehrenbach
Berlin, Germany: De Gruyter, 2021. 598 pp.; 48 color ills.; 122 b/w ills. Cloth $68.99 (9783110374438)
The most influential publications in early modern image theory over the last thirty years have either positioned the work of art as imagining its own completion by a beholder or described the actual responses of the beholder in front of a work. John Shearman’s Only Connect . . .  Art and the Spectator in the Italian Renaissance (1992) was an attempt to study period notions of spectatorship and the human imagination in order to reveal artistic “messages” embedded in Italian Renaissance paintings. David Freedberg’s The Power of Images (1989) looked beyond the confines of “high art,” untangling the psychological and… Full Review
September 16, 2022
Nina Rowe
New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2020. 220 pp.; 148 color ills. Cloth $65.00 (9780300247046)
This wonderful book provides a thoroughly researched and lavishly illustrated introduction to a set of illuminated world chronicle manuscripts made in Bavaria and Austria in the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries. The texts transmitted through these manuscripts are generally compilations from a variety of sources, including the world chronicles of Rudolf von Ems and Jans der Enikel, the Christherre-Chronik, and others, often brought together in a compilation traditionally attributed to “Heinrich von München” (although this name refers more to a textual tradition than to an actual individual) along with a great variety of other material. Author Nina Rowe adroitly… Full Review
September 14, 2022
Rebecca Peabody
Oakland: University of California Press, 2016. 216 pp.; 24 color ills.; 28 b/w ills. Cloth $49.95 (9780520288928)
Rebecca Peabody’s Consuming Stories: Kara Walker and the Imagining of American Race is the first monograph solely about Kara Walker’s work since Gwendolyn Dubois Shaw’s Seeing the Unspeakable: The Art of Kara Walker (2004). To be sure, a dizzying amount of literature exists about Kara Walker and her creative output in book chapters, journal articles, and exhibition catalogs. With this in mind, Peabody’s sustained and thematic reading of Walker’s work is welcome, vital, and necessary because she introduces new ways of understanding Walker’s work by focusing on her literary influences. Peabody’s title is apt because Walker’s stories do consume the… Full Review
September 9, 2022
Chari Larsson
Manchester University Press, 2020. 208 pp. Cloth $130.00 (9781526149268)
Didi-Huberman and the Image by Chari Larsson is the first book-length study in English of the work of French philosopher and art historian Georges Didi-Huberman, with a focus on his theories about images. Given the fact that Didi-Huberman has written over fifty books in a career spanning four decades and that he is one of the most well-known French theorists of images, such a study is long overdue. In French, German, and Spanish art history and visual studies, Didi-Huberman’s work is an established reference point, awarded with prestigious accolades such as the Adorno Prize. That his work has never received… Full Review
September 7, 2022
Caterina Albano
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2022. 96 pp. Paper $10.00 (9781517913557)
Out of Breath is a critical study of the significance and politics of breathing, guided throughout by explorations of breath and air in contemporary art. A slender book of just ninety-six pages, written in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is as much an essay about the political implications of humanity’s dependence on a shared substrate of air, and air’s implication in global injustice and violence, as a study of art history or criticism. But by the same token, it is also an incisive example of how contemporary art can lend itself to being treated as theory or as… Full Review
September 2, 2022
Shana Klein
California Studies in Food and Culture. Oakland: University of California Press, 2020. 264 pp.; 45 color ills.; 17 b/w ills. Cloth $65.00 (9780520296398)
The title of Shana Klein’s book, The Fruits of Empire: Art, Food and the Politics of Race in the Age of American Expansion, promises a great deal. Each part of the title could be a book in and of itself, and as the author writes “traverses many different disciplines and subject areas” In some ways, this volume succeeds and in other ways falls short. As American painted depictions of fruit ostensibly serve as the primary focus, there are too few illustrations and little in-depth discussion of these pictures. Selecting paintings of five different fruits to illustrate American expansion and… Full Review
August 31, 2022