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

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Joanna Grabski
African Expressive Cultures. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2017. 328 pp.; 57 color ills. Paper $20.00 (9780253026057)
Art World City is a beautiful book. The photographs, most of which are by the author, are stunning, and all are in color thanks to support from the CAA Millard Meiss Publication Fund. In a book whose purpose is to situate a major international city and its artists into a complex and interdependent relationship, the quality of the images alone makes the argument for the symbiotic relationship between artists, the cityscape, and the visual consumption of culture in Dakar, Senegal. Each of the six chapters stands alone as a succinct inquiry into an aspect that author Joanna Grabski identifies on… Full Review
October 30, 2019
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Dorothy C. Wong
Singapore: National University of Singapore Press, 2018. 366 pp.; 12 color ills.; 125 b/w ills. Cloth $52.00 (9789814722599)
Students of East Asian art are often told that the “Tang International Buddhist Art Style” or “International Buddhist Art Style” begins when the hips of Buddhist deities sway gracefully to one side (1). The voluptuous yet narrow-waisted bodies of bodhisattvas standing in contrapposto with an Indian flavor are seen as a hallmark of Chinese Buddhist art in the Tang dynasty (618–907). This figural type can be found across Japan and Korea by the eighth century, but what exactly is this “International Buddhist Art Style”? The term is regularly invoked in introductory East Asian art curricula, yet it has, surprisingly, almost… Full Review
October 25, 2019
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Kathleen Bickford Berzock, ed.
Exh. cat. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2019. 312 pp.; 192 color ills. Cloth $65.00 (9780691182681)
Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, January 26–July 21, 2019; Aga Khan Museum, Toronto, September 21, 2019–February 23, 2020; Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, Washington, DC, April 8–November 29, 2020
The project of recentering histories is at the core of both the exhibition and catalog Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time: Art, Culture, and Exchange across Medieval Saharan Africa. When art historians speak of recentering, the contemporary art world, biennials, and online media spring to mind quite readily, but shifting perceptions can seem Sisyphean in earlier time periods. Bringing the discursive practice of recentering to fruition in an exhibition of the medieval world requires extensive institutional collaboration and wherewithal. The labor required expands exponentially when one is dealing with an entire continent, namely Africa, that is still portrayed and… Full Review
October 24, 2019
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Joshua Rivkin
Brooklyn: Melville House Publishing, 2018. 496 pp.; 22 b/w ills. Cloth $32.00 (9781612197180)
“This, dear reader, is not a biography. This is something, I hope, stranger and more personal,” writes Joshua Rivkin at the outset of Chalk: The Art and Erasure of Cy Twombly (10). “More personal” turns out to mean “more about the author than the subject.” The first-person pronoun abounds; the first of many occurrences of “I” is very early indeed (xiii). If “more personal” is also meant to include the reader as a personal addressee of the text, this too is prominent. “We” joins “I” throughout, as does “you” and repeated entreaties to the “dear reader.” What of “stranger”? The… Full Review
October 21, 2019
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Norma Broude, ed.
New York: Bloomsbury Visual Arts, 2018. 328 pp.; 8 color ills.; 65 b/w ills. Paper $34.95 (9781501342509)
Gauguin’s Challenge: New Perspectives after Postmodernism, edited by Norma Broude, is an important and intriguing book published on the threshold of a worldwide examination and redefinition of social mores concerning, among other injustices, the historical depiction of indigenous and colonized women in Western art. Broude’s chosen texts both precede and prepare for, but mostly fall short of, current efforts by many to explore Paul Gauguin’s perceived status as a social pariah, an arrogant white colonialist, and a predator of young Polynesian women. For decades, many shrugged off his behavior as that of “a man of his times.” Then, in… Full Review
October 18, 2019
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Mariah Proctor-Tiffany
University Park: Penn State University Press, 2019. 232 pp.; 28 color ills.; 30 b/w ills. Cloth $89.95 (9780271081120)
In the summer of 1315, Clémence de Hongrie sailed from her childhood home in Naples to marry King Louis X of France. Louis died a year later, leaving Clémence a pregnant widow, and five months after that their infant son Jean also died; Clémence lived the rest of her life as a dowager queen at the French court. On October 5, 1328, in anticipation of her death, she dictated her testament. And after her death on October 13 of that year, her executors, representatives of the king, and a group of goldsmiths gathered to inventory and value her possessions as… Full Review
October 15, 2019
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Asato Ikeda
Honolulu: University Of Hawai'i Press, 2018. 144 pp.; 33 color ills.; 12 b/w ills. Cloth $60.00 (9780824872120)
In The Politics of Painting: Fascism and Japanese Art during the Second World War, Asato Ikeda considers four artists who, she argues, promoted fascist ideology through seemingly nonmilitaristic paintings made in the 1930s and 1940s. Through an examination of the work of Yokoyama Taikan (1868–1958), Yasuda Yukihiko (1884–1978), Uemura Shōen (1875–1949), and Fujita Tsuguharu (1886–1968), Ikeda rethinks conceptions of fascism and its manifestation in the Japanese visual arts, as well as these artists’ relation to fascism internationally. Ikeda argues that Japanese fascism emerged as a response to the “problem” of modernity: whereas during the Meiji period (1868–1912), the state… Full Review
October 11, 2019
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Octavian Esanu, ed.
New York: Routledge, 2018. 156 pp.; 42 b/w ills. Cloth $155.00 (9781138563834)
The first time a nude was included in an exhibition in Lebanon, it caused quite a stir. Whereas young Lebanese painters who had studied in Paris were familiar with painting nude models, they found it difficult to show their paintings to the conservative Lebanese public upon their return home. Lebanon—The Artist’s View: 200 Years of Painting, exhibition catalog (18) In her pathbreaking 2010 article “Necessary Nudes: Hadatha and Mu‘asara in the Lives of Modern Lebanese,” included here, Kirsten Scheid contends that, contrary to common assumption, artists in Mandate-era Beirut were producing nudes in the beaux arts academic style… Full Review
October 9, 2019
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Anthea Callen
New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2018. 272 pp.; 212 ills. Cloth $60.00 (9780300112948)
Anthea Callen’s earlier monographs established her as a leading expert on the facture and material history of Impressionism. Her new book turns away from the physicalities of canvas weaves and palette knives, parasols and portable paint boxes, to address a very different kind of “artists’ material”—naked human bodies, dead and living—and the academies where artists were taught to represent them. The basic insight that grounds her inquiry is simple but fundamental: the pedagogical system established across the Euro-American world by the start of the nineteenth century, modeled on the Florentine Accademia del Disegno and Roman Accademia di San Luca… Full Review
October 8, 2019
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Tijana Vujošević
Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2019. 208 pp.; 72 b/w ills. Paper £20.00 (9781526114884)
Soviet architectural modernism is characterized sometimes as unrealizably utopian, and other times as an expanse of drab housing blocks that failed to take account of their human users. Tijana Vujošević begins Modernism and the Making of the Soviet New Man by noting that neither view is exactly true, and further that the truth was, at least arguably, precisely the opposite of both: a radical transformation of the built environment was in fact realized in the first decades of the Soviet Union, and the most extraordinary aspect of early Soviet design was its attention to how its human inhabitants would themselves… Full Review
October 2, 2019
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