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

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Sanja Savkić and Hannah Baader, eds.
Estudios Indiana 13. Berlin: Ibero-Amerikanisches Institut and Gebr. Mann Verlag, 2019. 438 pp. Paper €34.00 (9783786128311)
Sanja Savkić and Hannah Baader offer a fine collection of edited essays dedicated to the question of aesthetic practices in the cultural traditions of indigenous America. The volume seeks to participate in “the praxeological turn” across “a plurality of fields” in the humanities and human sciences: its intention is to explore “the emancipatory capacities of aesthetic experience” and the “practical reflection” occasioned by artistic experience (429). The collection’s overall vision amalgamates continental theories of practice (Pierre Bourdieu, Theodore Schatzki) with “the biography of objects” (Arjun Appadurai, Nicholas Thomas) and object-agency (Alfred Gell, Timothy Ingold, Ian Hodder), although this characterization is… Full Review
April 14, 2020
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Elizabeth Otto
Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2019. 296 pp.; 55 color ills.; 26 b/w ills. Cloth $34.95 (9780262043298)
The centennial of the Bauhaus in 2019 was marked by an explosion of public interest, much of it fueled by the German government’s substantial investment in new museum buildings in Dessau and Weimar and in a program of exhibitions and conferences that ringed the globe. Such widespread attention to a topic often exposes the substantial gap between public perception and scholarly understanding. Simply dismissing popularly held notions as unscholarly can miss the point, for their endurance demonstrates their utility. For instance, the Bauhaus remains a symbol of a democratic Germany open to artistic experimentation, although the publication of Winfried Nerdinger’s… Full Review
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Cherise Smith
Austin: University of Texas Press, 2020. 300 pp.; 151 color ills.; 20 b/w ills. Cloth $60.00 (9781477319178)
Within the past five years, art historians and others interested in the intersection of race and representation have benefited from several noteworthy publications examining the role of visual culture, both current and historical, in the construction of American identity. To this list—which includes John Stauffer, Zoe Trodd, and Celeste-Marie Bernier’s Picturing Frederick Douglass: An Illustrated Biography of the Nineteenth Century’s Most Photographed American (Liveright, 2015), Sarah Lewis’s edited issue of Aperture entitled “Vision & Justice” (Aperture 223, 2016), and Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow (Penguin Random House, 2019)—must be… Full Review
April 6, 2020
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Christian K. Kleinbub
University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 2020. 260 pp.; 40 color ills.; 77 b/w ills. Cloth $99.95 (9780271083780)
Among premodern artists, Michelangelo is by far the most written-about individual. Through books, articles, and popular culture we are inundated with information and interpretation about him. While the onslaught of literature will and must continue, it is rare when a book offers a fundamentally new way of considering the artist. Christian K. Kleinbub’s book Michelangelo’s Inner Anatomies does just that. It offers meaningful and original investigations into Michelangelo’s sense of self and the meaning of his art. Kleinbub seeks to turn Michelangelo and his art inside out. Rather than looking at surfaces and outward appearance, Kleinbub investigates how Michelangelo might… Full Review
April 2, 2020
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Seattle Asian Art Museum, February 8, 2020–ongoing
After closing for two years to undergo extensive renovations, the Seattle Asian Art Museum reopened in early February with Boundless: Stories of Asian Art—an exhibition that reimagines its existing collection and presents a timely intervention into the field of Asian art. Boundless foregoes curation based on linear histories, geography, and national borders, turning instead to a thematic approach that makes space for a more expansive conception of Asia. Criticisms of curating based on national, regional, or civilizational designations have often been lodged in art historical discourse on Asia; however, alternative approaches have been rarely realized. Historically, museums and exhibitions… Full Review
March 30, 2020
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Marije Osnabrugge
Amsterdam Studies in the Dutch Golden Age. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2019. 400 pp.; 20 color ills.; 89 b/w ills. Cloth €129.00 (9789462988200)
For a few decades now, immigration has been at the center of societal debates and political programs, at least in the Global North. Migrant artists are rarely mentioned in these discussions, perhaps because professional artists make up a relatively negligible segment of the total immigrant population. Conversely, however, it seems likely that nowadays a high percentage of those making a living by making art are migrants; the same goes for art historians. Marije Osnabrugge, the author of this timely book, for example, is a Dutch scholar working on a subject requiring long research stays in Italy, professionally based in Switzerland… Full Review
March 27, 2020
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Charlotte Guichard
Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 2018. 368 pp.; 98 color ills. Cloth €31.00 (9782021402315)
In La griffe du peintre, Charlotte Guichard offers a reflection on the painter’s signature in France during the long eighteenth century, both as a sign of artistic identity and as a bearer of value. She convincingly argues that the topic is best served by anchoring analysis at the intersection of various perspectives, simultaneously tracing a “material history of easel painting and a cultural history of signature” (25; all translations are my own). Together, these approaches constitute what the author calls an “anthropology of painting” (23), a method she advocates that proceeds from the network of the actors (artists, dealers… Full Review
March 25, 2020
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Ünver Rüstem
Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2019. 336 pp.; 204 color ills.; 44 b/w ills. Cloth $65.00 (9780691181875)
In this extensive study on eighteenth-century Ottoman Istanbul, Ünver Rüstem examines the evolution of baroque architecture under the patronage of five consecutive sultans, from Ahmed III (r. 1703–30) to Abdülhamid I (r. 1774–89), concluding with the significance of building activity during the reign of Sultan Selim III (r. 1789–1807) at the close of the century. Rüstem’s book thus presents one of the few comprehensive and chronological surveys of an entire century of sultanic patronage in Istanbul. In each chapter, architectural details are relayed in singular specificity and each monument is discussed through the use of numerous primary sources, Ottoman chronicles… Full Review
March 24, 2020
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Baltimore Museum of Art, September 29, 2019–January 19, 2020
Baltimore Museum of Art, September 29, 2019–January 12, 2020
Baltimore Museum of Art, July 14, 2019–January 5, 2020
Three recent exhibitions at the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) reflected an important shift in priorities for that institution. The first and largest, Generations: A History of Black Abstract Art, presented a selection of over seventy works from the Pamela J. Joyner and Alfred J. Giuffrida Collection as well as the BMA’s permanent collection. The exhibition was curated by Katy Siegel, the BMA’s senior research curator and Eugene V. and Clare E. Thaw Endowed Chair at Stony Brook University, and Christopher Bedford, Dorothy Wagner Wallis Director at the BMA. Generations stands out as a significant contribution… Full Review
March 20, 2020
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Denise Markonish, ed.
Exh. cat. North Adams, MA and New York: MASS MoCA in association with DelMonico Books-Prestel, 2017. 200 pp.; 133 color ills. Cloth $49.95 (9783791356051)
MASS MoCA, North Adams, MA, October 15, 2016–September 4, 2017; Tramway, Glasgow, August 3–November 11, 2019; Carriageworks, Sydney, November 23–March 3, 2019; Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR, July 18, 2020–January 3, 2021
The initial sensation on entering Nick Cave’s installation Until is one of beguilement. Thousands of brightly colored wind spinners—metal discs cut with concentric designs that generate a holographic effect when in motion—hang on wire strands from ceiling to floor in a glittering thicket. The walls are netted with pony beads threaded into vivid designs: the word “power,” a hashtag, a red World AIDS Day ribbon, a rainbow. Skirting the wind-spinner forest, a pony-bead curtain cascades over the floor, leaving a bejeweled tideline. At the exhibition’s heart sits a gigantic structure that seems to float celestially, its underside shimmering with illuminated… Full Review
March 18, 2020
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