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

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New Orleans, November 8–9, 2019
“Slave rebellions were a continuous source of fear in the American South, especially since black slaves accounted for more than one-third of the region’s population in the 18th century.” So begins the most current article on slave rebellions on the History network website. The writers can imagine a fear of rebellion but not the hopes embodied therein; they traffic in an actuarial metaphor, “accounting,” that subtly affirms that “black slaves” were indeed commodities; and they proffer a unit, “the American South,” that includes the slavers and their enablers but not the enslaved, whose resistance to slavery is just as… Full Review
March 17, 2020
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Erin O'Toole, ed.
Exh. cat. London: MACK, 2019. 220 pp. Cloth $45.00 (9781912339433)
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, July 6–December 1, 2019
In 2017, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art received a trove of 9,200 Polaroids taken by unknown artist April Dawn Alison (1941–2008). To use curator Erin O’Toole’s words, Alison was “the private feminine persona” of Alan Schaefer, a reclusive Oakland-based commercial photographer with a proclivity for short dresses, high heels, wigs, and jewelry, whose gender identity was known only to a few relatives and friends. The voluminous archive consists mostly of self-portraits taken in the artist’s two-bedroom apartment over the course of four decades. The photographs were discovered by artist Andrew Masullo, who purchased the archive from the liquidator… Full Review
March 13, 2020
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Meiqin Wang
Routledge Research in Art and Politics. New York: Routledge, 2019. 252 pp.; 16 color ills.; 58 b/w ills. Cloth $155.00 (9781138314344)
In the past few decades, the global contemporary art world has witnessed a significant revival of interest in the question of art’s social dimensions, including awareness of the public sphere, civic engagement, and participation in politics. This “social turn” has manifested as a critique of institutionalized postmodernism and neoliberal capitalism. The rise of socially engaged art in China has echoed this international art phenomenon. Artists, critics, and researchers are harnessing the power of art to pursue publicness, social criticism, community reconstruction, bottom-up citizen participation, grassroots interests, and social justice. In so doing, they have abandoned a continuing faith in the… Full Review
March 11, 2020
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Gülru Çakmak
Liverpool, UK: Liverpool University Press, 2018. 256 pp.; 13 color ills.; 36 b/w ills. Cloth $120.00 (9781786940674)
Gülru Çakmak’s book on the French artist Jean-Léon Gérôme was a joy to read. It is the first monograph that I have read that engages seriously, thoroughly, and deeply with Gérôme’s academic paintings. It focuses on the artist’s most famous works from the 1850s, an early stage in what was to become a stellar career within the institutional framework of nineteenth-century Paris: Duel after the Masquerade (1857), Prayer in the House of an Arnaut Chief (1857), Ave Caesar! Morituri te salutant (1859), Death of Caesar (1867, extant in three versions) and César (the lost 1859 “close-up” version of Death of… Full Review
March 9, 2020
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Lamia Balafrej
Edinburgh Studies in Islamic Art. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2019. 276 pp.; 74 color ills. Cloth $150.00 (9781474437431)
A stimulating read from start to finish, Lamia Balafrej’s The Making of the Artist in Late Timurid Painting is the first book-length analysis of one of the most important codices of Islamic art—the Cairo Bustan (The orchard). Currently preserved in Cairo, this fifteenth-century copy of Saʻdi’s (d. 1291) Persian book of poetry was produced in Herat (in today’s Afghanistan) for Husayn Bayqara (r. ca. 1470–1506), a ruler of the Timurid Empire, which dominated Central Asia and Iran from circa 1400 until 1507. The codex features an unsigned double-page frontispiece attributed to Miraq Naqqash—the head of the royal library in Herat—and… Full Review
March 6, 2020
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Ralph Rugoff
Exh. cat. 2 vols. Venice: La Biennale di Venezia, 2019. 812 pp. Cloth €85.00 (9788898727308)
Venice, May 11–November 24, 2019
The images from Venice that traveled around the world after the Biennale in November 2019 seemed almost tailor-made for the Instagram age: tourists wheeling their suitcases through a flooded Piazza San Marco, residents in hip waders made of trash bags slogging through the flood alongside wooden gangways that offered a labyrinthine refuge for dry feet. These photos were not created with art in mind, but rather as documentation of the impact of the annual acqua alta reaching a miserable new record of nearly two meters in depth. Unlike elsewhere, the cause of the flooding here was less climate change than… Full Review
March 4, 2020
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Scenario: The three former field editors for theory and historiography reflect on the state of the field(s) and try to place reviewing in the theoretical life of art history as it has been practiced historically—and as it is practiced today. Andrei Pop: To start us off: theory and historiography strike some people, especially working art historians, as disembodied. Is there a vivid memory you have from your stint editing for caa.reviews, one that jumps out at you? Passionate exchanges with a reviewer or author? Or with a reader or book? David Carrier: In general, the biggest problem was getting… Full Review
Dana E. Byrd and Frank H. Goodyear III
Exh. cat. Brunswick, ME and New Haven, CT: Bowdoin College Museum of Art in association with Yale University Press, 2018. 208 pp.; 138 color ills. Hardcover $45.00 (9780300214550 )
Bowdoin College Museum of Art, June 22–October 28, 2018; Brandywine River Museum of Art, Chadds Ford, PA, November 17, 2018–February 17, 2019
Winslow Homer and Photography: A Reassessment Over the past decade, the Portland Museum of Art’s restoration of the Winslow Homer (1836–1910) studio on Prouts Neck in Scarborough, Maine, and the acquisition of his view camera by the Bowdoin College Museum of Art have spurred important new scholarship about Homer’s relationship to the visual culture of his day. The recent exhibition and catalog Winslow Homer and the Camera: Photography and the Art of Painting carefully reexamine Homer’s life and art in relation to the emergence of photography over the course of his prolific career. Period photographs in particular have expanded our… Full Review
February 28, 2020
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Walter S. Melion and James Clifton, eds.
Exh. cat. Atlanta: Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University, 2019. 222 pp.; 103 b/w ills. Paper $29.95 (9781928917083)
Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University, Atlanta, August 31–December 1, 2019
The recent exhibition Through a Glass, Darkly at Emory University’s Michael C. Carlos Museum seeks, against the odds, to replicate the pleasure that the learned early modern viewer found in decoding complex religious allegorical prints. Cocurators James Clifton and Walter S. Melion admit that these joys can seem distant to us now. Clifton’s preface to the exhibition catalog opens with a quote from the BBC’s beloved art critic Sister Wendy Beckett, who conceded in one of her programs that “we don’t really like allegories” (6). Allegory can be challenging, as it inherently points away from its intended meaning, always signifying… Full Review
February 26, 2020
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Asma Naeem
Oakland: University of California Press, 2020. 248 pp.; 49 color ills.; 27 b/w ills. Cloth $65.00 (9780520298989)
Asma Naeem’s book starts with one of those “aha” moments that occur when, as an art historian, you recognize that you have been overlooking a simple but persistent phenomenon relevant to your subject. Vision, it turns out, is not the only sense relevant to the field—hearing matters too. Naeem’s first sentence will not surprise most art historians: “Museums weren’t always the hallowed spaces of reflection that they are today” (1). However, she builds on this straightforward observation to provide a wide range of novel insights. Ultimately, Out of Earshot is framed by a simple but potent question: what if we… Full Review
February 24, 2020
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