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

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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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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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