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

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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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Carol Armstrong
New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2018. 296 pp.; 108 color ills.; 18 b/w ills. Cloth $65.00 (9780300232714)
Virginia Woolf recalled seeing a small Cézanne still life of apples at the home of John Maynard Keynes, as Carol Armstrong recounts in Cézanne’s Gravity. “What can 6 apples not be? I began to wonder. There’s their relationship to each other, & their colour, & their solidity” (34). It was a dozen years after Paul Cézanne’s death, but the spirit of the painter was very much alive among the Bloomsbury circle of artists and intellectuals viewing the work. The assembled company, which included the painter Vanessa Bell (Woolf’s sister) and the critic Roger Fry, “carried it into the next… Full Review
February 21, 2020
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Marietta Cambareri
Exh. cat. Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 2016. 176 pp.; 130 color ills. Cloth $45.00 (9780878468416)
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, August 9–December 4, 2016; National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, February 5–June 4, 2017
After describing Luca della Robbia’s achievements in marble and bronze, Giorgio Vasari goes on to note how much time he spent in making them, [and upon recognizing] that he had gained very little and that the labour had been very great, he resolved to abandon marble and bronze and to see whether he could gather better fruits from another method. Wherefore, reflecting that clay could be worked easily and with little labour, and that it was only necessary to find a method whereby works made with it might be preserved for a long time . . . after having made… Full Review
February 20, 2020
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Kathleen Giles Arthur
Visual and Material Culture, 1300–1700. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2018. 252 pp. Cloth $120.00 (9789462984332)
Kathleen Giles Arthur’s concise study illuminates the intersection of visual culture and the spiritual lives of Observant Franciscan women in fifteenth-century Ferrara, Italy. Her book is an outstanding and much-needed contribution to scholarship on art and the Poor Clares. Historians of this topic have focused primarily on the visionary treatise Le sette armi spirituali, written by Caterina Vigri (1413–1463), founder of the convent now usually known as Corpus Domini in Bologna. Caterina spent much of her life in Ferrara, first at the d’Este court of Niccolò III, where she served as lady-in-waiting to his wife Parisina. In 1426… Full Review
February 19, 2020
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Sam Rose
University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 2019. 224 pp.; 27 b/w ills. Cloth $89.95 (9780271082387)
In Art and Form: From Roger Fry to Global Modernism, Sam Rose contends with the discursive legacy of “formalist modernism,” a narrative contaminated by perpetuating misunderstandings. According to Rose, “formalist modernism” constitutes a narrow view that cleaves internal form from external meaning, separating art from life. Formalism itself, as an intellectual category, has suffered the same reductivist fate that it purports to drive in the orthodox trajectory of modern art, from representation to abstraction. To counter this narrative, Rose situates Roger Fry’s writings on form in an expansive intellectual nexus that includes connoisseurship, literary criticism, design theory, Marxist art… Full Review
February 10, 2020
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