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

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Anthony W. Lee
McGill/Beaverbrook Canadian Foundation Studies in Art History 26. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2019. 344 pp.; 193 color ills. Cloth $55.00 (9780773557130)
The history of photography has long been written along geographic boundaries. Until recently nation-based narratives, especially those of Great Britain, France, and the United States, dominated the field, and when new studies representing long-neglected corners of the world appeared, they tended to replicate the well-established examples that preceded them. Within the past decade, however, scholars have begun to shift emphasis from individual photographers and nations to the circulation of images and transnational exchange, presenting local practices within a much wider context of global contact and dissemination. The Global Flows of Early Scottish Photography: Encounters in Scotland, Canada, and China is… Full Review
February 7, 2020
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Marcia Kupfer
London: Yale University Press in association with Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, 2016. 240 pp.; 50 color ills.; 50 b/w ills. Cloth $75.00 (9780300220339)
This book offers readers an in-depth study of one single object: the world map (mappa mundi) produced for Hereford Cathedral in England around 1300 CE. Rather than situating this work within the history of cartography, Marcia Kupfer treats it as an object of art. She convincingly argues that by exclusively considering the map as a repository of geographical knowledge, scholars have fundamentally misunderstood the mappa mundi and some of its puzzling visual characteristics. Tellingly, the interchange of the legends of Africa and Europe on the map has traditionally been interpreted as a failure on the part of a… Full Review
February 5, 2020
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Marisa Anne Bass
Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2019. 312 pp.; 192 color ills. Cloth $65.00 (9780691177151)
Art is autobiography in the nostalgic mode. This is the main lesson of Marisa Anne Bass’s Insect Artifice: Nature and Art in the Dutch Revolt. This learned and refined book examines the life and works of Joris Hoefnagel (1542–1601), the troubled Netherlandish artist who was forced to leave the Low Countries in the wake of the Dutch Revolt and spent his later years at the Bavarian court of Duke Albrecht V and then in Rudolf II’s Prague. In Bass’s telling, the determining event of Hoefnagel’s life was the revolt. Experiences of war and loss permeate his art and thinking, especially… Full Review
February 3, 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 revisits British writing on art over the first four decades of the twentieth century so as to determine what can be retrieved from its formalisms. Rose asks in what way art historical formalisms can be made productive for today’s renewed interest in aesthetics and in light of an urgent, more inclusive turn in the discipline from Western modernism to global modernisms. The answer, in a nutshell, is a “more modest” formalism (10). Throughout the book, the counterpart to this modest formalism is a capacious “pure” formalism that… Full Review
January 31, 2020
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Andrew James Hamilton
Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2018. 304 pp.; 105 color ills.; 55 b/w ills. Cloth $65.00 (9780691172736)
This beautifully produced and illustrated book joins a growing shelf of studies devoted in whole or in substantial part to phenomena of scale in world arts and visual and material cultures, including David Summers’s Real Spaces (Phaidon, 2003), a special issue of the journal Art History (38, no. 2; April 2015) edited by Joan Kee and Emanuele Lugli, Lugli’s own recent book The Making of Measure and the Promise of Sameness (University of Chicago Press, 2019), Darcy Grimaldo Grigsby’s Colossal: Engineering the Suez Canal, Statue of Liberty, Eiffel Tower, and Panama Canal (Periscope, 2012), and Elizabeth A. Honig’s Jan Brueghel… Full Review
January 29, 2020
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Harwood Museum of Art, Taos, New Mexico, June 2–November 10, 2019
The Harwood Museum of Art of the University of New Mexico is the second oldest museum in the state, as reflected by its architecture. The entrance feels ecclesiastical, as you wind your way along the adobe walls and open the massive wooden blue doors, then you suddenly find yourself in a crowded gift shop, followed by a narrow corridor gallery. In 2019, Judy Chicago’s serigraphs lined those walls, with highly stylized images of a woman/earth mother giving birth to the cosmos. She is shown frontally, her legs splayed, her vagina stretched into an open wound with radiating lines flowing out… Full Review
January 27, 2020
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Raphaela Platow and Lowery Stokes Sims, eds.
Exh. cat. New York: Rizzoli Electa, 2019. 252 pp.; 130 color ills. Cloth $66.00 (9780847866953)
Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, September 20, 2019–January 12, 2020; Portland Art Museum, Oregon, February 15–May 17, 2020; Chicago Cultural Center, June 20–September 27, 2020; Akron Art Museum, Ohio, October 25, 2020–January 31, 2021; Sarasota Museum of Art, Florida, March–June 2021
The press release for the US Pavilion at the 1997 Venice Biennale described Robert Colescott (1925–2009) as “arguably the most important American figurative painter of his generation.” The qualifier, “arguably,” is significant, because since the 1990s few scholars have been making that argument. A lifelong teacher, Colescott didn’t begin to make a name for himself until 1971, at the age of forty-six, with outrageous, satirical paintings about race, sexuality, and power in art history and in American culture generally. By the 1980s, Colescott had become a subject of frequent controversy for his art historical parodies, which took aim at the… Full Review
January 23, 2020
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Susan Laxton
Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2019. 384 pp.; 16 color ills.; 154 b/w ills. Paper $27.95 (9781478003076)
In Surrealism at Play, Susan Laxton weaves an alternate history of Surrealism through the concept of play, a historically underacknowledged (yet, in her telling, constitutive) element of the movement. This is serious play: play as process not product, as action and experience. Play undergirds the Surrealists’ ambition not only to remake the art of making art but also to reform intersubjective relations and modern experience; it is a critical force available precisely because it is “not work, not serious, not part of normal life, unreal, inauthentic” (12). Laxton’s crucial interlocutor is Walter Benjamin. Indeed, one could understand her project… Full Review
January 22, 2020
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Lori Boornazian Diel
Austin: University of Texas Press, 2018. 228 pp.; 82 color ills.; 35 b/w ills. Cloth $55.00 (9781477316733)
A curious pocket-size manuscript made in colonial Mexico, now in the collection of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, has long eluded synthetic assessment, for good reason: its diminutive size belies the complex, hybrid contents—over one hundred pages thick with information in various forms by different hands, previously dismissed as apparently miscellaneous. Recorded primarily in an Aztec pictorial system of writing around 1580, its seemingly incongruent sections engage a range of subjects drawn from both native and European traditions. In this superb monograph by Lori Boornazian Diel, the Codex Mexicanus has finally found its integration. In fact, this study does much… Full Review
January 21, 2020
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Jenny Anger
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2018. 320 pp.; 87 color ills.; 12 b/w ills. Cloth $120.00 (9781517903213)
Following up on her 2004 book on Paul Klee and the decorative in modern art (Cambridge University Press), Jenny Anger’s latest volume recounts the history of Herwarth Walden’s Der Sturm (1910–32), a Berlin-based cultural venture bringing together art, performance, theater, periodical publishing, teaching, and bookselling, thus continuing her exploration of an expansive notion of modernism that works against essentializing conceptions of the different arts. Simultaneously, the volume looks across the Atlantic to tell the story of the Société Anonyme (1920–50), an undertaking by Katherine Dreier, Marcel Duchamp, and Man Ray that was modeled on Der Sturm. One of the book’s… Full Review
January 17, 2020
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