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

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William O. Gardner
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2020. 232 pp.; 16 color ills.; 4 b/w ills. Paper $27.00 (9781517906245)
After a long delay, Japan hosted its second Tokyo Olympics this summer (without an audience, due to the pandemic). When the Olympics were postponed last summer, Netflix premiered a dystopian anime series directed by Yuasa Masaaki, Japan Sinks 2020, a contemporary adaptation of Komatsu Sakyō’s 1973 novel of the same title. The series begins with a massive earthquake destroying Tokyo, including the newly built Olympic stadium and young athletes within. Komatsu’s earlier novel Virus: The Day of Resurrection (Fukkatsu no hi), published in 1964—the year of the first Tokyo Olympics—has also been referenced for eerily predicting a… Full Review
September 23, 2021
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Michel Draguet
Brussels and New Haven, CT: Mercatorfonds in association with Yale University Press, 2020. 304 pp.; 210 color ills. Cloth $60.00 (9780300246506)
The work of Fernand Khnopff as one of Belgium’s foremost symbolist artists is increasingly attracting scholarly attention. It is no coincidence that in the past few years interesting exhibitions have been dedicated to Belgian symbolism and Fernand Khnopff, such as Dekadenz und Dunkle Träume: Der belgische Symbolismus at the Alte Nationalgalerie in Berlin (2020–21) and Fernand Khnopff: Le maître de l’énigme (1858–1921) at the Petit Palais in Paris (2018–19). One of the directors of the latter exhibition was the Khnopff specialist Michel Draguet, author of several journal articles on Belgian art that are also of particular interest for Khnopff, as… Full Review
September 14, 2021
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Aston Gonzalez
John Hope Franklin Series in African American History and Culture. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2020. 324 pp.; 36 b/w ills. Paper $29.95 (9781469659961)
In nineteenth-century America, images were powerful tools in the battle to confront slavery and racial oppression. Aston Gonzalez’s Visualizing Equality: African American Rights and Visual Culture in the Nineteenth Century explores how Black artists fashioned radical new imagery that engaged Americans in discussions concerning the politics of race and citizenship. Visualizing Equality focuses on Robert Douglass Jr., Patrick Henry Reason, Augustus Washington, and James Presley Ball, artist-activists who played a leading role in their respective communities, alongside William Wells Brown and Henry Box Brown, who brought real-life experiences of enslavement to their projects. Born free, Douglass, Reason, Washington, and Ball… Full Review
September 9, 2021
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Mamadou Diouf and Maureen Murphy, eds.
Dijon, France: Les presses du réel, 2020. 256 pp.; 55 ills. Paper €24.00 (9782378960988)
Déborder la négritude, despite its compact format, is a trove of rigorous scholarship and a pleasure to read, with striking visual representations of Dakar and its artistic milieu. Edited by Mamadou Diouf and Maureen Murphy, the book offers a series of reflections on the intertwining of art and politics in relation to négritude and the enduring impact of President Léopold Sédar Senghor (1906–2001). As a poet, philosopher, and statesman, Senghor made his mark in Senegal and abroad through his intellectual prowess and political agenda, two distinct legacies that became deeply intertwined over the course of his multifaceted career. In… Full Review
September 7, 2021
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Anna Russakoff
Text Image Context: Studies in Medieval Manuscript Illumination 7. Toronto and Turnhout, Belgium: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies in association with Brepols, 2019. 212 pp.; 94 ills. Cloth $95.00 (9780888442154)
Within the cult of the Virgin Mary, representations of the Virgin and her miracles in medieval sculpture and painting highlight and reinforce her intercessory powers for devotees. Anna Russakoff’s book Imagining the Miraculous adds to studies of Marian iconography through a focus not on the miraculous objects themselves, but rather on the representations of miraculous images in manuscript illuminations. The illuminations studied are found in thirteenth- to fifteenth-century vernacular French manuscripts containing Marian miracles, including Gautier de Coinci’s Miracles de Nostre Dame, the anonymous Vie de Pères, Jean de Vignay’s Miroir historial, the anonymous Ci nous dit, … Full Review
September 1, 2021
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Sarah R. Cohen
Material Culture of Art and Design. New York: Bloomsbury Visual Arts, 2021. 264 pp.; 10 color ills.; 83 b/w ills. Cloth $115.00 (9781350203587)
In the late 1750s a Parisian publisher brought out a luxury edition of Jean de La Fontaine’s fables, with engravings based on drawings by the great animal painter Jean-Baptiste Oudry. Oudry’s design for the fable “The Lion Beaten by the Man” shows a lion in conversation with a group of astonished men in turbans in front of an unstretched canvas hung from a tree depicting a human wrestling a lion into submission. In the accompanying text, the “real” lion remarks that the painter has deceived his human patrons: “We would have in truth prevailed / if my colleagues knew how… Full Review
August 30, 2021
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Claudia Swan
Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2021. 336 pp.; 140 color ills. Cloth $65.00 (9780691207964)
“Europe is literally the creation of the Third World. The wealth which smothers her is that which was stolen from the underdeveloped peoples.” This is of course Frantz Fanon’s famous (and perhaps overquoted, but here I am repeating that sin anyway) diagnosis from The Wretched of the Earth (English translation from Grove Press, 1963, 102). A few sentences earlier Fanon names “Latin America, China, and Africa” as key sites from which “Europe has stuffed herself inordinately with the gold and raw materials of the colonial countries.” Two years later, parallel formational geopolitics were explored in the first two books of… Full Review
August 27, 2021
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Rebecca Zorach
Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2019. 416 pp.; 124 color ills.; 1 b/w ills. Paper $29.95 (9781478001409)
With Art for People’s Sake: Artists and Community in Black Chicago, 1965–1975, Rebecca Zorach makes a valuable intervention in art historical discourse. Zorach emphasizes the importance of the Black Arts Movement for better understanding artistic engagement with site-specificity, social practice, and performance art. A central theme of the book—efforts to produce modes and spaces for Black culture to thrive—is introduced through the groundbreaking career of artist-organizer Margaret Burroughs, a formidable artist, author, poet, and educator who cofounded the South Side Community Art Center (SSCAC) and the DuSable Museum of African American History. The book then details later Black… Full Review
August 26, 2021
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Andrew Finegold
Austin: University of Texas Press, 2021. 184 pp.; 88 color ills.; 13 b/w ills. Cloth $60.00 (9781477322437)
In Vital Voids, Andrew Finegold opens, tongue in cheek, by saying that his book is “about nothing.” He then demonstrates—convincingly, and in engaging prose—that the sustained analysis of holes provides insight into the ways in which ancient Mesoamericans conceived of cavities as teeming with vital energies or pregnant with the possibility of emergence. Nothing truly was something for ancient Mesoamericans, but arriving at this conclusion requires skilled art historical analysis on the part of Finegold. Finegold employs a range of methodologies that takes the reader from objects and history to myth, symbolism, and ideology. He begins by contemplating the… Full Review
August 25, 2021
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Katherine Jentleson
Oakland: University of California Press, 2020. 264 pp.; 53 color ills.; 18 b/w ills. Cloth $50.00 (9780520303423)
One gratifying consequence of an increasingly expansive, antiracist art history is the reframing of conventional subfields, allowing us to see familiar artworks with a fresh eye. Yet as Katherine Jentleson claims in her taut, well-argued Gatecrashers: The Rise of the Self-Taught Artist in America, the subfield, or even just the label, of so-called self-taught art has always made simple categorization difficult and continues to do so, as artists trained in settings beyond academic institutions gain more visibility. Recent high-profile exhibitions such as “Great and Mighty Things”: Outsider Art from the Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz Collection (2013), Outliers and American… Full Review
August 19, 2021
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