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

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Emilie Boone
Durham: Duke University Press, 2023. 288 pp.; 76 color ills. $27.95 (9781478024903)
The significance of James Van Der Zee (1886–1983) to the history of photography and to the story of Black life and culture in the twentieth century is immense. And yet, as Emilie Boone elucidates in her sterling book, A Nimble Arc: James Van Der Zee and Photography, there is much about the artist’s prodigious and probing practice that beckons further consideration. Some of what has made it difficult to narrate Van Der Zee’s extraordinary artistic achievements tidily, Boone observes, is the sheer length of his career, which spanned more than eight decades, from 1900–83. That his images shuttle between… Full Review
June 24, 2024
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Ittai Weinryb
Petersberg, Germany: Michael Imhof Verlag, 2023. 160 pp.; 55 color ills. Cloth GPB22.95 (9783731913450)
In 2018, Ittai Weinryb published an article in Speculum entitled “Hildesheim Avant-Garde: Bronze, Columns, and Colonialism.” Its primary objects of study were the famous bronze doors and the less well-known, but equally impressive, bronze column made around the year 1000 for Bishop Bernward of Hildesheim. Many of the arguments of this important article were adumbrated in its title. Weinryb used the term avant-garde in its double sense: 1) the extended one, familiar to art historians, to describe forward-looking artistic production; and 2) the original, more literal military sense, to refer to front-line shock troops. This literal meaning was crucial to… Full Review
June 21, 2024
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Amy McNair
Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2023. 268 pp.; 9 color ills. $49.95 (9780674293748)
In her book The Painting Master’s Shame: Liang Shicheng and the Xuanhe Catalogue of Paintings, Amy McNair demonstrates the breathtaking rise of eunuch officials under Emperor Huizong’s reign (r. 1100–26), and their involvement in art production and management. She argues that the renowned Xuanhe Catalogue of Paintings (1120), referred to as the Catalogue was not authored or directed by Emperor Huizong but by his powerful eunuch Liang Shicheng (ca. 1063–1126). An important inventory for third- through twelfth-century paintings held in the palace storehouses, the Catalogue classifies 6,396 paintings into ten subject categories, adding explanatory prefaces and 231 artists’ biographies… Full Review
June 17, 2024
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Alexandra Chiriac
Berlin: De Gruyter, 2022. 232 pp.; 23 color ills. Paper $45.99 (9783110765588)
For historians of East European art, who have long labored to fill gaps in the historical record left by loss or disregard, the publication of compelling new information in Alexandra Chiriac’s recent book, Performing Modernism: A Jewish Avant-Garde in Bucharest, will be most welcome. Chiriac not only provides newly uncovered material on design and theater in interwar Romania that corrects long-held assumptions, but also enriches the chronicle of Jewish and women’s contributions to the avant-garde with fresh insights. Chiriac establishes her position at the outset: bringing design and theater into the foreground enlarges the arena of avant-garde activity and… Full Review
June 12, 2024
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Aglaya K. Glebova
New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2023. 256 pp.; 55 color ills.; 83 b/w ills. Cloth (9780300254037)
You would be forgiven for thinking that the image on the back cover of Aleksandr Rodchenko: Photography in the Time of Stalin was included there by mistake. The photograph—a 1933 snapshot of two logs floating in a stagnant pool of water—is not what we associate with Rodchenko’s camerawork. Quite the opposite, in fact. Rodchenko was, by both his own assertions and scholarly consensus, a photographer committed to capturing Soviet technocracy in all its fast-paced, forward-looking dynamism. There must have been a mix-up in the design studio, then, for this monograph to emerge emblazoned with an image of pond life on… Full Review
June 10, 2024
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Lisa Gail Collins
Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 2023. 200 pp.; 24 b/w ills. Cloth $29.95 (9780295751603)
A little over ten years ago, I received two crib quilts made and gifted by family members at a baby shower celebrating my first-born daughter, Abigail. There were many “oohs” and “ahhs” from family and friends, as they knew the quilts were carefully made with love and joy for the baby’s arrival. Several years prior, I had directed and produced a documentary called The Skin Quilt Project, which recounted African American quilters and scholars telling of the transformative power of the African American quilt tradition across the United States, including in Gee’s Bend, Alabama. African American quilters in the… Full Review
June 5, 2024
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Miriam Kienle
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2023. 304 pp.; 108 b/w ills. $34.95 (9781517911638)
In Queer Networks: Ray Johnson’s Correspondence Art, Miriam Kienle describes Ray Johnson as an artist of “unassimilable oddness’’ (168). Johnson’s correspondence work is funny, silly, poetic, complicated, and often homoerotic. It makes use of recognizable pop-cultural imagery and engages several well-known figures in the New York art worlds of the 1950s and 1960s, enmeshing them in a complex web of wordplay, animal symbolism, mid-century gay cultural references, and personal and professional tensions. The work’s possible meanings and potential interpretations can seem never-ending. One of the pleasures of studying Johnson’s work is its seemingly immutable resistance to straightforward art-historical analysis… Full Review
June 3, 2024
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Janice Rieger
1st edition . Routledge, 2023. 132 pp.; 12 b/w ills. Cloth $136.00 (9781032076843)
Janice Rieger’s Design, Disability and Embodiment: Spatial Justice and Perspectives of Power distills the methodologies and lessons she has refined through years of collaborative fieldwork and analytic research in and on museums, malls, universities, and galleries in both Canada and Australia. Central to Rieger’s methodology of critical design access is the Design for All (DfA) movement. Rieger argues that DfA uniquely encourages what she terms “inclusive ecologies”: a process of examining knowledge bases, creating designs, and encouraging usership which integrates all users and abilities at every step. Similar movements that seek to incorporate disability with design practice (such as Universal… Full Review
May 29, 2024
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Assaf Pinkus
University Park: Penn State University Press, 2021. 216 pp.; 50 color ills.; 87 b/w ills. Hardcover $109.95 (9780271083797)
Assaf Pinkus’s Visual Aggression: Images of Martyrdom in Late Medieval Germany is the latest addition to recent scholarship on how medieval sculptors staged meaningful encounters with embodied viewing subjects. Using somaesthetics as its theoretical framework, it charts the emergence of an unprecedented visual rhetoric of violence in 14th-century monumental martyrdom cycles from southern Germany. Aptly termed “galleries of violence,” the imagery in this study is characterized by an encyclopedic array of bodily horrors and mutilations. While scholars like Caroline Walker Bynum have interpreted scenes of medieval martyrdom in light of contemporary devotional practices, Pinkus argues that these images elicited a… Full Review
May 20, 2024
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Elizabeth (Dori) Tunstall
Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2023. 136 pp.; 6 b/w ills. Cloth $24.95 (9780262047692)
Through a deeply personal and insightful exploration, Elizabeth Tunstall’s Decolonizing Design: A Cultural Justice Guidebook demonstrates her commitment to the decolonization agenda. Organized into five chapters, the book delves into various means to decolonize design by exposing how her lived experiences have shaped the meaning of such a task whilst providing a deeper understanding of the work involved in this process, making it a valuable resource for anyone seeking to understand and implement it. Chapter one blends personal narratives and reflections that address the need to put Indigenous nations and peoples first as a crucial step to decolonize design, emphasizing… Full Review
May 15, 2024
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