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

Browse Recent Exhibition Reviews

John P. Jacob and Luke Skrebowski
Exh. cat. London: D. Giles Limited in association with Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2018. 252 pp.; 174 ills. Cloth $59.95 (9781911282334)
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC, June 21, 2018–January 6, 2019; Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, La Jolla, CA, February 22–June 2, 2019
For over two decades the artist and experimental geographer Trevor Paglen has given form to visually elusive subjects, from black-op military bases hidden in Nevada deserts and spy satellites encircling the earth to NSA-tapped fiber optic cables on the Pacific Ocean floor. The Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM)’s recent midcareer survey brought into focus how Paglen probes the subject of seeing itself—whether as an embodied human act or an algorithmic code. What does it take, to what lengths must one go, to occupy a position from which one can truly see the world? Moreover, how can one… Full Review
August 15, 2019
Thumbnail
Nevada Museum of Art, Reno, April 29, 2016–May 12, 2019
“I need my space” proclaims the slogan on today’s ubiquitous NASA-themed T-shirts and hoodies, seen at popular stores like Target, Urban Outfitters, and Forever 21. This catchy phrase also adorns lunch boxes, coffee mugs, stickers, magnets, license plate frames, and cell phone wallpaper, collectively perpetuating the notion that NASA is a popular brand, and that it represents freedom through space exploration. While we know that space science is much more complex than that slogan suggests, there is certainly a trend in contemporary culture to romanticize space travel and to make it all seem easy. The Berlin-based American artist Trevor… Full Review
August 8, 2019
Thumbnail
Mass MoCA, North Adams, Massachusetts, May 27, 2017–2020
While the use of cutting-edge technology has become increasingly common in contemporary art, it often comes at a price. Slick display of digital technology can easily overshadow content and turn a work of art into gimmick—novel entertainment, at best. Laurie Anderson is arguably the most prominent among the handful of artists today who are aware of this challenge. Building on the legacy of Nam June Paik’s pioneering contributions to what is now called new media, Anderson has passionately embraced technology over the decades, but has diligently used it in the service of content. A multidisciplinary artist of the most versatile… Full Review
August 2, 2019
Thumbnail
Caroline Campbell, Dagmar Korbacher, Neville Rowley, and Sarah Vowles, eds.
Exh. cat. London and New Haven, CT: National Gallery in association with Yale University Press, 2018. 304 pp.; 275 ills. Cloth $50.00 (9781857096347)
National Gallery, London, October 1, 2018–January 27, 2019; Gemäldegalerie, Berlin, March 1–June 30, 2019
Discussion of the interplay between the North Italian Renaissance painters Giovanni Bellini and Andrea Mantegna has been a staple of art historical literature, yet this exhibition—Mantegna & Bellini, on view at the National Gallery in London, October 1, 2018–January 27, 2019—was the first to put the two artists toe-to-toe, with their achievements in direct confrontation. It’s not an easy call. These two brilliant artists, joined by family ties and a shared geography, are often treated in violent contrast, one lauded at the expense of the other. Each has a chronology that is frequently disputed. The exact nature of… Full Review
July 31, 2019
Thumbnail
Gary Garrels, ed.
Exh. cat. San Francisco and New Haven, CT: SFMoMA and Yale University Press, 2018. 272 pp.; 230 color ills. Cloth $60.00 (9780300234213)
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, December 15, 2018–March 31, 2019; the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, May 4–August 5, 2019; and Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, September 24, 2019–January 12, 2020
Alongside modernism’s medium specificity arose a historical distinction between “higher” and “lower” forms, attendant to those media. In such accounts, certain media are presented as agents of distraction and spectacle, others as vessels for sustained attention. That is: the oil painting or the TV set, presented in stark contrast. As scholars have dismantled such essentializing of medium, a critical preference for the subjectivities of modernism persists—a rapt and purified experience, even an ethical exhortation toward patience. Indeed, following such Kantian prejudices for the absorptive, one might easily devolve into what catalogue author Suzanne Hudson critiques as an “undue emphasis on… Full Review
July 24, 2019
Thumbnail
Victoria and Albert Museum, London, September 8, 2018–February 24, 2019.
Following the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace in 1851, the V&A created a space for applied arts centered on industry and design, a space that serves as a conscious foil to traditional fine arts museums. Curators Marie Foulston and Kristian Volsing carried the spirit of this mission forward into the twenty-first century with their exhibition Videogames: Design/Play/Disrupt. The show revealed the innovative practices video game designers have developed over the past fifteen years, while simultaneously asserting the radical potential of the medium by focusing on politically motivated activist games. In addition to examining the sociopolitical impact of a… Full Review
July 8, 2019
Thumbnail
Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, New York, May 11, 2018–March 17, 2019
Organized at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, by Susan Brown, associate curator of textiles, and Jennifer Cohlman Bracchi, reference librarian, Saturated: The Allure and Science of Color showcased a broad range of objects, predominantly from the Smithsonian Institution’s impressive collections. Beginning with a selection of rare handbooks dating back to as early as the seventeenth century (e.g., Athanasius Kircher’s 1671 Ars Magna Lucis et Umbrae), the exhibition shed light on the long history of attempts to render and fix a definitive taxonomy of the visible spectrum—a sort of visual dictionary, or a guide for the impulses traveling between the… Full Review
June 24, 2019
Thumbnail
Adriaan E. Waiboer, Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., and Blaise Ducos
Exh. cat. New Haven, CT and Dublin: Yale University Press in association with National Gallery of Ireland, 2017. 320 pp.; 180 color ills. Hardcover $60.00 (9780300222937)
Musée du Louvre, Paris, February 22–May 22, 2017; National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, June 17–September 17, 2017; National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, October 22, 2017–January 21, 2018
The exhibition Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting: Inspiration and Rivalry, on Vermeer and “other” Dutch genre painters of his era, was easily one of the most significant international events of last year. Conceived by Adriaan E. Waiboer of the National Gallery of Ireland and developed in close collaboration with two museum colleagues—Arthur K. Wheelock Jr. from the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, and Blaise Ducos from the Musée du Louvre in Paris—this project was widely received as a groundbreaking presentation of the intricate web of relationships among artists working in seventeenth-century Holland who looked at, emulated… Full Review
June 19, 2019
Thumbnail
Robert Brown, Tushara Bindu Gude, Donald Stadtner, and Lakshika Senarath Gamage
Exh. cat. Los Angeles: LACMA Collator, 2018. 106 pp.; 53 ills. Paperback $50.00 (9781943042128)
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, December 9, 2018–July 7, 2019
Palm-size bronze figures of Buddhas and bodhisattvas from ancient Anuradhapura. Lion-shaped stone stair balustrades from the fourteenth century. Black-and-white photographs of tropical plants by colonial British photographers. A painted ivory comb decorated with a sword-wielding goddess. And a twenty-six-foot inflatable reclining Buddha made in California. These are just a handful of works from a special exhibition showcasing the art and culture of Sri Lanka at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), now on view until July 7, 2019. Titled The Jeweled Isle: Art from Sri Lanka, the show marks the first comprehensive survey of the… Full Review
June 11, 2019
Thumbnail
Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia, October 5, 2018–February 17, 2019
For her exhibition Poorly Watched Girls at the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia, Suzanne Bocanegra installed four artworks that repurpose numerous precedent works: Francis Poulenc’s 1956 opera Dialogues des Carmélites; Mark Robson’s 1967 film Valley of the Dolls; Jan Brueghel the Elder’s circa 1620 painting Flowers in a Ceramic Vase; Thomas P. McCarthy’s 1955 Guide to the Catholic Sisterhoods in the United States; Jean Dauberval’s 1789 ballet, La Fille mal gardée (The poorly watched girl); and Luigi Pampaloni’s sculpture Girl of the Turtledoves (Innocence) of 1831. Fangirl-like, Bocanegra decorates these precedents and their many mothers… Full Review
June 7, 2019
Thumbnail