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

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Exh. cat. Ekaterinburg, Russia: Ural University Press, 2017. 488 pp.; many color ills. Hardcover (9785799622442)
Ekaterinburg, Russia, September 14–November 12, 2017
The theme of the 4th Ural Industrial Biennial of Contemporary Art was “New Literacy.” The biennial’s curatorial team conceptualized this theme based on interventions into global communication that have arisen from the current “industrial” revolution in the field of information technology. The curator of the Main Project, João Ribas, deputy director of the Serralves Museum of Contemporary Art in Porto, Portugal, described the theme as having been built around three key aspects: image as a witness, the persistent word, and capitalist choreographies (63–65). These three concepts were part of the biennial’s broader focus on various dimensions of the question “how?”… Full Review
November 8, 2018
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Matthew S. Witkovsky and Devin Fore, eds.
Exh. cat. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017. 324 pp.; 392 color ills.; 78 b/w ills. Hardcover $65.00 (9780300225716)
V-A-C Foundation, Venice, Italy, May 13–August 25, 2017; Art Institute of Chicago, IL, October 29, 2017–January 14, 2018
There should be some irony in the fact that in much of the English-speaking world this past year’s run of major art museum exhibitions commemorating the centenary of the 1917 Russian Revolution exceeded that honoring the quincentennial of the 1517 Protestant Reformation. Why the god that failed rather than the one that won? That the revolution tended toward iconogenesis and the reformation toward iconoclasm is not insignificant, neither is the fact, as the Russian exhibitions have been quick to remind us, that the old revolutionary dream of freedom, equality, and reason still gurgles in the deeper recesses of many of… Full Review
October 22, 2018
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Ellen Y. Tani
Exh. cat. Brunswick, ME: Bowdoin College Museum of Art, 2018. 112 pp.; 35 color ills.; 19 b/w ills. Cloth $45.00 (9781785511653)
Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, Maine, March 1–June 3, 2018.
Ellen Tani’s Second Sight: The Paradox of Vision in Contemporary Art at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art was a striking exhibition that brought together a diverse array of artworks engaging issues of visibility and invisibility in poetic and literal ways. Works by Robert Morris, Bill Anastasi, Richard Serra, Félix González-Torres, Glenn Ligon, Lorna Simpson, Nyeema Morgan, and Shaun Leonardo (to name just some of the contemporary artists of various generations in the show) “problematiz[e] the deeply interwoven history of vision . . . knowledge,” and power (1). Tani showed new aspects of these creators’ oeuvres, foregrounding the tactile and… Full Review
October 17, 2018
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Valerie J. Mercer
Exh. cat. Detroit: Detroit Institute of Arts, 2017. 80 pp.; 35 color ills. Cloth $19.95 (9780895581754)
Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, MI, July 23–October 22, 2017
Museum of African American History
Detroit: Museum of African American History, 2017.
Museum of African American History, Detroit, MI, July 23, 2017–January 2, 2018
At 3:15 a.m. in the early morning of July 23, 1967, members of the vice squad of the Detroit police department raided the second-floor apartment located at 9125 Twelfth Street. This after-hours drinking parlor, or “blind pig,” was a well-known establishment to patrons and police alike. As a familiar watering hole, the site served its black middle-class patrons when other segregated spaces in downtown Detroit would not, yet its illicit status provoked many raids, including nine in the preceding twelve months. While previous incidents may have yielded fines, minor arrests, or increased bribery dues, on this muggy July morning, the… Full Review
October 10, 2018
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Emma Acker, ed.
Exh. cat. San Francisco and New Haven: Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco in association with Yale University Press, 2018. 244 pp.; 150 color ills. Cloth $65.00 (9780300234022)
de Young Museum, San Francisco, CA, March 24–August 12, 2018; Dallas Museum of Art, September 16, 2018–January 6, 2019
Cult of the Machine: Precisionism and American Art is one of the year’s major exhibitions. It was organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco to be shown at the de Young Museum before traveling to the Dallas Museum of Art. The exhibition takes a new look at the American painters who, in the years after World War I, developed an art expressive of American modern life by making use of the flattened, geometric, simplified forms of European modernism. Cult of the Machine places Precisionism against a wide variety of art forms; the 126 works shown in San Francisco… Full Review
October 5, 2018
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516 Arts, Albuquerque, NM, August 11–October 20, 2018.
At the independent museum 516 Arts in downtown Albuquerque, an exhibition looks at Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria through themes of climate change, global weather patterns, colonial essentialism, Caribbean commodification, nationalism, Afro-Caribbean identity, bankruptcy, and local resiliency on the unincorporated US territory. Puerto Rico: Defying Darkness collects paintings, installations, videos, photographs, and multimedia works by sixteen Puerto Rican artists from the island and locations across the US mainland, including Albuquerque. Curator Josie Lopez uses Naomi Klein’s book The Battle for Paradise: Puerto Rico Takes on the Disaster Capitalists as a frame for the exhibition, illustrating the tension between outside corporate… Full Review
October 3, 2018
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Catharina Manchanda, ed.
Exh. cat. Seattle: Seattle Art Museum, 2018. 96 pp.; 59 color ills. Cloth $35.00 (9780300233896)
Seattle Art Museum, February 15–May 13, 2018
The title of Figuring History, an exhibition of twenty-six large-scale works by Robert Colescott (1925–2009), Kerry James Marshall (b. 1955), and Mickalene Thomas (b. 1971), signals at least two of the show’s significant themes. Both terms have double meanings. “History” refers to people and events of the past as well as to the history of art. “Figuring” indicates both the representations of the human figure and the artists’ attempts to “puzzle out the place and meaning of those figures” (39) in historical and art historical narratives. Employing different strategies, all three artists grapple with figures in history and histories… Full Review
September 21, 2018
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Mazie M. Harris
Exh. cat. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2018. 224 pp.; 187 color ills.; 20 b/w ills.; 207 ills. Cloth $49.95 (9781606065495)
J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, February 27–May 27, 2018
Paper Promises: Early American Photography, curated by Mazie M. Harris, assistant curator of photographs at the J. Paul Getty Museum, offered fascinating insight into the little-known history of early paper photography in the United States. Although the processes for producing metal daguerreotypes and paper photographs were introduced simultaneously in America, negative-positive paper photography was slow to catch on, despite the ostensible benefits of its reproducibility. Harris accounts for this fact in the financial history of the antebellum period arguing that the medium’s feared potential to create counterfeit currency stymied its adoption in the United States. After Andrew Jackson dismantled the… Full Review
September 5, 2018
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J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, January 30–April 8, 2018
Based on manuscripts in the J. Paul Getty Museum’s collection, the one-room exhibition presented a well-defined overview of medieval ideas and depictions of prejudice and persecution. Even though the title of the exhibition contained the phrase “medieval world,” this was effectively the present-day world of Christians in western and central Europe in the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries. This misnomer in the title does not distract from the nuanced treatment of the exhibition’s illuminated manuscripts, each with carefully chosen examples of themes such as (per the exhibition website Outcasts: Prejudice & Persecution in the Medieval World): ableism and classism… Full Review
August 27, 2018
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Sarah Greenough and Sarah Kennel
Exh. cat. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2018. 320 pp.; 230 b/w ills. Cloth $55.00 (9781419729034 )
National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, March 4–May 28, 2018; Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts, June 30–September 23, 2018; J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, November 20, 2018–February 10, 2019; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, March 3–May 27, 2019; Jeu de Paume, Paris, June 17–September 22, 2019; High Museum of Art, Atlanta, October 19, 2019–January 12, 2020
“Nature is a Haunted House—but Art—a House that tries to be haunted,” Emily Dickinson writes in a letter to her confidant Thomas Wentworth Higginson. It is a laconic thought: clear as a bell in its expression, troubled as a knot in its concept. Who does the haunting? For some—Dickinson would surely count herself among them—nature bears the touch of its creation and is haunted by the leftover presence of the spirit that created it. But it is also part of Dickinson’s thought that we haunt nature; we pass through it, as insubstantial to it as it is implacable to us… Full Review
August 23, 2018
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