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

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Samuli Simelius
Routledge, 2022. 268 pp.; 28 b/w ills. Hardback $128.00 (9780367649951)
Ever since the influential book by Wilhelmina Jashemski, The Gardens of Pompeii, Herculaneum, and the Villas destroyed by Vesuvius (‎Aristide D. Caratzas, 1979), the gardens of Pompeii have been in the spotlight of archaeological research. Besides questions about the cultivation and use of garden areas, the often lavishly decorated peristyles, in particular, attracted attention. In the Book Pompeian Peristyle Gardens: Studies in Roman Space and Urbanism, Samuli Simelius has now, for the first time, undertaken a compelling comparative analysis of all two hundred fifty-two Pompeian peristyle gardens excavated in Pompeii, which were visible in 79 CE. The analysis examines how… Full Review
December 13, 2023
Claudia Brittenham
Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2023. 184 pp.; 114 color ills.; 13 b/w ills. $60.00 (9781477325964)
Surviving works of art created by Indigenous Mesoamerican artists seem to challenge paradigms of art history developed for the study of European traditions. Claudia Brittenham’s Unseen Art: Making, Vision, and Power in Ancient Mesoamerica tackles one of the paradoxes central to the study of ancient Mesoamerican material culture: works of art with restricted visibility. The works considered in this volume were meant to be seen briefly, or only by certain people, or for only certain moments in time. Brittenham’s premise is that understanding how such works operated allows us a new approach to questions of visibility, power, and inequality—and… Full Review
December 11, 2023
Miryam Sas
Durham: Duke University Press, 2022. 320 pp.; 53 b/w ills. Paperback $27.95 (9781478018490)
In the introduction to their edited volume Media Theory in Japan (Duke University Press, 2017), Marc Steinberg and Alexander Zahlten ask “What happens if the very conditions of thinking mediation arise from the particular media and media cultural forms with which we interact?” (6). For them, the answer was to “resist the universal language of theory in favor of a contextual and unstable practice of theory, without giving up on the belief that theorization—of media or anything else for that matter—is an indispensable tool with which to grapple with our times” (6). Steinberg and Zahlten look to media praxis, or… Full Review
December 6, 2023
Mary Ann Calo
University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 2023. 216 pp.; 15 b/w ills. $74.95 (9780271094939)
As the first dedicated monograph to Black artists’ involvement in the federal projects of the 1930s and 1940s, Mary Ann Calo’s African American Artists and the New Deal Art Programs: Opportunity, Access, and Community constitutes a major intervention. Existing scholarship on Black artists in the New Deal is few and far between; outside of exhibitions with small catalogs, like Lehman College Art Gallery’s 1989 Black Printmakers and the W.P.A., material is mainly dispersed across survey texts on the federal projects or on twentieth-century African American artmaking. These publications have sought mainly to interrogate the extent to which federal employment enhanced… Full Review
December 4, 2023
Eileen Rubery, Giulia Bordi, and John Osborne, eds.
Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols Publishers and Harvey Miller Publishers, 2021. 125 color ills.; 50 b/w ills.; 175 ills. Cloth €200.00 (9781909400535)
In the format of a lavishly illustrated coffee-table book, the twenty-two articles of this weighty volume inform an expert public about the very complex site of Santa Maria Antiqua (henceforth SMA), a Roman imperial first-century construction inside the Forum that at some point, probably in the fourth century, became a church. The volume showcases the latest results from technical, iconographical, and historical research stemming from the recent restoration work on the monument (2001–13), presented at a conference at the British School at Rome in 2013. Authors include the recent restoration team and their director, Maria Andaloro, as well as… Full Review
November 27, 2023
Ignacio A. Adriasola Muñoz
University Park, PA: Penn State University Press, 2023. 262 pp.; 16 color ills.; 48 b/w ills. Cloth (9780271092904)
Ignacio A. Adriasola Muñoz’s Fragment, Image, and Absence in 1960s Japan is one of the latest contributions to the study of radical Japanese art in the 1960s—the era marked by rapid economic growth and tumultuous political events. The book provides a look at a wide range of radical artistic practices that challenged the social and cultural status quo of the period. The author’s focus is at once specific and broad as he couples detailed analyses of individual artists and artworks with discussions of general trends characterizing the art of the period. While the artists discussed in the book are more… Full Review
November 22, 2023
Samantha A. Noël
Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2021. 264 pp.; 8 color ills.; 48 b/w ills. Paper $26.95 (9781478011408)
In Tropical Aesthetics of Black Modernism, Samantha A. Noël cites E. E. Cummings’s description of Josephine Baker in the premiere of La Folie Du Jour at the Folies-Bergère in 1926 as “equally nonprimitive and uncivilized or, beyond time in the sense that emotion is beyond arithmetic” (169). Noël’s study makes sense of how the tropical has been framed beyond arithmetic or reason into an aesthetic strategy by Black artists across the Black Atlantic. If, for Cummings, tropicality, as personified by Baker, is “neither infrahuman nor superhuman, but somehow both; a mysteriously unkillable Something,” (169) Noël explores its persistence through the… Full Review
November 20, 2023
Luisa Elena Alcalá Donegani
Madrid: Abada Editores, 2022. 462 pp.; 30 color ills.; 75 b/w ills. Cloth ( 9788419008084)
Why might a study on the cult of the Virgin of Loreto in Mexico be of interest to readers today? Precisely because it deals with one of the most universal Marian devotions of the early modern period, which allows us to understand the global through the local. As demonstrated by Luisa Elena Alcalá, the Virgin of Loreto embodies a relic of exceptional duality. In one respect, it comprises the Holy House, the very place where the Virgin received the announcement of Jesus’ birth and where the Holy Family would live after their return from Egypt. In 1291, after escaping the… Full Review
November 15, 2023
Charlene Villasenor Black
Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press, 2022. 398 pp.; 126 color ills. Cloth $119.00 (9780826504715)
Charlene Villaseñor Black’s latest book is concerned with female saints and their aesthetic dimensions and transformations. The author chooses five case studies in an effort to demonstrate and explicate the marked changes the devotions underwent from early modern Spain to New Spain. The function of images within wider, religious, social, and political contexts is a primary concern for the author, and she strives to be especially attuned to “women’s experience” and “issues related to indigeneity and race” (8). All chapters follow a similar pattern—first showing how select saints were seen in Spain before discussing their manifestations and marked differences in… Full Review
November 13, 2023
Inge Reist, ed.
Studies in the History of Collecting & Art Markets, Volume: 14. Amsterdam: Brill, 2022. 280 pp.; 65 color ills. Hardback $78.00 (9789004460423)
Since 2007, the Center for the History of Collecting at the Frick Art Reference Library in New York has been a leader in its field. As a list in this book’s foreword demonstrates, the center has produced a number of scholarly tomes that have enriched the study of collecting. This volume departs somewhat from its predecessors in examining the collecting practices and art market of a much earlier period than the center has hitherto done, namely those in Italy during the years 1450–1650. In publishing with Brill’s growing series Studies in the History of Collecting & Art Markets, the center… Full Review
November 8, 2023