Several art magazines and journals have sprouted up online over the last few months. Caribbean Art World (CAW) Magazine founded by artist Marcel Wah includes an interview (click “Articles”) with Erica James, founding director of The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas, who was recently hired by Yale. (The content is mostly subscription-only, but some article can be accessed through member profile pages.)
I’m happy to see that Sue Ward, the always charming former editor of the sadly shuttered AAH journal The Art Book, is helming a new monthly art publication, Cassone. It is nearly all, alas, subscription-only, but available for an affordable £10/year. Recent topics include the Mougins Museum of Classical Art, Leonardo da Vinci, Beryl Dean, Richard Dadd, Edward Hopper, and Steve Jobs.
A former classmate of mine, San Diego Museum curator Ariel Plotek, has launched a new free online journal of reviews of exhibitions and books, Tabula Quarterly. The first issue considers “Treasures of Heaven: Saints, Relics, and Devotion in Medieval Europe,” “Roma Naturaleza e Ideal: Paisajes 1600–1650,” “Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus,” “Bronzino One Year On,” and “Art Theft and the Case of the Stolen Turners.”
Finally, the new journal Modern Art Asia examines the “globalized interdisciplinary context at the intersection of scholarship, criticism, and the market” with “peer-reviewed postgraduate articles, insightful commentary, and international exhibition reviews to encourage a broader vision of art produced throughout Asia after 1700.” In the first issue, Yayoi Shionoiri writes on photographs by Hosoe Eikoh in which images of writer Mishima Yukio are “superimposed upon images of Western painting.” Marci Kwon argues that Takashi Murakami’s work “should be read as an appropriation of the systems that drive capitalist consumption.” Gwyn Helverson examines work ”using traditional Japanese materials and/or incorporating traditional imagery, but invigorated with modern themes from, for example, hip-hop and otaku(geek) culture,” incorporating the “theories of feminist art historian Chino Kaori.”
The Autumn 2011 African Arts (44:3) continues that journal’s tradition of fine reporting on important conferences, with five dispatches from the Fifteenth Triennial Symposium of African Art last March at UCLA, which featured 46 panels. The Triennial’s theme was “Africa and Its Diasporas in the Marketplace.”
Susan Rosenfield writes:
dele jegede, alongside [Sylvia] Forni, and Rachel Nelson provided their panels with optimistic insight regarding progressive alternatives for contemporary African art. Both presenters still warned of this imminent threat of globalization on the African art market, observing that Western aesthetic values cause contemporary art to migrate in a way that jegede described as “eerily reminiscent” of colonialist-era movement. Nonetheless, jegede explored the burgeoning revaluation of the local, arguing that African auction houses and collectors encourage the marketing of indigenous tastes.
Samuel M. Anderson writes:
Several conference sessions were constructed around revisiting broader theoretical concepts of visual culture through African lenses. One such panel looked at Tonye Erekosima and Joanne Eicher’s “cultural authentication” model through a wide variety of visual arts practices … [Another] engaged Bruno Latour’s “iconoclash.” Like cultural authentication, iconoclash attempts to describe the transference of imagery between cultures, but iconoclash is much less systematic, depicting a state of uncertain contradictions rather than a process of incorporation. The panel was divided between two perspectives emphasizing either closure or potential …
This edition of the Triennial was notable for the attendance of many more African scholars than in previous years [whose] presentations demonstrated that approaches to art history education within Africa are as diverse as the continent itself.
Sessions with co-chairs: 93
Participation slots (chair, panelist, discussant): 1194
Participants playing more than one role: 75
Most roles played by any one participant: 4
People playing that many roles: 3
Participants with no institutional affiliation: 97
Independent artists: 54
Number of colons in paper titles: 392
Question marks: 37
Exclamation points: 6
Uses of the word “identity”: 9
“Feminist” or “feminism”: 7
“Race” or “racial”: 5
Papers titled “No Art Historian Is An Island”: 1
Institutions garnering the most participation slots:
Graduate Center, CUNY: 17
UC, San Diego: 12
UC, Irvine: 12
Columbia College, Chicago: 10
Virginia Commonwealth University: 9
University of Pennsylvania: 8
Pratt Institute: 8
Indiana University: 8
Yale University: 7
Washington University in St. Louis: 7
University of Texas at Austin: 7
School of the Art Institute of Chicago: 7
Princeton University: 7
The 100th annual conference of the College Art Association convenes February 22-25. Among the sessions I’m looking forward to:
Theorizing the Body
Chair: Jean M. Borgatti, Clark University
- Medusa as “Seduction of Excess”
Basia Sliwinska, independent scholar
- Body of Work: Stylization and Ambiguity in the Benin Plaque Corpus
Kathryn Wysocki Gunsch, New York University
- Body Networks: Corporeality in Luba Art and Politics
Mary (Polly) Nooter Roberts, University of California, Los Angeles
Shir Aloni Yaari, Courtauld Institute
- Humorous Transformations into Abstraction: Layering Images of Identity in the Art of Shahzia Sikander
Anneke Schulenberg, Radboud University, Nijmegen
Art History Open Session: Renaissance Art
Form and Function: Art and Design?
Chair: Antonia Madeleine Boström, J. Paul Getty Museum
- The Separation of Form and Function: Challenging the Historiography of Renaissance Pilgrim Flasks
Annette LeZotte, Wichita State University
- Function, Ritual, and Sculpture: Holy-Water Stoups in Early Modern Tuscany
Francesco Freddolini, Getty Research Institute
- Treillage in Sixteenth-Century Italy and France: Between Art and Craft
Natsumi Nonaka, University of Texas at Austin
- “Modern in an Antique Way”: Giulio Romano’s Designs for Living
Valerie Taylor, independent scholar
- Winds, Farts, and Bellows: The Airy Imagery of Early Modern Ornament Prints
Madeleine C. Viljoen, New York Public Library
Design, from “California Dreamin’” to “Designed in California,” ca. 1965-2012
Chairs: James Housefield, University of California, Davis; Stuart Kendall, California College of the Arts
- Simulating Spatial Experience in the People’s Berkeley: The Urban Design Experiments of Donald Appleyard and Kenneth Craik
Anthony Raynsford, San Jose State University
- April Greiman and California’s Technology of Enchantment
Elizabeth Guffey, Purchase College, State University of New York
- Steve Jobs, Architect
Simon Sadler, University of California, Davis
- California Design: What Are We Talking About?
Bobbye Tigerman, Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Beyond the Oil Spill: Art and Ecology in the Americas
Chairs: Florencia Bazzano-Nelson, Tulane University; Santiago Rueda Fajardo, independent scholar, Bogotá, Colombia
- Landscape Seen through the Eyes of Contemporary Art and Science
Hugo Fortes, Universidade de São Paulo
- The Land, the Road, and the Freedom to Move On: Allegory vs. Documentary in “Iracema, uma transa amazônica”
Erin Aldana, independent scholar, San Diego
- Environmental Crisis and Creative Response: Ala Plástica’s “Magdalena Project”
Lisa Crossman, Tulane University
- The Invisible Beginning: Imagining Trees in the Contemporary Urban Environment
Gesche Würfel, Goldsmiths, University of London
CAA Distinguished Scholar Session Honoring Rosalind Krauss
The Theoretical Turn
Chair: Yve-Alain Bois, Institute for Advanced Studies
- Harry Cooper, National Gallery of Art
- Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, Harvard University
- Hal Foster, Princeton University
- Ewa Lajer-Burcharth, Harvard University
- Briony Fer, University College London
No Talking Allowed: Making a Visual Argument about Art History
Chairs: Jean Robertson, Indiana University; Craig McDaniel, Indiana University
- Degas and Italy: A Pictorial Exegesis
Claire L. Kovacs, Coe College
- Dubai Referents
Julia Townsend, American University in Dubai
- The Political Ecology of Energy Consumption: An Official Guide
Matthew Friday, State University of New York at New Paltz
- Overlooked Sites of Neoconcretism: The Newsroom, the Dance Floor, and the Flooded Underground
Simone Osthoff, Pennsylvania State University
- Superdutch: Photography, Process, and the Internet-Polder
Jordan Tate, University of Cincinnati
- Who Was Thomas Waterman Wood? Finding the Artist in the Art
Jo-Ann Morgan, Western Illinois University
- The History of Mystery: Human Representation “Sub Specie Aeternitatis”
Carol Ciarniello, independent artist
The State of the Discipline
Chairs: Sandra Esslinger, Mt. San Antonio College; Deana Hight, Mt. San Antonio College
- Rebooting Artistry and Its History, Theory, and Criticism
Donald Preziosi, University of California, Los Angeles
- A Labyrinth without a Thread: Decreating Art History
Jae Emerling, University of North Carolina, Charlotte
- Has Visual Studies Come of Age?
Bridget R. Cooks, University of California, Irvine
Flying Solo: The Opportunities and Challenges Presented to the Solitary Art Historian in a Small College
Chairs: Laura J. Crary, Presbyterian College; William Ganis, Wells College
- Curricular and Pedagogical Strategies for Solo Flyers in Studio Departments
Lisa DeBoer, Westmont College
- No Art Historian Is an Island
Amy Von Lintel, West Texas A&M University
- Between Scylla and Charybdis: One Educator’s Personal Odyssey from Classicist to Generalist in Three Years
Kimberly Busby, Angelo State University
- The Solitary Art Historian in a Liberal Arts College: Strategies for Aligning Faculty and Student Research
Gregory Gilbert, Knox College
Best affiliation: Maureen Connor, The Institute for Wishful Thinking (and Queens College, City University of New York).
Without my noticing, my minivacation from blogging turned into a multi-month hiatus. Well, I’m now feeling excited to get back to it, so without further ado I’ll begin what I hope will be the first of many posts this fall. How Aborigines Invented the Idea of Contemporary Art is a new, provocative anthology of writings on Aboriginal contemporary art, edited by Ian McLean. In his introduction, he writes:
While the artworld revolution of the 1980s was momentous, the impact of Aboriginal art should not be overestimated … [In the 1990s] Aboriginal art occupied about 10 per cent of Australian art world discourse when it probably accounts for nearly 50 per cent of production, be this measured in dollar value or number of artists … Andrew Sayers’s Australian art (2001) was the first survey to give Aboriginal art a significant place … [I]ts place in the larger artworld is less certain. Australia, like other places distant from the larger artworld centres, was well positioned to anticipate the radical shifts that occurred in the last decades of the twentieth century. However, this new landscape is only slowly dawning on the old centres of Paris and New York. Take the massive scholarly project, Art Since 1900 (2004) … [At the end] the authors make a devastating confession: namely the obsolescence of the previous 700-odd pages. The critical methodologies they employed no longer work, as the Eurocentric world they were designed to access ‘has irretrievably disappeared.’ … [By contrast, Australian critics have found in Aboriginal art] a new way of conceiving and living with difference that is the matrix of today’s globalised world. Thus, these days, Aboriginal art is exhibited effortlessly with other contemporary art. This is the enduring legacy of Aboriginal contemporary art: it has invited us to enter a global world.
New books by favorite authors are piling up on my desk — Of What One Cannot Speak: Doris Salcedo’s Political Art by Mieke Bal, Florence & Baghdad: Renaissance Art and Arab Science by Hans Belting, Queer Beauty and A General Theory of Visual Culture by the prolific Whitney Davis, The Passionate Triangle by Rebecca Zorach, Building-in-Time by Marvin Trachtenberg, Christ to Coke by Martin Kemp, and more.
But instead I must devote the little time I have these days for the newsletter to this: I just discovered that the NRC revised its rankings back in April after discovering errors in its data. So, I should go back and revise the findings of my last post on this subject. Using my (admittedly arbitrary) method of average the NRC two rating systems, I get this revised ranking:
1 University of California-Berkeley
2 University of Chicago
3 Columbia University in the City of New York
4 Yale University
5 Princeton University
6 New York University
7 Harvard University
8 University of California-Los Angeles
9 Northwestern University
10 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
11 University of Texas at Austin
12 University of Pennsylvania
13 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
14 Duke University
15 Brown University
16 University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
17 University of California-Santa Barbara
18 University of Southern California (*)
19 University of Wisconsin-Madison
20 City University of New York Grad. Center
21 University of Pittsburgh Pittsburgh Campus (*)
22 Stanford University
23 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (*)
24 University of Maryland College Park
25 Bryn Mawr College
26 Temple University
27 University of Delaware
28 Johns Hopkins University
29 Washington University in St. Louis (*)
30 Penn State University
31 Emory University
32 University of Washington
33 Rutgers the State University of New Jersey New Brunswick Campus
34 Indiana University at Bloomington
35 University of Minnesota-Twin Cities (*)
36 Case Western Reserve University
37 University of Kansas
38 University of Georgia
39 State University of New York at Stony Brook
40 Boston University
41 University of Iowa
42 University of Virginia
43 Ohio State University Main Campus
44 University of Missouri – Columbia
45 Cornell University
46 State University of New York at Binghamton
47 Florida State University
48 Virginia Commonwealth University
49 University of New Mexico Main Campus
50 University of Louisville
*: An asterisk indicates that the program scored the same as the one above it.
Three new books on medieval and Renaissance Venice and Florence caught my attention recently. Most significantly: Blake de Maria’s Becoming Venetian: Immigrants and the Arts in Early Modern Venice. The famous social stability of the multicultural Republic of Venice he calls partly a myth and credits partly to its “ethos of mediocritas, a state dictum favoring the visual promotion of society and state over individual accomplishment. Realizing that visual imagery could be (ab)used for personal gain, the Venetian government advocated aesthetic restraint in the private realm.” The ethos was, of course, open to interpretation:
Architecture’s status as the most inherently public of all art forms placed the patron of a private residence in a potentially precarious moral realm. [A] residence misconstrued as an overt visual manifestation of individual accomplishment provided a tangible contradiction to Venice’s ethos of mediocritas … Classical literature provided some guidance for patrons, most notably Aristotle’s views of magnificence … The philosopher deemed the expenditure of wealth on material goods, including residential architecture, as both the right and responsibility of the prince … [S]ince the architecture of magnificence benefited the entire community, its patronage was both justifiable and laudable. This concept quickly expanded beyond the princely realm to include all individuals.
Tackling an earlier chapter in Venice’s history of art- and myth-making is the recent essay collection San Marco, Byzantium, and the Myths of Venice edited by Henry Maguire and Robert S. Nelson, which focuses on the complex early history of the church of San Marco, whose elements accreted over time, experienced numerous changes in meaning, and incorporated diverse influences from all over. As essayist Fabio Barry notes, “From the moment, in 828, that Venice abducted the remains of the apostle Mark from Alexandria, the construction and adornment of San Marco became an exercise in authentication by appropriation.”
A third volume, Lost Girls: Sex and Death in Renaissance Florence, by Nicholas Terpstra, doesn’t directly concern visual art, but provides fascinating insights into daily life in the Renaissance, particularly into the fates of the impoverished girls and women who rarely make an appearance in official histories. The book revolves around a gripping mystery (still unsolved): in 1555, a shelter for orphaned and abandoned teenage girls saw over half its charges die in that one year, of unknown causes. It incorporates all manner of fascinating and horrifying period documents, including one detailing the 1584 conscription of a Florentine virgin to be deflowered by Vincenzo Gonzaga, a test intended to prove his manhood and thus his suitability as a fiancé to Eleonora Medici. The act was certified by nobleman Belisario Vinto who went so far as to “put his hand between her private parts and that of the Prince.” Sometimes, apparently, seeing isn’t believing.
The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art May 21-September 6
Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories
Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco May 12-September 6
Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, Paris
De Young Museum, San Francisco June 11 – October 9
What is an art exhibition for? Two opposing answers to this question are presented concurrently at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the De Young Museum. At both exhibitions viewers will find many impressive and historically important works by canonical artists. At SFMoMA, viewers will find these works organized into a narrative structure that adds layers of meaning to the works and help viewers see them as more than isolated objects.
Having attended the curator panel discussion accompanying the opening of The Steins Collect, I was well prepared to appreciate the exhibition’s curatorial mission. Works purchased by primarily Gertrude and Leo Stein are organized according to the addresses where the collectors lived at the time. Not only does this form an essentially chronological view of the development of Picasso and Matisse’s paintings between the first decade of the 20th century and World War II, it also helps the viewer see the pictures in roughly the same groupings in which they were displayed at the Stein residences. Large reproductions of period photographs are impressive not only for the amount of information that they contain, but also for the additional context that they provide. Some of the actual furniture pieces displayed in the photographs have been lent for the exhibition, helping to bridge the contemporary world of the modern art museum and the past represented in the photographs. If any part of the exhibition seems out of place, it is the room dedicated to the home built by Le Corbusier for Michael and Sarah Stein in 1926, Villa Stein-De Monzie. Films, photographs, and original drawings for the project are on display. The drawings by Le Corbusier display a delicate balance of meticulous draftsmanship and artful design, making them worthy of viewing for their own sake. That the viewer is presented with representations of the commissioned work strikes a contrast with the many canvases on display, notwithstanding the awkward notion of the commissioned house as part of the art collection. Nonetheless, by the end of The Steins Collect, viewers will not only have seen dozens of major works by icons of Modern Art, but will also have gained substantial insights into the lives and motivations of this highly influential family of collectors.
More of these insights are available one block away at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, where Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories is on display. Less about her art collection and more about her relationships, the photographs are the stars of this show. The title of the exhibition is apt, as much of the viewer’s experience involves looking at images of Gertrude and her companions. These images are informative and entertaining, and create a strong sense of the attitudes, beliefs, and interactions of Stein and her circle. As is typically the case at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, the exhibition layout, wall texts, and overall exhibition design each help to achieve the goals of the exhibition. Though Seeing Gertrude Stein may lack the artistic firepower of The Steins Collect, the exhibition is nonetheless a rewarding experience for viewers with an interest in Stein herself or the period in general.
While the exhibitions at SFMoMA and the Contemporary Jewish Museum are decidedly educational experiences, Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, Paris at the De Young Museum feels like a gallery show by comparison. Over one hundred chronologically arranged works by Picasso are on loan from the Musée National Picasso, Paris, which favors the second half of the artist’s long career. After an initial wall panel introducing the artist and describing the genesis of the museum from which the works come, the only supporting texts are short quotes from the artist placed high on the walls that do little to explain the artist’s motivations, inspirations, goals, or methods. Though I did not utilize the audio guide for this exhibition, other viewers have described the commentary as adding little to their understanding of the artworks. Despite the exhibition’s lack of educational or curatorial mission, it provides Bay Area viewers with the opportunity to see works by Picasso that normally require a trip to Paris. Furthermore, though it may seem hastily constructed compared to the show at SFMoMA, any viewer with an interest in Picasso will find reasons to appreciate the De Young show. Some viewers may even appreciate the lack of a strong curatorial mission, which they may see as heavy-handed or intrusive. This viewer, however, believes that art exhibitions are at their best when they present and support a compelling thesis that serves not only to entertain the viewing audience, but to educate us as well.
CAA now refers to The Art Bulletin as “the leading publication of international art-historical scholarship,” and has done so for about a year it seems. This proposition seems worthy of debate. The leading publication? (Is that word “international” hedging the claim? Is “scholarship”? Or “art-historical”?) Elsewhere CAA has referred to The Art Bulletin as “the preeminent journal for art historians, curators, independent scholars, and educators” and “the leading quarterly journal in the English language of scholarship in all areas of art history and visual studies.”
Various outside bodies have tried to rank journals, using citation indexes or expert assessments or both. In 2008 The European Science Foundation gave 112 art-related journals its highest rating, including The Art Bulletin. Norway has its own list, which strikes me as idiosyncratic. The Art Bulletin, Art History, The Burlington Magazine, Leonardo and Oxford Art Journal all belong in the second rank, below 118 other journals?
Perhaps the most interesting rankings are those produced by Australia in 2010. It gave its highest ranking to seven “art theory and criticism” publications: The Art Bulletin, Art History: journal of the Association of Art Historians, Art Journal (also published by CAA), The Burlington Magazine, Ligeia: dossiers sur l’art, October, and Renaissance Quarterly. I must confess I haven’t read Ligeia in years (none of the major universities near me even carry it). Renaissance Quarterly is too general a publication to compare with The Art Bulletin. The other four seem worthy competitors to The Art Bulletin‘s claim for pre-eminence.
Why not call yourself “a leading journal”? It’s healthy for journals to compete and to take pride in their accomplishments. But to claim top status — without evidence or even argumentation — seems immodest and pointless. No matter how superlative any one art journal gets, it’s unlikely to become a true authority, nor should it.
For twenty-five years Word & Image has flourished under its founding editor John Dixon Hunt. Now, the reins have been passed to Michèle Hannoosh and Catriona MacLeod, professors of French and German at Michigan and Penn respectively. They write in their first issue (27:1):
While maintaining our acknowledged strength in medieval and modern subjects, we encourage submissions in other periods such as antiquity, early modern, romanticism and the nineteenth-century, and contemporary; in Western and non-Western subjects; in philosophical and theoretical approaches to word and image; in book arts, photography, new media and virtuality; in translation and adaptation. On-line technologies now make it possible to include supplemental material and video images on our website, thus expanding the possibilities for illustration beyond the printed page. We envisage a series of critical assessments of key words in the history of word and image studies. We welcome ideas from our readers for other initiatives in which the journal could take the lead.
A future special issue honoring Hunt will focus on ekphrasis. Submissions due Dec. 1, 2011.
The quest to save the Bibliography of the History of Art seemed to achieve success last year, but in the latest issue of Art Libraries Journal (36:2) Svein Engelstad writes:
Users should be concerned about several problems with this solution. First of all, the old BHA content will not be available from the new provider because of copyright problems, apart from the last couple of years it was published. Secondly, the editing of the database has changed: IBA will not continue with the previous system of national editors, and the number of journals indexed has been reduced dramatically.
Engelstad notes that there are several alternatives to BHA, but is forced to conclude that “the survival of traditional art bibliographies seems quite uncertain.”
As a regular teacher of survey courses in Western Art, I find it very satisfying when new scholarship addresses its problems and offers solutions. In the June 2011 Art Bulletin, Margaret A. Sullivan writes:
“For artists, whose calling required careful observation of the world around them, this heightened appreciation of the spectator elevated their own status and offered new opportunities. Bruegel the Elder’s Ice Skating before the Gate of St. George of 1558 is the first clear example of a scene from daily life serving as the sole subject of a work of art…
…Bruegel’s Ice Skating before the Gate of St. George and Seven Virtues mark a critical point in the development called “genre” subjects. They established an important precedent by demonstrating that art could be created from the minutiae of daily life and still display the artist’s skill and imagination. It could be based on observations of of the world around the artist and still satisfy the expectations of a demanding viewer. An art of the ordinary could amuse and entertain and, at the same time, it could be used to address more serious questions…”
Sullivan’s article explains the origins of this new mode of spectatorship in classical thought, explores its connections to life in mid-16th century Antwerp, and offers a model for resituating the origins of what is known as the Northern Renaissance. As the term itself suggests, the Northern Renaissance has traditionally been constructed for the non-specialist audience as the introduction of 15-16th century Italian motifs and figure types, and Classical architecture, into artworks produced in Northern Europe. Critical observers immediately question this construct as overly simplistic, as many of my students have when they encountered it in their texts. As an art historian whose specialty lies elsewhere, I admit that I have struggled to offer those students a satisfactory response. Sullivan’s article should serve as an reference point for addressing this gap in the survey, and be of great interest to specialists and nonspecialists alike.
When I learned of John T. Spike’s Young Michelangelo: The Path to the Sistine after it was published last year, I immediately thought of Andrew Graham-Dixon’s 2008 book Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel, and Ross King’s Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling of 2003. While I admit that much of the publishing world remains obscure to me, it is surprising to me that three books would be published over a relatively short time span which cover essentially the same period of the same artist, without great differences of methodology, content, or conclusions.
It is true that the books do emphasize different aspects of the story (each of them treats Michelangelo’s career in the years leading up to his painting of the Sistine chapel ceiling as a narrative). King’s book describes a troubled three-way relationship involving Michelangelo, Pope Julius II, and the ceiling itself, with various supporting cast members. It’s narrative arc is strong, and it is a quick, engaging read. The first half of Graham-Dixon’s book is essentially a condensed version of the first third of King’s, while the second half contains a concise and thoughtful analysis of the subjects, form, and content of the ceiling itself, which somehow remains in the background of King’s book. Spike’s work focuses closely on the artist’s life and works before the Sistine, providing a fuller account, but one which is inevitably somewhat repetitive to readers of King and Graham-Dixon.
Is the market for Michelangelo big enough to support such frequent publication? Are the three studies fundamentally different, mutually supportive, and hence each worthy of publication, economics aside? Or does the repetition of subject matter actually support each of the books, both in terms of esteem and sales?
A quick preface: I managed somehow to post regularly for five years straight, but over the last few months I truly got in over my head — between finishing my PhD (I am done, and after just 14 years!), writing two long articles and taking a delicious sabbatical at the MacDowell Colony to work on a novel, I became too strapped to keep up. Well, here’s hoping it doesn’t happen again.
Various interesting books have piled up on my desk meanwhile. Given the recent controversy over “Hide/Seek,” the publication this month of Christopher Reed’s “Art and Homosexuality: A History of Ideas” seems particularly timely and in need of an immediate perusal. The book covers much terrain from the “Sambia” of New Guinea and the ancient Greeks and Romans to Polynesia, Tokugawa Japan, and European art from medieval times through the present. Reed begins his book by asking why his topic hasn’t received more attention yet:
Conventional art scholarship shies away from divisive social issues, habitually treating art as something that is–or should be–purely aesthetic or an act of individual expression with (paradoxically) universal appeal. An identity as controversial and collective as homosexuality fits awkwardly with these conventions. For many historians of sexuality, it is sexual identity that suffers from being linked to the aestheticizing and universalizing conventions of art history and criticism. Homosexual identity, they say, is an invention of modern Western science, so it is there–not in art, and not outside the West or in deeper history–that we must look to understand it.
Also, “the history of art, which is usually based on assumptions of continuity, is not easily integrated with the history of homosexuality, which is conventionally premised on alienation.” However, Reed asserts, to be daunted by such challenges is to “reveal a failure of historical imagination.” There are many ways in which the terms of art and homosexuality can be examined together productively. For example:
The institutionalization of gay and lesbian identity into organizations seeking the political and social normalization of homosexuality … was often marked by disavowals of flamboyantly visual manifestations of minority sexual identity. At the same time, an examination of the history of modern art from the position of the history of homosexuality explodes myths of the avant-garde as either an arena of freewheeling inventiveness or a safe haven for misfits. On the contrary (again), the avant-garde often exploited homophobia to attract attention while energetically suppressing affirmative expressions of sexual deviance and policing the behaviors and beliefs of artists who aspired to its rewards. Groundbreaking visualization of the physical and emotion bonds between people of the same sex, therefore, often originated outside the avant-garde in realms of popular culture before being appropriated as avant-garde spectacle.
Reed’s arguments strike me as admirably lucid and ambitious and they are well-illustrated by a variety of plates, many in color. Unfortunately his book isn’t footnoted (it’s “intended to invite a diverse readership”) but an extensive bibliography answers most questions.
A writer for the French blog Niouzesetweberies writes:
Fabienne Cherisma is a fifteen-year-old Haitian adolescent. She escaped the tragic earthquake. But Fabienne happened to be among the ruins when she received three bullets to the head from Haitian police trying to disperse looters. This photo by Paul Hansen won best photo of the year in Sweden. One can easily see why. The photo offers a gripping image of the death of an innocent child, and of the desperation and human tragedy at the heart of natural catastrophe. But this other photo has provoked controversy. It goes behind the camera [to show seven photojournalists crowded around her] and the perspective it suggests may be even more depressing.
Following the Né dans la rue show in 2009 at the Fondation Cartier, MOCA is presenting the first major US museum survey of street art, Art in the Streets. You might be familiar with the show via the controversy surrounding Blu’s mural but, scandal aside, it is an extensive, wide-ranging exhibition and should significantly contribute to the history of street art. Unlike the Cartier, MOCA has not limited its presentation to graffiti. The show considers art in the streets in the broadest sense – skateboarding, presented in the context of a film compilation by Spike Jonze, reveals itself as a surprising graceful en plein air dance, a site-specific exercise, and a spontaneous performance that continues nearby with a skate ramp and live demonstrations. The Chosen Few Motorcycle Club is also included, represented by a gridded display of painted plaques for each member, with the club’s insignia, creators and bearers of a collective identity made for the streets. Erik Brunetti creates an unexpectedly poignant moment, gathering hundreds of lost pet signs, demonstrating the ways the street becomes a space of anonymous outreach and hope, and how that gesture is itself a kind of art. A drum set and guitar call out for anyone – trained or not – to play, giving an echo of countless unknown street performers.
There are, of course, the more obvious inclusions: Banksy drew the most attention on my last visit. Dozens of camera phones were capturing his installation, including a wry, gilt-framed sign declaring “this is not a photo op” (Photos here). Space Invader’s contribution maintained his street persona – rather than a dedicated area, “invasions” popped up throughout the show. Outside the museum, there are rumors that a recently arrested vandal is in fact Space Invader, in town for the exhibition. It’s not only Space Invader, however, who is making his mark on the city. The LATimes reports an increase in tagging in the Little Tokyo area, prompting police concern and increased security near MOCA. These inside-outside questions are at the core of any show that attempts to institutionalize the deliberately unruly practice of street art, but one hopes the discussion generated can begin to carve out some possibilities and direction for future study of the genre.
Overall, the show treads a nice balance between new commissions, recreations, and historical documentation. A visual timeline gives a limited, bare-bones sketch of the history of street art, but it does provide some useful archival documents, including the “black books” of taggers that were crucial to fostering nascent graffiti culture and cans of early spray paint, whose development in the 1960′s effectively gave birth to the practice. While coverage of the phenomenon began in the 1970s, with attention from art critics, sociologists, even novelists, street art still sits uncomfortably within art history. A few options for further reading:
Beyond the Street: The 100 Leading Figures in Urban Art Edited by Patrick Nguyen and Stuart Mackenzie, the volume includes interviews with key figures.
The Faith of Graffiti and The Birth of Graffiti Jon Naar first published his photojournalistic documentation of early graffiti in 1974 with The Faith of Graffiti. The book, which includes an essay by Norman Mailer, has been referred to as “the bible of graffiti.” His 2007 Birth of Graffiti looks back at forgotten images from that same period.
Graffiti Kings Based on artist and historian Jack Stewart’s doctoral thesis (in art at NYU), he gives a firsthand account of the movement.
In her new book “Since ’45: America and the Making of Contemporary Art,” Katy Siegel examines artists’ “preoccupations with issues of race, mass culture, the individual, suburbia, apocalypse, and nuclear destruction” — noting that “while a leading textbook like Art Since 1900, for instance, assumes that the most important art is American or European, those national identities are treated as relatively incidental to the import of the art.”
Siegel is particularly interested in American art’s peculiar obsession with endings:
Mark Bradford’s 2008 project for the Carnegie International spelled the words “HELP US” on the museum’s roof, recalling the citizens of New Orleans … “I have always liked potentiality better than actuality. We all wait for the storm.” The storm that Bradford seeks seems to be on its way. Not only, literally, in extreme climate change, but also, finally, maybe really, in the end of America that so many see prefigured in the current economic and political situation. The short American century, which began with the economic ascension of the country in the 1920s, reached its highpoint with the end of World War II; at the same time, many claimed that moment of domination was also the end of America as historically constituted, as it marked the full entanglement of the nation in global affairs. One end after another has followed: recessions, military defeats in Vietnam and the Middle East, the attack on American ground of September 11, 2001, the economic crash of 2008. From even the slight distance of a few years, they seem of a piece, part of the same end, as well as a ritualistic repetition of America’s historical pattern of crisis, always already a ruin. Is this latest crisis just a repetition, or part of a long good-bye?
Another recently published book, Robert Genter’s “Late Modernism: Art, Culture, and Politics in Cold War America,” which has a narrower time-frame (the 1950s, mostly) and a broader subject (writers and artists), is particularly interested in American society’s “fear over the threat of totalitarianism,” its attempts to resist that threat with a fierce brand of individualism, and American artists’ participation in — or resistance to — that project. In a long chapter on Jasper Johns, Genter writes:
Johns had little respect for the overtly masculine displays of his fellow artists who believed that the potency of their brushwork, either dripped, splashed or poured across the canvas, testified in some way to their heroic natures … Johns refused to believe in simplistic notions of autonomy … Johns offered an image of the human subject as inescapably embodied … [subject to] social and psychic pressures … Johns deflated the excesses of romantic modernism, not merely through ironic detachment as many have claimed, but through an intense reconsideration of the expressive act itself … Johns turned American modernism away from its metaphysical themes and back to the real cultural debris littering the American landscape … [Johns argued that the Abstract Expressionists] in their compulsive quest to reclaim their own masculinities, had forsaken any contact with their own culture, trying to remain aloof from a world on the brink of catastrophe.
Ai was arrested in Beijing on April 3, an event his studio assistants recorded on Twitter (translation here). Evan Osnos reported on the day’s events in a New Yorker dispatch. Police claim that Ai is being investigated for “economic crimes.”
Artists and arts professionals around the world are circulating a petition for his release.
The Renaissance art historian Creighton Gilbert died on April 6, 2011. On his life and career see the entry in the Dictionary of Art Historians. We will post an obituary when it appears in the press.
The great art historian and critic Leo Steinberg died in New York City on March 13, 2011.
Steinberg, more than any other historian of Renaissance art, believed in the power of pictorial structure to generate meaning.
See also the brilliant and poignant address Steinberg delivered at CAA in 2002, in which he reflects on his life, work, and his recent book on Leonardo.