Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A History of Visual Culture: Western Civilization from the 18th to the 21st Century. Edited by Jane Kromm and Susan Benforado Bakewell.
New York: Berg Publishers, February 2010. Cloth: ISBN 978-1845204938, $119.95; Paper: ISBN 978-1845204921, $39.95. 480 pages.
Review by Kevin M. Flanagan, University of Pittsburgh
Though still in its relative infancy, the interdisciplinary turn from traditional art historical analysis to the more widely inclusive consideration of “visual culture” has produced a good deal of highly influential scholarship. Since this emerging label is often celebrated for its eclecticism, indeed its ability to account for and historicize everything from baseball cards to zoological drawings, the influential books in the field have tended to be diverse edited collections with nuanced and specifically focused pieces, notably Visual Culture: The Reader (1999, eds. Jessica Evans and Stuart Hall) and The Visual Culture Reader (2002, 2nd edition, Nicolas Mirzoeff). The Evans and Hall text largely focuses on selections written under the auspices of other extant fields of study—film, cultural studies, comparative literature—that could together be taken to constitute the foundational texts of the infant field of visual culture. Mirzoeff's book, by contrast, contains a section of this foundational “plug-in theory” but otherwise collects contemporary essays written under the auspices of this new methodology. Jane Kromm and Susan Benforado Bakewell's A History of Visual Culture: Western Civilization from the 18th to the 21st Century seems to have been formed with a mind toward consciously differentiating itself from those earlier texts: at once more explicitly historical (the book is structured as a semi-chronological series of case studies) and comprised of essays wholly original to this collection, the text seeks to capture the vast expanses of the field of visuality (8-9).
A History of Visual Culture is broken into seven organizing clusters, each of which accommodates four or five case studies. Earlier sections like “Revolt and Revolution” (which contains pieces on topics like the visual rhetoric of 19th-century revolutions and the persuasive language of socialist political posters) and “Science and Empiricism” provide the most tightly structured variations-on-a-theme. The extended focus on science, a neglected site for the organization of the rationalistic and technologized modes of looking that were to frame the visual concerns of the 20th century, yields some of the best essays. Kromm's “To Collect is to Quantify and Describe: Visual Practices in the Development of Modern Science” assesses the written and drawn legacy of 18th-century naturalists such as Georg Ehret as they inadvertently worked toward a visual language for the scientific consideration of plants, one which combined a fine art appreciation for decorative ornamentation with the spatial possibilities of the printed page (78-79). Heather McPherson's piece “Biology and Crime: Degeneracy and the Visual Trace” uncovers a disturbing trajectory in French conceptions of degeneracy and the pathologicalization of the body, in which physical traits came to classify mental capacity and potential transgression into the criminal (105-113). Combined with fine essays in the sections “Gaze and Spectacle” and “Acquisition, Display, and Desire,” A History of Visual Culture makes a strong case for the thoroughly systematized ways of seeing—along lines of mobility, material ownership, sexual difference, and scientific classification—which were to characterize the growing pains of urban modernity.
Kromm provides succinct section headings and likewise seems to have written pieces to treat key topics otherwise not explored. While her piece “The Flâneur/Flâneuse Phenomenon” is an excellent primer on this key 19th-century social type, the collection's sole extended treatment of film “Inventing the Mise-en-Scène: German Expressionism and the Silent Film Set” feels perfunctory and reductive. In fact, the collection's pluralistic approach suffers most when it tries to quickly account for whole cultural technologies—namely film, the internet, and the video game—at the expense of specificity. The visual world most immediately relevant to students is therefore handled in a selectively fractured way. For example, Martin A. Danahay's “Feats of Simulation and the World of Video Games” and its companion piece (by Chris Kaczmarek) “What You See Is What You Get, or Reality Is What You Take from It” adequately sum up a few of the concerns of the emergent field of Game Studies, yet their short length and function as surveys also prevents them from having the specific insights of earlier chapters, where extrapolated importance came from the nuanced consideration of a smaller set of texts.
The mix of survey pieces and highly specific essays makes it hard to figure out who this book would best serve. On the one hand, the lack of a totally coherent chronological or historical narrative, as well as the inclusion of only a few pieces of truly broad consideration, would probably prevent instructors from assigning the book as a core course text. On the other hand, the truly staggering selection of writings on offer would seem to prevent the specialist from fully utilizing the text, as only a small sliver of the pieces, as good as they are on the whole, would be of interest at a given time. Thus, the better essays in A History of Visual Culture could be readily adapted for courses on specific aspects of visual culture, as their length (relatively short) and general tone (specialist, but not condescending) would be appropriate to students at a variety of levels.
Brenda DeMartini-Squires's “Now You See It: Disinformation and Disorientation on the Internet” inadvertently provides strong justification for the wide-ranging approach of Kromm and Bakewell's text. DeMartini-Squires recalls her extensive graduate training in the effective uses of the academic library, where knowledge was organized around certain parameters which privileged face-to-face interaction (reading rooms and circulation desks with reserve material; the expertise of field-specific research librarians) and the physical retrieval of information (card catalogs, trips to the far-flung corners of the book stacks), such that effective use meant an informed navigation of the institutional knowledge of the time (337-338). Contrast this with a trip to a large research library in 2007, where the forms of access (electronic) and sites of mastery (online databases, search engines) have changed. Like historical modes of visual literacy, the organization of information demands familiarity with past forms, yet is aided by bold reorganizations which combine contemporary social/cultural concerns with the brave new technologies of the day.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Cold War Confrontations: US Exhibitions and Their Role in the Cultural Cold War.

By Jack Masey and Conway Lloyd Morgan.

New York and London: Lars Müller Publishers, November 2008. Cloth: ISBN 978-3037781234, $49.95. 423 pages.

Review by Antonio Thompson, Austin Peay State University

Cold War Confrontations: US Exhibitions and Their Role in the Cultural Cold War, by Jack Masey and Conway Lloyd Morgan, examines the conflicts and events of the unfolding Cold War through a unique lens, that of American exhibitions. In ten chapters and 423 pages the authors examine U.S. displays from 1948 with the Marshall Plan Traveling Caravans, through the present, concluding with the abolishment of the United States Information Agency (USIA) in 1999 and Congressional talks proposing recreating it in 2007.

The author’s aim is to demonstrate that “the World’s Fairs . . . provided key opportunities for confrontation between the Free West and the Communist East, each trying to upstage the other” (6). This is not their only goal, however; the authors are equally interested in the changes in design and technology over the nearly fifty years of the Cold War as emphasized at these fairs. Masey was a former member of the USIA (1951 to 1979), part of this time as Director of Design. After leaving he formed his own company that helped design the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island Museums. Morgan is a Senior Lecturer at the Newport School of Art, Media, and Design, at the University of Wales, Newport.

The book is a mixture of architecture, technology, history, and memoir. The authors place each of the World’s Fairs within the greater context of the Cold War. Each chapter has a brief introduction describing the status of the Cold War, while subheadings describe relevant changes in technology, medicine, and architecture. Each chapter is set up with numerous photographs and copies of documents relevant to the exhibition. Text and quotes of varying size are interwoven throughout the work and in between the pictures and documents. Although the book could easily fit on a book shelf, the heavy stock paper, weight of the book, and layout loan itself to be used as a coffee table book.

One of the strengths of this work is also its weakness: the book is heavily illustrated. Although each picture has captions, the sheer number of photographs virtually allows the story to be told through the images. The varying text sizes and placement of text, while informative, can also be distracting. One must remember that the authors are not professional historians, but are telling history through the lens of the World’s Fair exhibits. Those interested in the World’s Fairs or the cultural and architectural side of the Cold War would enjoy this work.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Holy Motherhood: Gender, Dynasty and Visual Culture in the Later Middle Ages
By Elizabeth L’Estrange. Manchester: Manchester University Press, October 2008. Cloth: ISBN 978-0719075438, $84. 320 pages.
Review by Kerr Houston, Maryland Institute College of Art
Elizabeth L’Estrange’s Holy Motherhood is an ambitious book that is built around several telescoping aims. Most basically, it involves an attempt to describe some of the ways in which images of saintly mothers and birth narratives in a group of manuscripts associated with the fifteenth-century houses of Anjou and Brittany may have been perceived by the aristocrats who owned the texts. More broadly, but relatedly, the book also argues for the general value of a specific interpretive strategy: in accenting what she calls the “situational eye,” L’Estrange emphasizes a mode of inquiry in which viewers’ experiences and what we might call their cultural equipment are seen as critical in informing their relationship to images. And, more broadly still, L’Estrange also sees her book as forging an alternative to essentialist interpretations of images used by women, and to recent readings of female imagery as either empowering or victimizing. Given such aims, Holy Motherhood is certainly a provocative book. But its reach, I think, exceeds its grasp, and I’ll try to show why.
First things first. Hoping to define the ways in which a group of aristocrats might have seen the manuscripts that they owned (the Fitzwilliam Hours is the best-known of them), L’Estrange spends most of the first half of her book investigating fifteenth-century views of, and practices related to, birth. She acknowledges the popularity of Saint Anne, the belatedly fertile matriarch who has also proven a fertile subject of academic inquiry over the past 25 years. She looks at medical treatises, and she argues that a range of birth-related prayers, amulets, and spells “would have been known by a wide variety of people” (55). And she argues that aristocrats familiar with the lying-in (a period of post-delivery recuperation) were attuned to a range of details, from the quality of cloths used to decorate the birthing room to the temporary inversion of gender relations that stemmed from the attention given to recovering mothers. At the least, then, the first half of the book thus offers a neat overview of some of the practices associated with birth in the later Middle Ages.
Any larger payoff, though, is only partial. L’Estrange argues that the responses of fifteenth-century readers to birth-related images were informed by a familiarity with these practices and by their own personal experiences and ambitions. But when she tries, in the second half of her book, to outline the reactions of individual readers to specific manuscript paintings, the speculative nature of such a venture is clear. Repeatedly, L’Estrange is forced to employ tentative phrasings, as when she writes that “it is possible to suggest” (218) that a later reader saw evidence divine intervention in the Fitzwilliam Hours. Given such qualified language, the notion of a situational eye sometimes feels more like a pretext for simple speculation than a lens through which actual historical practices are thrown into focus.
Even when she does root her analysis in hard historical fact, L’Estrange never fully resolves a nagging tension between the asserted relevance of individual experiences and the obvious relevance of larger cultural patterns. She usually offers biographical details regarding each reader, as if to indicate the possibility of a specifically personal reaction to the texts. But her assertions regarding the responses of readers are quite generic: fifteenth-century viewers, we learn, would have seen the images in relation to a common social pressure to produce male offspring, or a general familiarity with the fine cloths available to the aristocracy. And, oddly, L’Estrange also offers several extended Italian parallels, thus implicitly advancing transalpine similarities. Were the cognitive habits of fourteenth-century Paduans really comparable to those of fifteenth-century Angevins? Both the structure and the subtitle of L’Estrange’s book imply that they were, and point to an implicitly pan-European late medieval eye. Such a move is not, it’s worth pointing out, unusual in contemporary scholarship, and titles frequently exaggerate the scopes of studies. But in a book that wants to establish a new mode of art-historical analysis, a cavalier attitude towards the relative value of sources is surprising, and result in a diluted situational eye, which comes across as broadly collective.
Of course, all historical accounts have to come down somewhere on the spectrum between individuality and collectivity. But nothing in this book necessitates, as L’Estrange seems to think it does, a newly minted methodological term. Decades ago, Hans Robert Jauss famously argued that texts exist within a “horizon of expectations,” and L’Estrange’s manuscripts are no different. Similarly, her aristocrats form what Stanley Fish would call a general interpretive community. L’Estrange never mentions these well-known concepts, but she could: instead of trying to blaze a trail by herself, she might recognize that the forest was largely cleared decades ago.
L’Estrange’s arguments are also weakened by shaky readings of certain images in the manuscripts and by a selective presentation of evidence. Pamela Sheingorn has detailed, in another review of the book, several instances in which L’Estrange seems to misconstrue specific figures, or to ignore the likely understood meanings of narratives. L’Estrange might reply that, from her point of view, the meaning of an image is never fixed; rather, it depends on the cognitive habits of the viewer. But, if so, why are so many prominent aspects of the images simply left undiscussed? Surely some of the fifteenth-century readers of the Fitzwilliam Hours might have been struck by the fact that the paintings of birthing consistently unfold against a backdrop of utterly contemporary sexpartite rib vaults and late-Gothic interior architecture. Moreover, why limit the list of a viewer’s relevant experiences to marriages and births? Once we begin to speculate about the responses of historical viewers, any topic is potentially in play, and any reading that simply refuses to treat potential bands of evidence is by definition only partial.
A volume that tries, like this one, to do too much is guilty of a small sin, but it still manages to provoke useful questions about the fifteenth century and about modern scholarship.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Madonna of Humility: Development, Dissemination and Reception, c. 1340-1400
By Beth Williamson
New York: Boydell Press, February 2009. Cloth: ISBN 978-1-84383-419-9, $95. 195 pages.
Review by Denis V. Vovchenko, Northeastern State University
Beth Williamson seeks to completely revise the historiography of the group of images known as the Madonna of Humility – a composition of the Virgin seated on the ground, with the Christ-child seated on her lap, dating back to 1340s. She set it as her goal “to show that the old orthodoxies about its origins, its development, its dissemination and its meaning are all too simplistic” (12). While not claiming to come up with a single definitive interpretation, she attempts to point to “a multiplicity of possibilities.” To do that, she challenges the prevalent approach of a search for a prototype as devaluing local variations of the same theme as more or less imperfect reproductions. Specifically, she argues that the way to recover local agency is to go beyond the obsession with tracing “cultural influence” in favor of “cultural translation” into “vernacular” forms (2-5). With this goal mind, Beth Williamson attempts to contribute to “New Art History” and “Marxist Art History.” For Dr. Williamson, this approach means examining cultural and social contexts where the image was produced. At the same time, her study of the Madonna of Humility is supposed to encourage the use of visual evidence to shed light on the formation of social and religious identities.
All those ambitious attacks on the edifice of traditional scholarship are organized into eight chapters divided into three parts in accordance with the subtitle – development of the image in historiography and in its historical place of origin, dissemination from Avignon through Italy to Bohemia, and reception of the image with its different meanings.
In the first chapter, “The Madonna of Humility: Descriptions and Definitions,” Williamson discusses the shortcomings in the existing historiography of this image type. They include the relationship between the inscription and the image, the common etymological connection of “humus” (ground) and “humilitas” (humility), or the linkage between occasional suckling motif to humility because the practice of breastfeeding was associated with low classes in society. The biggest problem is in the question of the origins of the image. The author suggests that all the iconographical elements of the image cannot be traced to any single narrative image such as the Nativity, Annunciation, Crucifixion, or Woman of the Apocalypse in Spanish Apocalypse manuscripts.
After undermining the strongholds of the entrenched tradition in their entirety, in the remaining seven chapters she launches separate assaults on each one of them, starting with the earliest appearance of the theme in Chapter 2, “The Madonna of Humility in Avignon.” While she agrees with many commentators that Simone Martini was the most likely author of the image, she complicates the conventional account of an Italian Renaissance genius providing a model for subsequent mediocre imitators. Since Tuscan versions of the Madonna of Humility did not typically feature Apocalyptic motifs, Dr. Williamson argues that the original image must have been closely related to the fresco in the Papal Palace in Avignon (c. 1341). She strongly urges the reader to consider the possibility that that image did not spring from the mind of Simone Martini independently of the environment but rather was inspired by the French cultural milieu. In particular, she turns our attention to the Metz manuscript illustrations that contained the elements of the Madonna of Humility – the suckling or Lactans motif, the Apocalyptic symbols, and elements recalling the Annunciation (56). In addition to questioning the supremacy of the artist genius, this longest chapter challenges two more entrenched art history assumptions. It suggests that Europe beyond the Alps was not simply a recipient of new ideas from “a progressive Italian center” and that as an artistic medium, manuscript illustrations should not be automatically considered as less dynamic and innovative than panel and fresco paintings.
In chapter 3, “Early Appearances of the Image,” Williamson proposes to examine the early spread of the Madonna of Humility not in terms of style, composition, or personal influences of Simone Martini, or other Avignon artists on their counterparts in Southern Italy, but rather by focusing on how the preferences of local patrons might have shaped the variations made by the artists. Thus, the author draws our attention to pre-existing connections between the papal court at Avignon and the French-ruled Kingdom of Naples that could have made local patrons aware of the Northern European sources of the image. She also attempts to rescue local agency by stressing a receptive devotional climate. Based on the depiction of kneeling devotees beneath the image in the church of S. Pietro a Majella in Naples, she points to the flails in the hands of some of them and suggests that the church was associated with a local flagellant confraternity.
While offering “no definitive answer” again, in chapter 4, Williamson similarly emphasizes patronage networks as she traces the spread of the theme to Bohemia in 1360s. This methodology is not really revisionist art history as such, but it has never been used to analyze this specific group of images. In particular, the author mentions artists and patrons affiliated with Italian and Bohemian branches of the Dominican Order, but even more so, personal and familial connections of King Charles IV to France and Italy.
In contrast to the very pronounced interest in Apocalyptic themes in Naples and Prague, in Central Italy there was a strong tradition of the suckling or nursing motifs in art (chapter 5). The Sienese had long considered themselves a second Rome, and their civic emblem featured the she-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus. Also, the Virgin was considered the queen and the mother of the city, which made the image of the Virgin Lactans popular even before the transmission of the Madonna of Humility from Avignon. This tradition goes at least some way toward explaining the absence of Apocalyptic symbols in Central Italy. In this chapter, the author makes the strongest case to suggest how variations on the theme could depend on the local context.
In the last part of the book, “Reception,” the author seeks to challenge the existing interpretations of the meaning of the Madonna of Humility to late-medieval viewers. In the opening of that part, chapter 6, “Image and Reality,” stands out for two reasons. Unlike previous chapters, it relies not on the visual evidence but on an impressive body of primary and secondary textual sources. Also, it engages with the much broader context of late medieval social history as it questions the dominant historiographical view that the suckling motif was crucial to the perception of the Virgin’s humility. Williamson argues that while wet-nursing was indeed becoming a widespread practice among upper classes in Florence and elsewhere, breastfeeding should not be seen as socially degrading and humiliating. Instead, she points to a common medical belief that pregnancy resulted in poorer quality breast milk. Thus, hiring wet-nurses was a way to avoid having to stop conjugal relations after birth. Seen in this light, the suckling Virgin motif stood not for humility but rather for purity “because of the link between sexual continence and effective or safe breastfeeding” (147). Shifting back to the interpretation of visual aspects, in chapter 7 Williamson further questions the meaning of humility associated with the image. She argues that in all locations under consideration the image had funerary and devotional functions and emphasized the role of the Madonna as an intercessor and a co-redeemer of the deceased and penitents.
What is left of humility? Not much, after Williamson cautions against treating the inscription “Our Madonna of Humility” as a title describing a category of images; rather, she suggests, we should see the inscription as “an epithet relating to the Virgin and her qualities” (173). The traditional view considered the posture of the Virgin seated on the ground as crucial to the idea of humility seemingly supported by the medieval etymology linking “humus” (ground) and “humilitas” (humility). Williamson reminds the reader that not all examples of the image have inscriptions, and that they usually feature visual references to the Annunciation. The author argues that to the late medieval viewer that episode signified humility as a reminder of when the Virgin humbly accepted her destiny to become the Mother of God (174). As in other chapters, this specific argument may have broader implications and in this case encourage reassessment of the connection between image and inscription elsewhere.
Overall, Williamson succeeds in pointing to “a multiplicity of possibilities” of interpretation and questioning established historiography. Her argument can not amount to a full-scale revision because the evidence is often circumstantial and conjectural. Nevertheless, in its engagement with fresh methodology and diverse visual and textual sources, the book will be interesting to art historians generally and medievalists specifically. A general reader may find the book dense in places unless one’s fascination with devotional practices is used to overcoming the challenges of academic texts.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

From Greenwich Village to Taos: Primitivism and Place at Mabel Dodge Luhan’s. By Flannery Burke. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, May 2008. Cloth: ISBN 978-0-7006-1579-7, $34.95. 232 pages.

Review by Hilary Iris Lowe, University of Kansas

Flannery Burke’s From Greenwich Village to Taos examines the circle of artists, writers, and political agitators who interacted with Mabel Dodge Luhan in Taos, New Mexico. In addition to those who Mabel Dodge (as Burke chooses to call her) lured to Taos from Greenwich Village, Harlem, and Italy, Burke investigates the New Mexicans whom Dodge encountered when she left New York. With chapters that focus on several famous characters who either visit or play a role in creating Dodge’s Taos salon, Burke recreates the complicated world that Dodge found and loved in Taos. Burke explores how these individuals negotiated the central ideals of Modernism while devoting themselves to their vision of New Mexico as a place that held spiritual, creative, and political opportunities. Burke’s most important contribution to the study of these famous men and women—all but one have been studied in detail before—is that she considers for the first time how they functioned on a day-to-day basis in New Mexico. She delves into how the “outsiders” allied themselves with local causes and populations. Most significantly, she uncovers, through local primary sources, the complicated ways that local Hispano and Taos Pueblo populations responded to and managed Dodge and her circle.
With individual chapters on Dodge, John Collier, Nina Otero-Warren, Carl Van Vechten, Tony Lujan, Mary Austin, D.H. Lawrence, and Georgia O’Keeffe, it is hardly possible to summarize effectively the contents of Burke’s study. This breadth is both an asset and a shortcoming for the text. Several subjects deserve more time and a couple might have been left out to create a tighter focus for the book. The study is strongest when Burke concentrates on those individuals who were closest to Dodge or who were most interested in the relationship between modernism and the celebration of primitivism. Her chapter on the correlation between Mabel Dodge’s patronage of Pueblo artists and Carl Van Vechten’s patronage of African American artists (such as Langston Hughes) highlights elements of Dodge and Van Vechten’s work in comparison. Burke carefully reconstructs their conversations about the artistic communities they patronized. Each argued that the communities that interested them were the most authentically American, because as Burke puts it, they “were obsessed with authenticity” (7). This resoundingly competitive strain of advocacy allows Burke to define and explore the primitivism to which Van Vechten and Dodge were committed. Unfortunately, much of Burke’s exploration of these ideas happens in footnotes. Dodge’s advocacy for Taos Pueblo was limited by the idealized primitive egalitarian life she imagines there. Her patronage verged on historic preservation; for example, she campaigned to keep electricity and modern conveniences out of the pueblo, despite bringing them to her own estate on former Taos Pueblo land.
Burke’s chapter on Tony Lujan is also groundbreaking. Because Lujan “was functionally illiterate, “his important role in the commercial development of Taos as an artists’ colony has been largely overlooked by historians” (115). Scholars have long perceived Lujan as merely Dodge’s husband rather than an active agent in her circle. Burke explores his history in a chapter that carefully parses what readers may know about Lujan from Dodge’s letters on his behalf, from accounts of his nights out with Van Vechten in Harlem, and importantly from a few interviews with family members. Because Lujan often led tours for Dodge’s visitors, including John and Lucy Collier, D.H. Lawrence, and Georgia O’Keeffe, he was the first official guide through which they came to see New Mexico. His vision of Taos and the surrounding area profoundly influenced how these “outsiders” came to understand and develop their own desert aesthetic. Through interviews with Lujan’s nephews and niece, readers will be able to see for the first time an account of Lujan as part of a larger family, and as a local employer, landowner, and businessman. It also becomes clearer how his complicated relationship with Dodge separated him from Taos Pueblo and, at the same time, gave him power over the individuals in that community whom he chose to employ at the pair’s estate (122).
Strangely, for a book about place, Burke makes very little of Taos as a tangible place and only barely touches on the homes that Dodge, Austin, and O’Keeffe, in particular, made there. Individual homes are rarely mentioned; if readers are interested, for instance, in the estate that Lujan and Dodge built, they will find a much better account of it in Lois Rudnick’s biography of Dodge and her Utopian Vistas: Mabel Dodge Luhan’s House and the American Counter Culture. Burke does not focus on the physical places of New Mexico. Her exploration of Dodge’s place is largely limited to place as a political and social construction. She carefully articulates the ways that Dodge, Collier, Nina Otero-Warren, and Austin locate themselves within the complicated “tri-ethnic trap” of Anglo, Indian, and Hispano Taos and Santa Fe. Burke also carefully explores the complex and exclusionary world that white women made for themselves in New Mexico when they decided to call it “home” (135-144).
From Greenwich Village to Taos will be most useful to scholars interested in the study of American Modernism. They will find Burke’s work an important counter-narrative about where and how ideas about modernism were worked out. Taos—and its very particular cultural history—was an important and interactive laboratory for modern artists, thinkers, and writers.
Enchanted Lives, Enchanted Objects: American Women Collectors and the Making of American Culture, 1800-1940. By Dianne Sachko Macleod. Berkeley: University of California Press, September 2008. Cloth: ISBN 978-0-520-23729-2, $45.00. 328 pages.

Review by Stephanie Jacobe, American University

In her newest book, Dianne Sachko Macleod, Professor Emerita of Art History at the University of California, Davis, investigates the lives of American women art collectors from roughly 1800 through 1940. She argues that collecting art liberated women of the nineteenth century from the gilded cage of the home created by the cult of true womanhood. Macleod employs case studies of women collectors to support her arguments. She focuses her arguments not on the content of collections but more on how the acquisition of those objects and the need to share them with others brought women outside the home. She also demonstrates that within the language of collecting, gender became more fluid.
Macleod is very honest in her introduction, admitting that she specifically chose her examples because they best fit with her thesis. She discusses the lives and collecting habits of thirty-seven women through five chapters and an epilogue. Although each chapter includes anywhere from three to eleven women in its analysis, each chapter focuses on one women as the primary example, with the others holding secondary roles in the discourse.
The first chapter is the only one in which Antebellum America is discussed, and it is by far the weakest of the five. Macleod examines Eliza Bowen Jumel as her primary example. Eliza Bowen was born in Rhode Island. Her early life was characterized by turmoil and financial hardship. She worked as a prostitute and actress before her marriage to shipping magnet Stephen Jumel in 1804. Macleod argues that Jumel flaunted gender conventions through her involvement in her husband’s business as well as her art collecting. However, Macleod does not discuss the political ramifications of the Early National Period that pitted Francophiles like Eliza and Stephen Jumel against those who favored a more British influence. Macleod also did not deal with the correlation between Jumel’s lower-class upbringing and early life with her seeming rejection of upper-class feminine ideals. The relationship between class and the cult of true womanhood is not discussed. Considering Jumel’s early life, the independence of her later years is not as surprising as it otherwise might be.
The later four chapters and the epilogue showcase the women collectors of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. Macleod begins her look at the later nineteenth century by focusing on well-known women collectors, such as those described by Earl Shinn, who produced the first history of collecting in America. Macleod argues that Shinn did not have any respect for the women whose collections he documented, but instead saw them as extensions of their husbands. Macleod also introduces the concept of collecting-as-play. Macleod shows that women used their collections as a basis for psychological escape from not only the domestic sphere but also the rapidity of the modern world. As described in this book, collecting-as-play is almost an extension of the type of play children engage in with toys. Macleod also makes a case for the blurring of gender lines: men sometimes had these same playful tendencies.
Macleod next turns her attention to women collectors who also became activists in the fields of education, art, and suffrage. She focuses her story on Phoebe Hearst, mother of William Randolph Hearst, who spearheaded the 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition. Macleod goes to great pains to show how women’s involvement with the World’s Fairs, beginning in 1876 and culminating in 1915, provided an avenue to the world outside their traditional place in the home. Surprisingly, not all the women Macleod discusses were fully in favor of women’s suffrage. Instead they displayed a range of opinions, from being against the idea completely to women’s limited participation in local politics to full national suffrage.
In the fourth chapter Macleod turns her attention to the creation of the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of Art, and the Cooper-Hewitt, by women collectors. She demonstrates that women such as Abby Rockefeller and Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney had emerged from their domestic spaces but that the male-dominated world did not accept that change. In fact, by the beginning decades of the twentieth century, men were beginning to extend their sway over the arts and saw women’s influence as unhealthy.
Finally, Macleod focuses on Gertrude and Leo Stein and their circle in Paris and the United States. It is in this final chapter that Macleod’s arguments concerning the gender of collecting come to fruition. Gertrude and her brother lived a reversal of gender roles within their personal as well as their collecting lives. Though Macleod employs gendered language in discussing aspects of art collecting throughout the book, it is not until these later examples that those arguments become convincing.
In Enchanted Lives, Enchanted Objects, Dianne Sachko Macleod has opened the discussion about the influence of art on women’s independence from the domestic sphere. Her work is by no means the final word; instead, it can be hoped, it will spur new studies that explore women’s art collecting in greater detail.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Art from Fort Marion: The Silberman Collection. Joyce M. Szabo. With foreword by Steven L. Grafe. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, March 2008. Cloth: ISBN 978-0-8061-3883-1, $49.95. 197 pages.
Review by Emily E. Auger, Ph. D.

Joyce M. Szabo is an established scholar who has published several books on the art of the indigenous peoples of the American southwest, including Howling Wolf and the History of Ledger Art (1994). This earlier book takes a fresh view of the subject of Karen Daniels Petersen's Howling Wolf: A Cheyenne Warrior's Graphic Interpretation of His People (1968). Szabo's latest book rediscovers the subject of Peterson's Plains Indian Art from Fort Marion (1971), that of the art produced by Native Americans who were taken from their homelands and traditional way of life on the plains in the 1870s and incarcerated at Fort Marion for several years prior to being released to a quite different way of life on the reservations designated for them. Whereas Peterson's Plains Indian Art from Fort Marion has only eight color and fifty-eight black and white plates, Szabo's Art from Fort Marion: The Silberman Collection is distinguished by having almost all of its 128 plates showing drawings, photographs, and other objects in either color or sepia. But whereas Peterson addresses eleven major and fifteen minor artists and includes a pictographic dictionary showing the stylized ways in which Fort Marion artists represented headdresses, men, women, hairstyles, tribal affiliations, and so forth, Szabo includes only seven artists, all of whom were previously discussed by Petersen. Five are Cheyenne: Bear's Heart, Cohoe, Howling Wolf, Making Medicine, and Squint Eyes; and two, Kiowa: Zotom and Etahdleuh. These differences are in part the product of Petersen's attention to art at Fort Marion as a general subject and Szabo's more specific focus on selected materials from the Silberman collection.Arthur and Shifra Silberman began collecting Native American art long after Arthur left Europe in 1941 to make Oklahoma his permanent home. The couple became interested in and began purchasing Native American art; then, in 1975, they founded the Native American Painting Reference Library in Oklahoma City and contributed their collection of paintings to it. In 1995, the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum purchased this Reference Library, which was soon followed by the Silberman's art and archival material, thus considerably expanding the Museum's previous emphasis on cowboys and ranchers to include the American Indian. In 1997, the Silberman Gallery opened at the Museum with rotating displays of American Indian art drawn from the collection of over 2,500 paintings, prints, drawings, and other objects, including 88 drawings, a vase, a fan, and a shield which were among the many works produced by Native Americans held at Fort Marion as prisoners between 1875 and 1878. All of these Fort Marion works are illustrated in Szabo's book, thus furthering the already positive influence the Silbermans have had in terms of expanding the already familiar visual history of cowboys and ranchers in the west.
Although the text is slightly vague on this point, all of the Silberman collection's Fort Marion works were evidently purchased during or after the 1960s and 1970s when Native art had gained a certain market credibility, and collections and individual pieces gathered by others were occasionally to be found at auction. The adoption of such western forms as the easel painting and perspective systems by Native artists at the Santa Fe Indian School had furthered public acceptance of their work in the Southwest earlier in the century, as did the publications of Dorothy Dunn, and later, those of Karen Daniels Petersen. The support provided by these and other individuals, organizations, and institutions tended, however, to discourage images showing anything other than a romanticized "traditional" Native way of life; this preference has had a stultifying effect on the Native art of many regions in North America. The Silbermans' interest was not, fortunately, so limited; thus the most important features of the present volume include, like the collection it represents, not only its many images of the formerly traditional ways of hunting, camping, and courting, but its many images showing signs of the Americanized West, such as trains, ships, right-angled architecture, the American flag, and soldiers in uniform, not to mention the Indian warriors on horseback carrying umbrellas, from the point of the view of the Fort Marion prisoners. More unique items illustrated and discussed by Szabo include the fan painted by Howling Wolf, the vase painted by Bear's Heart, and the shield painted by an unidentified artist. The point in the text where these items appear as the sole exemplars of their respective types is one at which the reader may be frustrated by the limits, while remaining appreciative of the benefits, of a study defined by a particular collection: could there not have been at least two or three fans? At least two painted ceramics? And how can there possibly be only one shield! Szabo, however, provides at least some interpretive and stylistic analysis for many of the images and all of the artists, and while her study cannot serve as a comprehensive art history of the area or the period due to the limitations of the collection on which it is based, it contributes to that larger objective through its attention to the art produced at Fort Marion as part of a vital and ongoing visual tradition that did not immediately lapse into the past tense with the arrival of Euro-Americans, nor even with the incarceration of the men who were to become, as Szabo shows, the artists whose works are among those most truly representative of this particular period in American history.