All the books reviews
Médusa en Afrique. La sculpture de l'enchantement - (FRENCH)
With this catalog, which accompanies an eponymous exhibition on view through December 30, 2009, at the Musee d'ethnographie in Geneva, Boris Wastiau, curator of its department of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, presents an approach to African art that is governed by a sense of enchantment, fascination, and the spectacular. The work opens with a telling of the myth of Perseus and Medusa, emphasizing the Medusa-like nature of certain African masks, a mere look at which can have fatal results. The book then proceeds to explore the various aspects of sculpture, material, and color involved, and examines the symbolism, type of representation (human, animal, and imaginary forms), and, finally, their ritual uses. African sculpture is conceived of as a "tool" used to influence the world and the people in it, and it plays a mediating role in social relations. In a manner consistent with the concepts of anthropologist Alfred Gell, the exhibition and catalog both question the ways in which these sculptures continue to serve this role, despite having been removed from their original environment and functions, and placed in museum installations. Their presentation in the latter may be thought of as a social practice that aims to have an effect on visitors, relying on what the author refers to as the "technology of enchantment".
Micromonumentality: A Tribute to Miniature Works of African Art - (ENGLISH / FRENCH)
How many times have we been surprised at the small scale of an African object that we had envisioned as huge when seeing it in a photograph in a book or an exhibition catalog? Anyone leafi ng through this fi ne new book published by 5 Continents will experience this sensation at the turn of every page. Illustrated with beautiful photographs by Francesco Paschi, many of which are enlargements, the pieces that are the subject of this volume would each fi t neatly in a pocket. They are part of a collection of micro-objects assembled by Pierluigi Peroni, whose sensibilities for diminutive forms is rivaled only by his passion for Africa and its arts. The power that miniatures can exhibit is made apparent here, and the book proves that an object’s importance is not a function of its size but rather of the harmony of its volumes and the articulation of its forms. The works illustrated display great artistic achievement and sculptural virtuosity. The book is eminently visual but, thanks to fascinating texts by Pierluigi Peroni and Bérénice Geoffroy-Schneiter, Micromonumentality also is a refl ection on the passion that drives collectors and a discussion of the reasons why the creators of these prodigiously refi ned objects chose to make them as small as they did. Indeed, in African art, the small scale of an object may be a requirement imposed by its utilitarian function, but it can also demand additional refi nement in the process of creating it.
Moctezuma: Aztec Ruler - (ENGLISH)
This catalog was published by the British Museum to accompany an eponymous exhibition this autumn and winter. With contributions from international authorities, the eight chapters and epilogue of this book cover the life, rule, impact, defeat, and death of the Aztec emperor Moctezuma. The many color illustrations feature materials as diverse as gold and gold jewelry, maps, codices, turquoise masks, paintings, stone sculptures and monuments, shields, and objects of ritual and daily life. A number of these artworks were personally associated with the emperor. The artifacts come from the British Museum, leading museums in Mexico, and other international collections.
Motifs d’Océanie - (FRENCH)
You may recall the talented designer Nicolas Garnier, whose wonderful Carnets de Papouasie was published in 2000 by Editions Hazan. Now the director of the Melanesian and Pacific Studies Center at the University of Papua New Guinea, this young Oceanic scholar has continued his previous project and has now produced this book, whose five hundred-plus pages contain more than 850 illustrations rendered in pencil, ink, and watercolor. It is a veritable bible of decorative motifs from the Pacific Islands. A rare and highly effective visual aid, this encyclopedic work should appeal to everyone from students of anthropology to fashion designers. Indeed, anyone should be able to find inspiration here. This book is an outstanding revealation of the inventiveness of the peoples of the Pacific, whose rituals and worldviews are encoded within the grids and spirals of these remarkable motifs. From Lapita pottery to Fijian vessels, and from New Caledonian petroglyphs to Asmat shields, their curves and arabesques draw from the depths of mythology to express more than writing ever can.
Naga Tribal Adornment: Signatures of Status and Self - (ENGLISH)
This lovely little book serves as the catalogue for an exhibition of Naga jewelry currently on display at the Bead Museum in Washington, DC. The exhibition is composed of selections from the collection of Harry L. and Tiala Marsosang Neufeld, which is arguably the largest accumulation of Naga jewelry and textiles in private hands today. The text of this book provides a good general overview of Naga culture and history, and then goes on to look at adornment and the particular meanings associated with the various elements used in its creation. The book was published by a bead society about what is effectively a bead exhibition and there is a strong emphasis on the use of beads here, but not to the exclusion of other types of materials used in Naga ornamentation, such as metal, shell, wood, and hair. The photographs by Robert K. Liu, co-editor of Ornament magazine, are works of art unto themselves.
Naissance de la figure. L’art du paléolithique à l’âge du fer - (FRENCH)
From the Middle East to Western Europe, this abundantly illustrated work traces the birth and evolution of the image of the human figure through prehistoric and proto-historic times, up to the appearance of aesthetic norms engendered by the growth of large states and social structures. Demoule offers an exceptional iconographic approach that covers a period of thirtyfive millennia, from the Venuses of Galgenberg and Willendorf (ca. 23,000 BC) to the small sculpted stone figures of Sha’ar Hagolan (ca. 3500 BC) and the gold funerary masks of Mycenae (ca. 1500 BC). The author also describes and analyzes at length the subtle but ongoing interweavings that exist between societies, ideologies, and images, as well as their relationships to nature and the supernatural. The book is illustrated with photographs by Erich Lessing.
Native Peoples of the Gulf Coast of Mexico - (ENGLISH)
This book, part of the Native Peoples of the Americas series (ed. Laurie Weinstein), examines the largely overlooked Mexican Gulf Coast and gives in-depth insight to the many indigenous peoples living there, including the Popoluca Gulf Coast Nahua, Totonac, Tepehua, Sierra Nahnu (Otomi), and Huastec Maya. It is the first work published to argue for the region's distinctiveness from the rest of Mexico, and it does so through detailed discussions of each of these groups' language, social organization, belief systems, dwellings, culture, etc. The book is a defining contribution that features the expertise and research of a dozen noted scholars.
Native Universe: Voices of Indian America - (ENGLISH)
This is the inaugural volume published by the newly opened National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC, which showcases elements of the museum's collection within the context of its themed displays. While many find the museum a bit difficult to handle, this book is a somewhat more limited and lucid approach to the collection. It is composed of a large number of short essays on a variety of subjects, ranging in perspective from the scholarly to the subjective, but it approaches the art with respect and care, and with a sensibility for its aesthetics. The book is far-reaching in its scope, but art enthusiasts will find a great many masterpieces that are easier to find here than in the museum installation.
New Guinea Art: Masterpieces from the Jolika Collection of Marcia and John Friede - (ENGLISH)
This remarkable two-volume edition is unquestionably the most comprehensive and attractive survey of New Guinea art ever produced. The first volume contains color images of more than 600 objects from the comprehensive collection of Marcia and John Friede, spanning the artistic production of the world’s second- largest island from north to south and east to west. The photographs by John Bigelow Taylor and Diane Dubler are clear and revealing, and are accompanied by cursory identifying captions. The second volume contains thoughtful essays by notable scholars addressing the process of art collecting, major themes in New Guinea art, carbon dating, and the impact of Oceanic art in Europe. These are followed by a thumbnail catalogue of the first volume, in which each object is described in greater detail. At nearly fourteen pounds, this is indeed a weighty tome and a must- have for anyone interested in the visual arts.
New Perspectives on Pottery Mound Pueblo - (ENGLISH)
This publication is a thorough examination of the Pottery Mound Pueblo site on New Mexico’s Rio Puerco, featuring a number of contributors who focus on different aspects of the culture and art of this area. Frank C. Hibbens initiated the excavation of the Pottery Mound some fifty years ago and discovered a rich variety of prehistoric pottery styles as well as significant murals. The book explores the initial archaeological excavation and discusses interpretations resulting from more recent research in the field, the latter emphasizing the murals’ significance in regard to culture history and social dynamics.