Synopses & Reviews
and#147;Howard Singermanand#8217;s new volume is truly groundbreaking for reasons that might at first seem counter-intuitive in their common sense: he smartly sets artistic production of the 1980s in context, looking at artworks in parallel with intellectual dialogues of the time in order to show how each was deeply enmeshed in the otherand#151;and then he radically expands his art-historical frame. Taking up the work of one remarkable artist, Sherrie Levine, in light of art-historical precedents set by, among many others, Constantin Brancusi and Marcel Duchamp, Singerman traces what would seem to be (but are not) incorrigible lines of medium-specificity and conceptual strategy through the decades. Singerman proves that postmodernism does not necessarily enact the break weand#8217;ve been told it does (so much as make possible other, transformed, iterations of longstanding discourses in art) while simultaneously offering readers a new entry into debates of the last thirty years. When it comes to revising our understanding of twentieth-century and contemporary art, Singermanand#8217;s groundbreaking project is, indeed, art history, but only as it can be written after Sherrie Levine.and#8221;
and#151;Johanna Burton, editor of Cindy Sherman
and#147;Howard Singerman presents a solid overview not only of the career of the contemporary artist Sherrie Levine, but also of what came to be known as postmodernism in the late 1970s and 1980s. Singerman mobilizes a broad range of sources, moving back and forth comfortably between discursive and historical ground on the one hand, and theoretical speculation on the other. Art History, After Sherrie Levine answers many questions about American art of the late twentieth century. Rich in detail and challenging in ideas, it is a pleasure to read.and#8221;
and#151;Alexander Alberro, author of Conceptual Art and the Politics of Publicity
and#8220;A critical examination of how the art worldand#8217;s singular characterization of Levineand#8217;s work began.and#8221;
and#8220;A hugely ambitious text. . . . Singerman masterfully retools art history in favor of deep, precisionist yet associative reading.and#8221;
and#8220;Brilliant, provocative study of photographs of the US civil rights movement . . . . A first-rate book!and#8221;
and#8220;Fascinating. . . . Bergerand#8217;s historical reconstruction is convincing.and#8221;
and#8220;A comprehensive study of the language in which editors, reporters, and photographers shaped and demarcated the periodand#8217;s field of vision.and#8221;
and#8220;Gives more detail to Weegeeand#8217;s well-known evolution from freelance photographer to Hollywood celebrity.and#8221;
"A well-researched and nuanced analysis of iconic civil rights images. . . . Aand#160;compelling work."
This book examines the career of New York-based artist Sherrie Levine, whose 1981 series of photographs and#147;after Walker Evansand#8221;and#151;taken not from life but from Evansand#8217;s famous depression-era documents of rural Alabamaand#151;became central examples in theorizing postmodernism in the visual arts in the 1980s. For the first in-depth examination of Levine, Howard Singerman surveys a wide variety of sources, both historical and theoretical, to assess an artist whose work was understood from the outset to challenge both the label and#147;artistand#8221; and the idea of oeuvreand#151;and who has over the past three decades crafted a significant oeuvre of her own. Singerman addresses Levineand#8217;s work after Evans, Brancusi, Malevich, and others as an experimental art historical practiceand#151;material reenactments of the way the work of art history is always doubled in and structured by language, and of the ways the art itself resists.
The compulsion to dwell on historyand#151;on how it is recorded, stored, saved, forgotten, narrated, lost, remembered, and made publicand#151;has been at the heart of artistsand#8217; engagement with the photographic medium since the late 1960s. Uncertain Histories considers some of that work, ranging from installations that incorporate vast numbers of personal and vernacular photographs by Christian Boltanski, Dinh Q. Land#234;, and Gerhard Richter to confrontations with absence in the work of Joel Sternfeld and Ken Gonzales-Day. Projects such as these revolve around a photographic paradox that hinges equally on knowing and not knowing, on definitive proof coupled with uncertainty, on abundance of imagery being met squarely with its own inadequacy. Photography is seen as a fundamentally ambiguous medium that can be evocative of the historical past while at the same time limited in the stories it can convey. Rather than proclaiming definitively what photography is, the work discussed here posits photographs as objects always held in suspension, perpetually oscillating in their ability to tell history. Yet this ultimately leads to a new kind of knowledge production: uncertainty is not a dead end but a generative space for the viewerand#8217;s engagement with the construction of history.
Seeing through Race is a boldly original reinterpretation of the iconic photographs of the black civil rights struggle. Martin A. Bergerand#8217;s provocative and groundbreaking study shows how the very pictures credited with arousing white sympathy, and thereby paving the way for civil rights legislation, actually limited the scope of racial reform in the 1960s. Berger analyzes many of these famous imagesand#151;dogs and fire hoses turned against peaceful black marchers in Birmingham, tear gas and clubs wielded against voting-rights marchers in Selmaand#151;and argues that because white sympathy was dependent on photographs of powerless blacks, these unforgettable pictures undermined efforts to enactand#151;or even imagineand#151;reforms that threatened to upend the racial balance of power.
and#147;Seeing Through Race
is an indispensable and highly original account of how white Americans understood and remembered the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Berger shows us why photography was so central to civil rights, and his readings of iconic images are always penetrating and at times brilliant. His central argument, that whites wanted to be in charge of the movement, is complemented with rich insights on almost every page. It should be required reading for anyone interested in protest movements.and#8221;
and#151;John Stauffer, Chair of the History of American Civilization and Professor of English and African and African American Studies at Harvard University
and#147;The fervor of the 1960s civil rights movement may seem outdated by now, but terrible scenes enacted on the streets of Selma and Birmingham are preserved in the mass of surviving news photographs. Martin Berger argues that these pictures were never simple visual documents. By awakening the nation to the horrific violence of fire hoses and attack dogs, they defined what was meant by and#147;civil rights movement.and#8221; Always engaging in its narrative as well as in its analytical and theoretical discourse, Seeing through Race is a stunning achievement both as history and as criticism.and#8221;
and#151;Alan Trachtenberg, Neil Gray, Jr. Professor Emeritus of English and American Studies at Yale University
Arthur Fellig, better known as Weegee, and his 1945 photography book, Naked Cityand#151;with its lurid tabloid-style images of Manhattan crime, crowds, and boisterous nightlifeand#151;changed prevailing journalistic practices almost overnight. In this volume, two art historians, Anthony W. Lee and Richard Meyer, bring markedly different outlooks on photography and modernism to their discussions of Weegee and his book. Meyer looks carefully at Weegee's pictures before and after they were collected and assesses how his practice of tabloid photography was inseparable from his own lowbrow appeal. Lee paints the vivid details of a leftist journalism world in 1930s and 1940s New York and shows how this world helped shape the photographer's vision. These essays restore the Naked City photographs to the mass circulation newspapers and magazines for which they were intended, and they trace the strange process by which the most famous of these picturesand#151;suffused with blood, gore, and sensational crimeand#151;entered the museum.
and#147;While Berenice Abbott, Margaret Bourke-White, and Alfred Steiglitz photographed New York's sleek skyscrapers, Arthur Fellig (called Weegee) documented the seamy underside of depression-era New York. In this extraordinary book, Richard Meyer and Anthony Lee tell a gripping tale, filled with historical detail about Weegee's transformation from freelance newspaper photographer to fine artist with the publication of his enormously successful book Naked City
, in 1945.and#8221;and#151;Cand#233;cile Whiting, author of Pop L.A.: Art and the City in the 1960s
and#147;Lee and Meyer return Weegee to his 'working world' by exploring the multiple contexts of his production-the Photo League, the tabloids, the exhibition galleries, and the book market. The volume adds an important dimension to our understanding of how Weegee straddled the worlds of popular culture, photojournalism, and left politics."and#151;Miles Orvell, author of American Photography and John Vachon's America: Photographs and Letters from the Depression to World War II (UC Press)
and#147;Groundbreaking. Anthony Lee and Richard Meyer delve deeply into a rich archive of media and exhibition history, criticism, and biography to arrive at original interpretations of the most enigmatic photographer in modern visual and print culture.and#8221;and#151;Jordana Mendelson, author of Documenting Spain: Artists, Exhibition Culture, and the Modern Nation, 1929-1939
and#147;Cohesive and compelling.and#8221;and#151;Stephen Monteiro, Assistant Professor of Global Communications, American University of Paris, and author of Screen Presence: Popular Film Practices in the Art of Warhol, Rauschenberg, Hatoum, and Gordon
and#147;Albersand#8217;s sharp analysis reveals the limits of photographic representation and the degree to which some of the most talented photographers aestheticize these restrictions rather than seek to compensate for them. Particularly exciting about this book is how Albers not only points to the presence and texture of this aesthetic of doubt but even goes on to theorize its purpose. With great intelligence, she rethinks the checkered relationship of photography with the reality it seems to represent and the strategies that arise from photographers who acknowledge these limitations.and#8221;and#151;Andrand#233;s Mario Zervigand#243;n, Associate Professor of the History of Photography, Rutgers University
About the Author
Anthony W. Lee, Associate Professor of Art History at Mount Holyoke College, is the series editor for Defining Moments in American Photography and is coauthor (with Elizabeth Young) of On Alexander Gardner's Photographic Sketch Book of the Civil War. He is also the author of Painting on the Left: Diego Rivera, Radical Politics and San Francisco's Public Murals and Picturing Chinatown: Art and Orientalism in San Francisco, all published by UC Press. Richard Meyer is an Associate Professor in the Department of Art History and Director of the Contemporary Project at the University of Southern California. In 2006-07, he served as the first Katherine Stein Sachs and Keith L. Sachs Visiting Professor of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of Outlaw Representation: Censorship and Homosexuality in Twentieth-Century American Art, the editor of Representing the Passions: Histories, Bodies, Visions, and, with David Romand#225;n, the co-editor of Art Works: Part I and II, two special issues of GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies. He is currently organizing an exhibition and#147;Warhol's Jewsand#8221; for the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco and completing a book titled What was Contemporary Art?
Table of Contents
Foreword by David J. Garrow
Introduction: The Iconic Photographs of Civil Rights
1. The Formulas of Documentary Photography
2. White Shame, White Empathy
3. Perfect Victims and Imperfect Tactics
4. The Lost Images of Civil Rights
Epilogue: The Afterlife of Images
List of Illustrations