by James Oles. (World of art). Thames & Hudson, September 2013. 432 p. ill. ISBN 9780500204061 (pbk.), $26.95.
Reviewed January 2014
Clayton Kirking, Chief, Art Information Resources, New York Public Library, firstname.lastname@example.org
James Oles’ welcome contribution to the estimable Thames & Hudson World of Art series presents in a single volume a substantial survey of art and architecture in Mexico from its conquest by the Spanish to the present era. Oles, a respected scholar in the field who divides his time between Mexico and the United States, provides a well-illustrated text that will fit comfortably into curricula ranging from upper level high school to undergraduate study and beyond to specialized graduate students and the interested general public. As the last comprehensive survey of this material was first published by Justino Fernández in 1958 (with various editions and translations through the 1960s) the appearance of this volume is a long anticipated event.
The book is well written and serves the broadly based audience to which this series is directed. Using a style that is formal but not stilted, yet still somewhat colloquial, it is not impossible to imagine reading this chunky volume from beginning to end. Even given its length, the text is densely illustrated with images that are thoughtfully chosen and well placed on the page. The illustrations are helpfully annotated, but to ascertain the source of an image the reader must refer to a list of illustrations at the book’s end. An extensive bibliographic essay is appended that will be useful to scholars and students, as well as to collection development librarians. A compact time line is also included, which is helpful for associating major political and social events with art trends and movements. The design is straight forward, with an easy to read typeface and adequate contrast to spare weary eyes. Most libraries will probably want to rebind Art and Architecture in Mexico as it was issued in paper only.
This contribution to the literature of the history of the arts of Mexico comes after nearly a decade of very active publishing in the discipline. Scholars and publishers on both sides of the border have produced an impressive stream of monographs, exhibition catalogs, and journal articles. This publishing activity reflects, of course, shifting population demographics and the growing interest in Latin America in general, but more importantly, the establishment of Latin American art as a “staple” in major museums in the United States and Europe. It is worth emphasizing too, that it appears as part of one of the most prominent English language art historical series of the last fifty years. This points directly to the growing profile of the subject in current academic practice.
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