Edited by Stacy Boldrick, Leslie Brubaker, and Richard Clay.  Ashgate, September 2013. 254 p. ill.  ISBN 9781472413673 (cl.), $99.95.

Reviewed March 2014
Maria E. Gonzalez, Lecturer, Department of History, Rutgers University, Camden Campus, maria.e.gonzalez@rutgers.edu

Incessant news about armed conflicts, destruction of cultural objects, and the obliteration of symbolic spaces demand attention to conditions and motivations that fuel the violence. For this book, seventeen multinational scholars representing disciplines from art history, archaeology and English to political science and religious studies focused on the consequences and possible meanings of deliberate transformations of signs and symbols.

The authors aimed to redefine iconoclasm and expand our theoretical understanding about the broad spectrum of activities that precede, accompany, or proceed from intentional damage to the integrity of culturally significant images and objects.  To explore these phenomena, the three editors and Tate Britain curator, Tabitha Barber, formed and sustained an international cross-disciplinary research group for two years.

This network of scholars set about identifying similarities and differences among examples of image breaking events during moments of political and cultural upheaval. Examples include prehistoric deformations of swords found among grave goods; pre-contact modifications of Mayan stelae; Byzantine, Renaissance, and Reformation iconoclasms; mass destruction during World War II; defacing in contemporary art; the obliteration of the Bamiyan Buddhas; and even the subversion of an object’s meaning during conservation.

Versions of chapters nine and twelve were published elsewhere in 2010 and 2005, respectively; chapter eleven appeared as a journal article in 2007.  Several of the authors have collaborated on similar works and published on the subject of iconoclasm, notably Tabitha Barber, Stacy Boldrick, Leslie Brubaker, and Richard Clay.  The four functioned as the catalysts for the Iconoclasms Network, funded by the U.K. Arts and Humanities Research Council.

This work might serve doctoral students, researchers and curators interested in comparing waves of iconoclasm and the discourses that historically have accompanied each. For libraries that have exhibit catalogs covering the Tate Britain’s Art under Attack and the Hirshhorn’s recent Damage Control, this book might be a reasonable addition, along with other publications such as Robert Bevan’s The Destruction of Memory and Joris Kila’s Heritage under Siege. The latter should serve as a sobering corrective to the overly theorized companions.

Detailed study of the subject of this book is served by the fully identified and sourced illustrations; brief author biographies; multidisciplinary bibliography;  twelve-page index; and  introductory and concluding chapters that contextualize the organization, motivation, and finance of the iconoclasm workshops. The hardback burst-bound book, printed on clay coated paper, includes forty-seven black and white reproductions and four color plates. Substantial white margins, useful reproductions, and masterly editing worked together to knit diverse chapters into a passionless, yet readable, work.

© 2014 ARLIS/NA