by John J. Curley. Lawrence King, January 2019. 288 p. ill ISBN 9781786272294 (h/c), $50.00.
Reviewed May 2019
Sarah Bilotta, Assistant Cataloging and Systems Librarian, Peabody Essex Museum ; Library Fellow and Museum Intern, Museum of Russian Icons, firstname.lastname@example.org
In Global Art and the Cold War, John J. Curley (Associate Professor of Art History at Wake Forest University) undertakes a challenging project: collating the history of Cold War art with an emphasis on internationally contextualizing works created outside the Soviet-American binary. At first glance, the ambitious scope of this book is not made plain: the jacket, in lieu of a predictable collage of Cold War art from many cultures, features one of Bulgarian artist Christo’s Package(s), wrapped in linen and rope, to symbolize concealment. This jacket design concisely represents what Curley’s text achieves: a nuanced representation of Cold War art which explores beyond culturally pervasive imagery of sickles and mushroom clouds.
Global Art and the Cold War conveys the (often locally disparate) relationships between political movements and creators. It focuses upon artists working in both traditional and experimental ways in many media: painting, sculpture, installation, and performance, as well as photography and design. The book is organized chronologically rather than geographically so that diverse works of art are narratively intertwined. The author’s definition of global art during the Cold War is broad, and the material is consequently dense. Locales which may seem like peripheral players in the Cold War to a western audience, including Ghana, Iran, Afghanistan, Cambodia, and Chile, receive limited attention. Additionally, the text largely focuses upon art made for gallery display or as public protest and is most valuable for historians and art historians studying politics and protest in the fine arts and artist communities.
Historical context is thoughtfully embedded making the text readable for an undergraduate audience, while detailed visual analyses of artworks serve more advanced researchers. Furthermore, the author embeds engaging revisionist ideas from recent Cold War historiography. Overall, this text uncovers the ability of Cold War artists to innovate when challenged by oppression and political tension. Reproductions are mostly full-color with some valuable detail views.
Global Art and the Cold War is a vigilant re-contextualization of Cold War art. The scope and density of political and artistic content packed into this 288-page work indicates that a more exhaustive study would optimally involve a team of international contributors. This ambitious work succeeds as a narrative re-evaluation of Cold War art more than an encyclopedic reference, though its thorough index and in-text references advance it towards the latter. Global Art and the Cold War is refreshingly un-alarmist yet consistently surprising. It is a recommended resource for librarians whose patrons study twentieth-century global art and politics, especially as a research aid for academic libraries.