Identity Unknown: Rediscovering Seven American Women Artists

Donna Seaman. Bloomsbury, $32 (480p) ISBN 978-1-62040-758-5
Booklist editor Seaman (Writers on the Air: Conversations About Books) highlights the lives and work of seven “underappreciated” women artists from the 20th century, but sloppy writing and a lack of focus undermine this slice of art history. For one, Seaman’s selection is highly personal—she explains that she chose “to write about artists whose work has deeply affected [her]”—but the biographical sketches are framed around a broad notion of obscurity. This feels less than apropos when discussing Louise Nevelson, an artist with a New York City plaza named after her. The biographical sketches of the other artists—Gertrude Abercrombie, Joan Brown, Loïs Mailou Jones, Ree Morton, Christina Ramberg, and Lenore Tawney—are undermined by overwrought writing and disjointed stories. Seaman also has a habit of including random facts without further explanation of their significance. For example, Seaman attributes Jones’s scholarship to the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, to her athletic ability without any explanation as to why an art school would be interested in a student’s athleticism. Elsewhere she writes that Brown learned from the experience of teaching at a private school, but fails to explain how. Occasionally photographs will show one of the artists with their work in the background, but there aren’t many images of the actual work. Instead, readers must often rely on written descriptions, which makes Seaman’s book even harder to penetrate. B&w photos. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 11/07/2016
Release date: 02/01/2016
Genre: Nonfiction
Hardcover - 978-1-62040-759-2
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