Supernatural America: The Paranormal in American Art

Univ. of Chicago. Jun. 2021. 320p. ed. by Robert Cozzolino. ISBN 9780226786827. $50. FINE ARTS
In this exhibition catalogue, Cozzolino (Minneapolis Inst. of Art) and contributors examine more than three centuries of U.S. art that depicts contact with the spirit world, including works by Kerry James Marshall, Betye Saar, Alma Thomas, Bill Viola, Benjamin West, Grant Wood, and Andrew Wyeth. Its thoroughly researched and illustrated essays by scholars and artists (including John Jota Leaños and Renée Stout) alternate with accounts by practitioners, including an astrologer and a witch; all of the contributions are treated seriously and respectfully. Cozzolino aims to offer new ways of seeing, and new entry points for comprehending how artists have given physical form to intangible visitations or experiences (spanning the realms of UFOs, séances, and spirits of Indigenous or enslaved peoples). The very readable entries range from one to 14 pages, and the longer entries have endnotes. The back matter is almost complete, but a list of plates would have been helpful. This review is based on a prepublication PDF, so it’s unclear how sturdy this extensive catalogue will be, but its many color plates appear to be vibrant.
VERDICT Whether or not readers believe in the supernatural, they’ll be impressed by the erudition of these texts and the wide range of beautifully presented artworks.
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