Visual Shock: A History of Art Controversies in American Culture
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Visual Shock: A History of Art Controversies in American Culture

3.52 of 5 stars 3.52  ·  rating details  ·  83 ratings  ·  17 reviews
From the early years of the American Republic to the present, art and architecture have consistently aroused major disputes among artists, critics, scholars, politicians, and ordinary citizens. Now one of our most respected cultural historians chronicles these clamorous debates about the public appropriateness of paintings, sculpture, memorials, and monuments.

Michael Kamme...more
Hardcover, 480 pages
Published September 26th 2006 by Knopf (first published 2006)
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Charles Matthews
A news item recently reported that a gallery in Los Angeles had received protests about an exhibition of 27 photographs of crying toddlers. The photographer offered a lollipop to each of her 2- and 3-year-old subjects, then snatched it away and snapped the picture. Some who saw the exhibition thought she should be charged with child abuse.

The obvious comment is that creating controversial art is as easy as taking candy from a baby. But that the story made the news also points up the symbiotic re...more
It could have been much improved if there were more pictures of the artwork discussed, and in color, but overall I think I learn enough to show off in museums...
Aug 02, 2011 Hotavio rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Hotavio by: book discussion
Visual Shock centers on the history of controversy in American art. The book considers a wide scope of art including monuments, murals, the encroachment of modernism in painting and sculpture, public sculpture, and the transformation of the art museum. The book then takes a comparative approach to trends around the world.

Kammen's book is well organized and weighs the tendencies for art to push towards controversy in order to better serve the public. The author furthers that this has served th...more
Given the sheer scope in compiling a history of American art controversies, Michael Kammen’s “Visual Shock” is an impressive, successful attempt to organize hundreds of donnybrooks into a cohesive narrative. It’s clear that there are few cities in the United States that haven’t been subject to some kind of art-related brouhaha at one time or the other, whether it revolved around the design of a public building, the art commissioned for a public building, a monument, a work supported by a grant f...more
John David
“Visual Shock” purports to be nothing less than a history of art controversies in American culture. Its scope is extensive, dating all the way back to the beginning of the nineteenth century and the construction of the Washington Monument, coming up through the more recent contretemps over work of Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano. The chapters are organized topically, and cover much of the ground that you would expect such a comprehensive history to deal with: the introduction of modern ar...more
Nicely compartmentalized for those with adult attention deficit disorder...the first chapter is about Monuments - the size, setting and style, and of course the politics of the Vietnam Memorial, Washington Monument and other Monuments on the Mall. Good stuff.

The overall theme is that art was more shocking in the beginning of the 1900s, that each time a new controversy arises we become desensitized to the shock and it takes more to freak us out. The one variation was the idea about modernism, whi...more
Overall I enjoyed reading this book however it was fairly different than what I expected and much of it felt obvious. I had hoped to read something that described controversies in art an how they reflected the time, how they shaped art history and why so much "great" art is often controversial before it becomes accepted. The book did touch on some of these topics but more focused on how museum and cultural politics and journalists created art "controversies" and how these controversies reflected...more
I'm still not sure how a book about art controversies in America could be so dull while examining such interesting cases. The book is in need of greater editing; there is a lot of repetition, and artists and controversies are mentioned at different times throughout the book to various degrees. The book also discusses museum exhibit controversies which is a different topic altogether. As other reviews have mentioned, it would have been very helpful to have illustrations for all of the cases discu...more
Scholarly book about controversies in American Art. The Maier Museum has a Sally Mann photograph. I didn't realize she was critized for photographing (exploiting?) her young children. I find her 'The New Mothers' amusing.

Most of the controversial Monuments and Murals (Diego Rivera esp.)discussed were familar to me. I also remember the flap when the Smithsonian had an exhibit with Archie Bunker's chair. Some of the other controversies, such as the Mapletho...more
Really enjoyed this, particularly the earlier chapters which dealt some unfamiliar brouhouhas, like the difficulties that beset the WPA mural program. (I always thought of this as really popular, democractic art, no idea how messy it was.) There's good stuff about public sculpture as well...heartening how well accepted some of these very abstract pieces have become after an initial backlash. Anyway, I did enjoy this and would recommend it to anyone who thinks about the boundaries of high and pop...more
Nancy Healy
I read this with a book club and there was considerable disagreement about the quality or readability of the text. I enjoyed it. I think Michael Kammen did a good job of taking a dense subject and making it interesting. There were sections I found less interesting than others, but I gained a good perspective on many aspects of American art and the controversies that often surround it. If you're interested in purchasing this book, look for an independent bookstore here:
This book won some sort of award. It is a history of controversies surrounding artworks in America. Although it is a decent source book on its topic, and although it has some obscure examples, it is kind of boring in contrast to the anecdotes in relays. Perhaps the accumulation of scandal and shock is too much for my weak mind.
Glenn Johnson
An okay book reviewing visual art controversies (not musical, etc.). One thing sorely lacking was that for the vast majority of the artworks discussed, there were no pictures--curious in a book about visual art. I was able to Google quite a few of them but that gets tedious quickly.
Very dense, but great information on the disputes and controversies surrounding public art.
I will reread this book. There is so much "thinking" material!
Right up my alley, should probably invest in a copy, though.
Kris Walseth
Like a textbook. MIA Book Tour April 2013.
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Michael Gedaliah Kammen was a professor of American cultural history at Cornell University. He won the Pulitzer Prize (History, 1973) for his book, People of Paradox: An Inquiry Concerning the Origins of American Civilization.
More about Michael Kammen...
Mystic Chords of Memory: The Transformation of Tradition in American Culture The Origins of the American Constitution: A Documentary History Digging Up the Dead: A History of Notable American Reburials People of Paradox: An Inquiry Concerning the Origins of American Civilization (Cornell Paperbacks) American Culture, American Tastes: Social Change and the 20th Century

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