by Nancy Princenthal. Thames & Hudson, October 2019. 304 p. ill. ISBN 9780500023051 (h/c), $34.95.
Reviewed January 2020
Jacqueline Fleming, Visual Literacy and Resources Librarian, Herman B. Wells Library, Indiana University, firstname.lastname@example.org
Unspeakable Acts: Women, Art, and Violence in the 1970s is an honest and raw depiction of the female artists and their artwork that helped start the conversation of sexual violence against women in the art world of the 1970s. Included in the text are color photos of specific pieces mentioned in the book and a lengthy endnotes section and index. Princenthal focuses on the female artists and artworks that helped propel this movement forward in history such as Yoko Ono’s Cut-Piece and Ana Mendieta’s Rape Scene. The book creates a timeline of these monumental works while emphasizing how female artists were bravely paving new ground for contemporary artists to continue this conversation. In between the discussion of specific pieces, Princenthal touches on the themes of this movement such as body image, the graphic content of pornography, and rape.
From page one of this book, Princenthal, an established writer, presents vigorous research. She provides her readers with every detail and description necessary to understand this movement and the work of the artists she chooses to emphasize. Because the book is so detailed, it can sometimes feel like an overwhelming read. There are times when the reader can get lost in the examples and comparisons Princenthal makes, and it is also an emotional topic that can be challenging to read. But this characteristic is exactly what makes the book so powerful and such an important read. Every description included was necessary to get the authors point across. Without the descriptions, the bravery and bold nature of the artists’ work would not have been done justice. If there was one thing that could be revised about the book, it would be the sheer number of artworks, artists, and literary examples that the reader may find overwhelming.
This book is for anyone interested in the intersection between women, gender studies, and art. However, it would also be of interest to anyone intrigued by the work of female artists and the historical foundations of feminist artwork. While at times the book can seem to drag on in its details, it is still a great reference for anyone studying feminist artists and artwork of the 1970s.