In several respects, two books could not be more different than T.J. Clark’s The Sight of Death (2006) and Svetlana Alpers’s Roof Life (2013). Despite their stylistic and ideological distance, they both resonate with fundamental concerns that are rooted in the experience of every art historian, or at least of those art historians who do not consider the essential – and ultimately inevitable – critical practices of looking at works of art and describing them as neutral, unproblematic activities. Although it is on this deep level that the two books spark a worthwhile comparison, a number of more superficial similarities should not be overlooked. Both books were published by Yale University Press, as clearly reflected in their careful graphic set up, which especially in the case of Clark is strikingly balanced and thought through. Both Clark and Alpers are renowned art historians, who spent most of their academic careers at Berkeley and whose work has been acclaimed, but also heavily criticised. While being credited with fundamental critical acquisitions, their books have often been divisive in terms of their reception. If it is probably simplistic to locate their work in the area of the so-called ‘New Art History’, it is reasonable to see them as constantly committed to innovating their discipline and pointing out the flaws and limits of traditional approaches.
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