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Black Velvet: The Art We Love to Hate

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The subtitle of Black Velvet: The Art We Love to Hate flatters itself. Who sits around hating velvet paintings? Instead, when we spot them for sale on the side of the road, we just drive by at full speed. This book, by Jennifer Heath, may not win fans over to the velvet cause, but it will clear up what these fuzzy cultural icons are all about. Among the unlikeliest facts: The art form got its foothold in this country in the homes of wealthy 19th-century New Englanders. The reproductions here are gorgeously gaudy, even if they don’t convey the paintings’ delightfully tacky texture. Here are mighty matadors, a noble conquistador, Indian braves, scantily clad girls (island and otherwise), John Lennon, Jesus, and, of course, Elvis. Luminous, lush, and mesmerizing in their own ugly way, these designs work wonderfully on the printed page — better there than in your living room. B+