Escape From the Screen This Winter With These 17 Absolutely Gorgeous Coffee-Table Books
From Gordon Parks's unflinching photography to an outsized tribute to Salvador Dalí, these are some of our favorite coffee-table books.
If you’ve found yourself looking for some stimulating entertainment beyond the screen this year, look no further than these gloriously illustrated tomes. They’re the perfect addition to any table—coffee or otherwise—and the picture-rich books will come in especially handy for those whose attention spans maybe a little bit shorter this year. (For those who are still devouring regular books, see our go-to guide here.)
by Owen Edwards and Steven M.L. Aronson
Why it’s worth it: When the writer, photographer, and all-around bon vivant Peter Beard died this year at age 82, he left an indelible mark on the art world and everyone he met, from the wilds of Africa to the seedy bars of New York City. His life was marked by a ferocious pursuit of adventure, photographing endangered species and documenting his travels in beautifully intimate diaristic form, collaging photographs with drawings and notation.
A gadfly who was equally at home as a social fixture, Beard delved into fashion photography, and collaborated with the likes of Andy Warhol and Francis Bacon, while living up to his nickname as Walkabout, cutting a fine figure with his year-round tan, blue eyes, and revolving door of beautiful women at his side. This book captures the spirit and craft of a man who lived large in every sense.
Where to find it: $150 at TASCHEN
Anni & Josef Albers: Equal and Unequal
by Nicolas Fox Weber
Why it’s worth it: The first book dedicated to the relationship between Anni and Josef Albers, two pioneers of modern art and design, Equal and Unequal traces the artists’ lives from their early years at the Bauhaus in Germany to their time teaching at North Carolina’s influential Black Mountain College to their later careers in Connecticut. The book contains essays about their connections to other major art-world figures including Ruth Asawa, Marcel Breuer, Merce Cunningham, and Jacob Lawrence, as well as more than 750 artworks, archival photographs, and documents.
Where to find it: $150 at Phaidon
The Louvre: The History, The Collections, the Architecture
by Genevieve Bresc-Bautier
Why it’s worth it: This love letter to the iconic Parisian museum by Genevieve Bresc-Bautier takes readers on a vicarious journey through its majestic halls, grand galleries and world-renowned art collections, highlighting both masterpieces and hidden gems alike.
Where to find it: $100 at Rizzoli bookstore
by J. C. Volkamer
Why it’s worth it: Johann Christoph Volkamer, a German merchant active in the 17th and 18th centuries who took up botany as a hobby, published this gorgeous book devoted to citrus fruits. The aristocracy had gone mad for these items, importing them from more southerly climes in a contest to show their wealth and power, akin to the craze for tulips. In 1708, Volkamer hired a team of copperplate engravers to create some 256 plates of 170 varieties as well as the gardens in which they were raised in Volkamer’s home city of Nuremberg, also shown in landscape and city panoramas.
Where to find it: $150 at TASCHEN
In Memory Of: Designing Contemporary Memorials
by Spencer Bailey
Why it’s worth it: With monuments to Confederate generals coming down and monuments to pioneering figures for social justice going up, there’s no better time to think seriously about the way we remember the past in public. In this volume, Spencer Bailey, host of the Time Sensitive podcast, surveys 60 memorials, from the New York City AIDS Memorial to Vienna’s Judenplatz Holocaust Memorial.
Where to find it: $69.95 at Phaidon
by Charlie Engman
Why it’s worth it: It’s easy enough to describe the setup of MOM, a capstone book of Charlie Engman’s sprawling, 11-year project photographing his mother. But conveying its magic is a whole other task. Over hundreds of shoots, the young artist captured his mercurial muse in situations alternately goofy and awkward, clever and intimate. In the book, Engman’s mom dresses up and dresses down; she dons wigs and body paint and prosthetics; she climbs trees and thrashes nude in sand dunes. But not once do you get the sense that she’s less than 110 percent committed every step of the way. It’s fascinating to witness.
If you’re in the market for a door-stopping tome to impress your grandparents when they visit, MOM might not be the choice for your coffee table. But if you’re looking for beautifully designed book that starts conversations—even uncomfortable ones—and yields new discoveries each time you open it, call off the search.
Where to find it: €58 ($70) at Edition Patrick Frey
Working Together: Louis Draper and the Kamoinge Workshop
by Sarah Eckhardt
Why it’s worth it: There’s been a lot written about the Kamoinge Workshop, a long-running collective of Black photographers, and it’s generational influence. But this book, produced for a traveling exhibition that started at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (and is currently on view at the Whitney in New York), will likely go down as the most comprehensive. It’s not hard to imagine it carving out a permanent spot on many “History of Photography” syllabi in the future. (Bonus: One of Kamoinge’s longest running members, Ming Smith, released a show-stopping monograph this year too.)
Where to find it: $40 at the Whitney Museum Shop
Grief and Grievance: Art and Mourning in America
conceived by Okwui Enwezor
Why it’s worth it: The world has woken up to the precarity of Black lives in 2020 as never before in modern memory. Ahead of a 2021 exhibition at New York’s New Museum, conceived by the late curator Okwui Enewzor, comes this book on the ways artists have dealt with race and grief. Along with 175 illustrations of work by artists including LaToya Ruby Frazier, Arthur Jafa, Deana Lawson, Simone Leigh, Cameron Rowland, and Kara Walker, the book also features essays by thinkers like Elizabeth Alexander, Saidiya Hartman, and Claudia Rankine.
Where to find it: $79.95 at Phaidon
by Danelle Manthey
Why it’s worth it: Photographer Danelle Manthey considers elaborate, brightly lit displays of Christmas decorations a form of folk art. Behind the houses and lawns decked out in thousands of lights, she argues, is a dedicated artist who spends much of the rest of the year repairing, updating, and tinkering with their designs. That’s why Manthey was drawn to document this uniquely American phenomenon, photographing more than 40 homes—and the Christmas lovers who spend hours transforming them into illuminated spectacles—in 12 states across the country.
Many of the photographs are accompanied by a description of the display in its creator’s own words, and by Manthey’s own impressions of such over-the-top decorations as a California home transformed into a giant cuckoo clock-topped gingerbread house. During a holiday season unlike any other, this celebration of all things Christmas is sure to delight even the biggest Scrooge.
Where to find it: $65 at AmericanChristmasBook.com
The Human Planet: Earth at the Dawn of the Anthropocene
by George Steinmetz and Andrew Revikin
Why it’s worth it: Photographer George Steinmetz takes aerial photographs, but from the more intimate vantage point of a motorized paraglider, an ultralight aircraft that he pilots himself. Strapped into a harness with a backpack-mounted motor, Steinmetz takes a running to start to launch each flight, flying at 30 miles per hour over remote landscapes in what he describes as “a flying lawnchair,” typically just a few hundred feet above the ground (although he can reach elevations of 6,000 feet). The artist’s latest book features photos taken on all seven continents over his 30-year career, illustrating the massive impact the human footprint has had on the biosphere over that period.
Where to find it: $60 at George Steinmetz
Velázquez. The Complete Works
by José López-Rey and Odile Delenda
Why it’s worth it: Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez has influenced scores of artists, from Picasso, who made 58 paintings after Velázquez’s masterpiece Las Meninas, to Francis Bacon, whose own study of Pope Innocent X, a nightmarish portrait of absolute power was based on the Spanish artist’s. In this newly published compendium of Velázquez’s masterful paintings, the full breadth of the artist’s output is a must-have.
Where to find it: $70 at TASCHEN
Guerrilla Girls: The Art of Behaving Badly
by the Guerrilla Girls
Why it’s worth it: The Guerrilla Girls have been the feminist conscience of the art world since 1985. One of their first pieces was a flyer that showed the number of solo shows devoted to women at the Guggenheim, the Met, MoMA, and the Whitney that year: zero. This is the first book to survey their entire output, and the collective’s indelible visual style transfers beautifully to the printed page. Bonus: if you want to join the movement, each book comes with a punch-out gorilla mask.
Where to find it: $30 at Chronicle Books
Overview Timelapse: How We Change the Earth by Benjamin Grant and Timothy Dougherty
Why it’s worth it: Since 2013, Benjamin Grant has shared stunning aerial photographs sourced from NASA, the European Space Agency, and other companies specializing in satellite imagery on the Instagram account @dailyoverview. His second book documents the rapid speed with which humans are transforming the planet, with 250 new images showing the proliferation of cities, the devastation of deforestation, and the impact of major weather events triggered by climate change.
Where to find it: $40 at Indiebound
The Atmosphere Of Crime, 1957
by Gordon Parks
Why it’s worth it: Perhaps no body of photographs better captured the spirit of 2020 than Gordon Parks’s “Atmosphere of Crime” pictures, which is ironic considering they were completed more than 60 years ago for a LIFE Magazine assignment. Or maybe not: Parks’s exquisitely composed pictures show us just how firmly entrenched the politics of race are in our criminal justice system. It’s not a new thing now, and it certainly wasn’t then.
Where to find it: $46 at Steidl
Why it’s worth it: There’s no more perennial subject—sorry—for artists than the flower, and this 350-page book with some 316 illustrations presents Modern and contemporary tkaes on the subject by artists including René Magritte, Martin Parr, Jeff Wall, Vincent van Gogh, Andy Warhol, and Jan Davidszon de Heem. There’s also film stills, floral designers, and textiles, showing how artists and artisans have interpreted the form over centuries.
Where to find it: $59.95 at Phaidon
Manhattan’s Hotel Des Artistes: America’s Paris on West 67th Street
by Robert Hudovernik
Why it’s worth it: A uniquely New York story, the Hotel Des Artistes was built by artists for artists along Central Park West in 1917. It had studios, a salon ballroom, and a chef and restaurant (since the apartments didn’t have kitchens). Robert Hudovernik recounts the history of this flourishing artist colony, inspired by the Parisian art scene, with a directory of the hundreds of creatives who have called it home over the past century. (It’s still open today, as the Leopard at des Artistes, with walls adorned with landmarked murals of female nudes by former resident Howard Chandler Christy.)
Where to find it: $65 at Rizzoli.
Salvador Dalí: The Impossible Collection
by Paul Moorhouse
Why it’s worth it: This stunning volume spotlights 100 of Salvador Dalí’s wondrously surreal paintings, created over the course of the artist’s prodigious eight-decade life. Author Paul Moorhouse takes care to point out the artist’s myriad artistic influences, including Old Masters, Impressionism, Fauvism, and Cubism.
Where to find it: $895 at Assouline
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