Our Favorite Art Books of 2016
Here are our recommended reads for the new year.
With 2016 drawing to a rapid close, artnet News editors took a look back at some of the most engaging and delightful art books of the year. Our picks range from stunning Frida Kahlo works to sobering Farm Security Administration-era photographs, and everything in between.
Read on for what you can curl up with in the cold winter months ahead.
Gus Van Sant: Icons
For fans of iconic American film maker Gus Van Sant, this book is a gold mine of images, artwork, essays, portraits, sketches, interviews, and first-person accounts. Published by Actes Sud, it was created in conjunction with a major exhibition at La Cinémathèque Française in Paris earlier this year.
Van Sant worked with actors such as Matt Damon, Keanu Reeves, Ben and Casey Affleck, Nicole Kidman, Drew Barrymore, Matt Dillon, Minnie Driver, Robin Williams, and many more.
Along with behind-the-scenes shots of Van Sant’s classic films like Mala Noche, My Own Private Idaho, and To Die For, there’s a treasure trove of photos and Polaroids of actors and actresses that resonate more than two decades later.
Vincent Van Gogh: The Lost Arles Sketchbook by Bogomila Welsh Ovcharov
There’s nothing like controversy to ignite interest in a new book, and this heated scholarly debate doesn’t look like it will die down anytime soon. Welsh-Ovcharov, a highly respected Van Gogh expert, spent years researching a mysterious “lost” sketchbook from Arles.
Here, she extensively presents the case that it is the handiwork of the famous Dutch master. But the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam wasted no time coming out publicly with a statement last month—timed for publication of the book—arguing that this is not the work of the iconic Dutch artist. More recently, the French publisher, Le Seuil, has threatened to bring legal action against the museum for what it says is “damage they have suffered as a result of an insidious and unfounded campaign” against the sketchbook.
Guns in the Hands of Artists by Jonathan Ferrara
In 1996, in response to an explosion of gun violence in New Orleans, Jonathan Ferrara Gallery held a local exhibition of artwork made from decommissioned guns. Twenty years later, the debate over gun control is all the more divisive, and new versions of “Guns in the Hands of Artists” have toured the country.
Timed to the 20th anniversary of the original show, Ferrara has released the project in book form, featuring gun-based work from 30 artists including Mel Chin, Adam Mysock, Brian Borrello. Their artist statements are paired with essays by 17 national figures, including Virginia senator and 2016 Democratic vice president candidate Tim Kaine, rapper Lupe Fiasco, and congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who survived a gunshot wound to the head by a constituent in 2011.
The book shines a light on a massive problem in our country, turning weapons of violence into a means of transmitting a powerful message, and, hopefully, the inspiration to start finding real solutions.
Sterling Ruby by Kate Fowle, Franklin Sirmans, and Jessica Morgan
The book delves into the oeuvre of Los Angeles-based artist Sterling Ruby, whose extraordinarily wide ranging practice and often massively scaled works have made him one of the hottest contemporary artists today. He takes inspiration from sources as varied as maximum security prisons, modern architecture, literature, queer culture, sex, and consumption to name a few. Garage Museum of Contemporary Art chief curator Kate Fowle conducts an interview with the artist that lends insight into his practice, while Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) director Franklin Sirmans pens an essay outlining how his early skepticism about a possible “Emperor’s New Clothes”-style artist eventually turned into appreciation.
Critic and curator Jessica Morgan analyzes Ruby’s “Stoves,” an ongoing series of performative sculptures in various sizes and materials that the artist began in the early 2000s that are now considered a cornerstone of his practice. The book is part of Phaidon’s Contemporary Artists series, aimed at providing authoritative and extensively illustrated studies of today’s sought-after names.
The Electric Pencil: Drawings from Inside State Hospital No. 3 by James Edward Deeds Jr.
James Edward Deeds Jr. (1908–1987) was 28 years old when he was declared “insane” and admitted to Missouri’s State Hospital No. 3 in 1936. Institutionalized for 30 years, Deeds spent much of his days making portraits of men and women in old-fashioned garb, and depicting landscapes, animals, and vehicles.
His Outsider art would have been lost, were it not for a series of happy accidents. In 1970, Deeds’s younger brother was moving, and in the process accidentally threw out a hand-bound album of drawings his elder brother had given to their mother some years earlier.
A 14-year-old boy stumbled across the unsigned artwork in the trash and had the foresight to hang on it for 36 years, before finally selling it on eBay. From there, the album passed to art dealer Harris Diamant, who hired a private detective and eventually tracked down Deeds’s nieces, giving a name to the anonymous artist at last.
Electric Pencil—the title is taken from one of Deeds’s drawings, and was used as a stand-in until his real named was discovered—reveals a man with an expansive vision, whose drive to create was unfailing.
Ground: A Reprise of Photographs From the Farm Security Administration by Bill McDowell
Farm Security Administration (FSA) photographers were responsible for some of the most iconic images of life on American farms during the Great Depression. In addition to the approximately 145,000 images housed at the Library of Congress, however, thousands more shots were deemed unusable by FSA head Roy Stryker, who “killed” the negatives by punching holes through them.
Photographer and University of Vermont art professor Bill McDowell revisits those long-lost negatives, printing never-before published photographs by artists including Walker Evans, Russell Lee, and Marion Post Wolcott, which shed light on a land transformed by over farming and drought, as well as the details of the people who resided in overlooked places.
Diane Arbus: In the Beginning
This hefty door-stopper is the definitive study of the artist’s first seven years of work, from 1956 to 1962. Featuring just two informative essays (by Met photography chief curator Jeff Rosenheim and senior museum researcher Karan Rinaldo) the rest of the book deals with Arbus’s striking photographs. In 1956, she reinvented the 130-year old objective reality machine that was the photographic camera: this book contains her first explosively expressive results.
Frida Kahlo at Home by Suzanne Barbezat
In this beautifully illustrated and thoughtful book, Suzane Barbezat, an Oaxaca-based travel writer, teacher, and tour guide, explores the famous Casa Azul, where legendary Mexican painter grew up, lived with her husband Diego Rivera, and ultimately died.
La Casa Azul, now one of the most visited museums in Mexico City, is where Kahlo, confined to her bed after a horrific trolley accident, began to paint the masterful canvases and self portraits for which she is now known.
Along with a plethora of images of her paintings, the book features archive images, family photographs, objects, and artifacts from her personal collection as well as photos of the surrounding landscape, all of which offer insight into how these places shaped her work and vision.
—Eileen KinsellaPipilotti Rist- Pixel Forest
I loved this exhibition when I saw it at Kunsthaus Zurich in May, both for the quality of the work and the utterly escapist design of the exhibition space, where the works were spotlight in the completely dark exhibition space.
This accompanying catalogue is not only truly evocative of the exhibition itself through an inspired choice of images but it is also simply a beautiful object from the humorous, shiny cover to the quality of the paper it is printed on.
As well as reliving the exhibition readers can also enjoy essays by the New Museum’s Massimiliano Gioni and legendary artist Joan Jonas. Not only is the book a thing of beauty, it’s great to learn a bit more about Rist aside from the endless Beyonce references after she borrowed Rist’s window smashing motif for the seminal video album, Lemonade.
—Amah Rose Abrams
Silent Beaches, Untold Stories: New York City’s Forgotten Waterfront by Elizabeth Albert
This was a hands down favorite of mine this past year, and everyone I shared it with was equally enthused to learn more about the lesser-known and forgotten stretches of the New York area’s more than 600 miles of coastline. Elizabeth Albert, a Brooklyn-based visual artist, professor, curator, and writer offers up an intriguing mix of art, photography, and writing.
She was inspired by the Museum of Modern Art’s 2010 exhibition, “Rising Currents: Projects for New York’s Waterfront,” which was composed of works by five interdisciplinary teams from MoMA PS1’s architect-in-residence program, as well as “Manhatta/Manhattan: A Natural History of New York” at the Museum of the City of New York, which explored New York at the time of Henry Hudson’s 1609 arrival.
Realizing how little she knew about the New York coastal areas in question, Albert began exploring in earnest. Each of the ten chapters in the book focuses on a particular coastal area across the five boroughs, creating a vivid, if often haunting, experience.
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