Tanja's Culture


The Best Art Books of 2015

The Best Art Books of 2015

An essential reading list of the year's best new art books.

Via Christie's

Scroll Down And Keep Scrolling by Fiona Banner (The Vanity Press)

Jonathan Watkins, Director, Ikon Gallery: Banner’s dense compendium, 800 pages referencing an archive of work spanning 30 years, mimics the appearance of a large phone directory. Not a Christmas coffee table book, but it is a delight and something to stimulate debate, raising questions about the relevance of publications in the digital age. I have known Fiona for many years, and was thrilled to work with her recently on her‘anti-survey’ show at Ikon. She is an artist who immerses herself in the complexities, possibilities and limitations of language and the written word. Scroll Down And Keep Scrolling, which is published by her own publishing house The Vanity Press, is as insightful as it is idiosyncratic with her charming and unpredictable font, designed especially for this project — aptly named ‘Font’!

Eye of the Beholder: Johannes Vermeer, Antoni van Leeuwenhoek and the Reinvention of Seeing by Laura J. Snyder (St John’s University)

Martin Gayford, art critic and author: Too often art history gets separated from histories of other kinds. In 17th century Europe, as this study lucidly and entertainingly demonstrates, new ways of painting developed side by side with novel scientific ways of looking at the world. Indeed, in the Dutch city of Delft that was quite literally the case, as Vermeer and Leeuwenhoek — explorer of the previously undiscovered world to be seen through a microscope — were close contemporaries and near neighbours. Like science, art often depends on looking hard, and seeing what was not seen before. In a way, Snyder does that too.

Alberto Burri: The Trauma of Painting, Contributions by Emily Braun, Megan Fontanella, and Carol Stringari (Guggenheim Museum Publications)

Christian Hemmerle, Director, Hemmerle, MunichAlberto Burri is an artist I have always admired for how experimental and innovative he was for his time. The impactful experience of visiting the exhibition at the Guggenheim in New York is echoed in this book. Published to coincide with his first US retrospective in more than 35 years, it provides a unique insight into the life of the artist, his work and his revolutionary vision. Through its pages, you are immersed in the complex and mesmerizing oeuvre of Burri. Beautiful imagery and thoroughly researched writing position the artist as a central figure of post-war art who formed his own identifiable ground-breaking visual language and paved the way for movements such as Arte Povera. His vision to push the boundaries of how art can be made has been a source of inspiration to us at Hemmerle.

Peggy Guggenheim: The Shock of the Modern by Francine Prose (Yale University Press)

Leo Robson, art critic for the New Statesman: Peggy Guggenheim doesn’t lack for biographies — she has been the subject of three hefty accounts, which is more than most of the artists whose work she encouraged and collected, and her own memoir was published in three different versions. The novelist Francine Prose uses Peggy Guggenheim: The Shock of the Modern, her trim contribution to Yale’s Jewish Livesseries, to train a sceptical eye on all the conflicting testimony and faulty interpretation, and produces a rich new reading, full of insight about class, race, and gender.   

Girl in a Band by Kim Gordon (Faber)

Andrew Renton, Director, Marlborough Contemporary: What’s so great about this book is that it’s deeply honest, smartly analytical, and doesn’t stop to worry about what’s music, what’s art. Everyone’s favourite bassist with attitude, Gordon comes out of art school, and this informs so much of the way she thinks about everything she does. A fearless experimenter, her collection of critical essays published last year proved that she has a unique perspective to what she sees, and she has been in constant dialogue with visual artists throughout her life. Just look at all those fabulous Sonic Youth LP covers by her friends; Mike Kelley, Richard Prince, Raymond Pettibon, Dan Graham. The narrative between the observation is irresistible. For example, the book is nicely punctuated by the regular appearance of Larry Gagosian, whom she first meets when he is selling art books on the streets in LA. He gives her a first job in the art world as an Eighties NYC gallerina. Thirty years later she makes a solo show for him in LA.  And she gives him grief throughout, to keep him on his toes. Simply, nobody cooler.

The Miró Eye: Photographs by Jean-Marie del Moral (La Fábrica/Fundacio Pilar/Joan Miró a Mallorca/Sucessió Miró/Fundació Joan Miró, 2015)

Jordi Mayoral, Director, Galeria Mayoral, Barcelona: This book helped us to discover the Mallorca studio of one of the most important artists in art history: Joan Miró. With images of the beautiful objects that Miró collected and was inspired by, it gives an idea of the poetic universe he created — and inhabited. We are collaborating with both the author Joan Punyet Miró and photographer Jean Marie del Moral, and this book helped in the research process of our January 2016 exhibition Miró’s Studio, which recreates the artist’s atelier in London.

The Flemish Merchant of Venice: Daniel Nijs and the Sale of the Gonzaga Art Collection by Christina M. Anderson (Yale University Press)

Leo Robson, art critic for the New Statesman: It’s rare for a work of scholarship to lay bare an entire episode from the history of art, let alone an important one, but that is what Christina M. Anderson achieves The Flemish Merchant of Venice, her spry, at times thriller-like retelling of the Gonzaga sale, in which the ducal family of Mantua sold works by Titian, Raphael, Caravaggio, among others, to the court of Charles I. Anderson’s chief discovery was the centrality of the dealer Daniel Nijs, a figure poorly handled in previous accounts.

The Lulu Plays, illustrated by William Kentridge (Arion Press)

Emma Menell, Director, Tyburn Gallery: As a limited edition and signed artist book,The Lulu Plays is a work of art in its own right. The book contains 67 brush and ink drawings which are hand bound to illustrate the text. The text is the original telling of the Lulu story by playwright Frank Wedekind, which inspired the silent cinema classic Pandora’s Box and the Alban Berg opera Lulu. The images in the book are suggestions and maquettes for the projections for Kentridge’s 2015 production of Alban Berg’s opera Lulu at the Met in New York. As a role model to many younger South African and African artists, Kentridge’s work and his success are a source of inspiration for many of the emerging artists that Tyburn Gallery represents. The sequencing and fracturing of the images in the book wonderfully reference Kentridge’s filmic style and engaging with this work is for me a very moving experience. The Lulu Plays is certainly on my Christmas list.   

Francis Bacon in Your Blood by Michael Peppiatt (Bloomsbury)

Alex Platon, Senior Director, Marlborough Fine Art: Francis Bacon is undoubtedly one of the greatest painters of the 20th century and is an artist whose work I have an endless fascination with. It is amazing to work for the gallery that served as his second home for almost 40 years, and I always enjoy hearing stories about him from my colleagues who knew him personally. This book gives insight into Bacon’s complicated psyche and emotional intelligence. It captures the exuberance of the artist’s character and what it was like to be around him whilst also speaking about his art historical significance.   

Body of Art by various editors (Phaidon)

Dan Davies, Editor of Christie’s Daily: Tracing the representation of the human form from pre-history to the present day, Body of Art is a suitably lavish presentation that illuminates diversity of human cultures through ‘the prism of the body’. It asks questions — Why have we created these images of the body? Why has the subject endured? How do we see ourselves? — and makes connections through interesting juxtapositions that span the ancient to the contemporary, Western and non-Western art. Chapters are arranged in themes, the first being ‘Beauty’ which opens with Botticelli’s Venus before later serving up the starkest contrast in the shape of Plan (1993) by Jenny Saville, a self-portrait of searing honesty that confronts the traditional representation of the female nude and challenges the male dominance of art history. It is one of countless thought-provoking comparisons in a book that makes for compulsive browsing.   

Everything is Happening, by Michael Jacobs (Granta)

Meredith Etherington-Smith, Editor of Christie’s Magazine: There is something about Diego Vélasquez’s Las Meninas that persuades the viewer that there is much more to it than what immediately meets the eye: the way in which all of the figures appear isolated in their own worlds; the almost supernatural brilliance of a technique; the possibility that the composition’s exact mathematics should harbour secret codes; the hint of mysterious and extraordinary worlds lying beyond the mirror and the open door beside it. If Las Meninas has come to appear increasingly less straightforward the more people have thought about it, Michael Jacobs never lost his fascination with it, partly because it was so tied up with his developing relationship with Spain and the Hispanic world. Even in the heart of the Spanish countryside, where he lived for more than a decade, far from the world of high culture, he was often reminded of the painting in the most unexpected ways. He summed up his thoughts on Las Meninas before his untimely death by observing that this was a moment when an icon of realism was transformed into what the contemporary British artist Mark Wallinger has called the first “self-conscious” work of modern art. Read the book, it will encourage you to look at art in a completely new way.

Miró: From Earth to Sky, by Gisela C. Fischer, edited by Jean-Louis Prat (Prestel)

Joan Punyet Miró, art historian, curator, writer, poet and performance artist: Not too many art historians have developed a curiosity in the union between music and painting, or music and sculpture, or even music and drawing. The publication of this Miró catalogue is quite striking since it presents a mystical Miró, an artist that enables us to understand the meaning of poetry through the telluric forces of the earth, and the divine lights of the sky. Without a doubt it is a remarkable publication of a great exhibition at the Albertina, directed by Dr. Klaus Schroder, and with curatorial work brilliantly executed by Jean-Louis Prat.

Artists’ Recipes — Contemporary Artists and Their Favourite Recipes byAdmir Jahic and Comenius Roethlisberger (BOLO Publishing)

Stefan von Bartha, Director of von Bartha gallery in Basel and S-chanf, Switzerland:Artists’ Recipes is a unique publication which has been launched by two artists based in Basel, Admir Jahic and Comenius Roethlisberger that are cooking aficionados. The book breaks with all the rules of the commercial art world — there’s no agenda or politics — it was created by one artist contacting another artist they know and respect. It’s a beautifully produced book — the cover, in blue, lists all the names of the contributing artists. It’s an amazing list including Marina Abramovic, Bob & Roberta Smith, Richard Deacon, Anish Kapoor, and many of which I work with. It would look great on a coffee table… or even in the kitchen where it would certainly inspire you to start cooking! You sense the personality of each artists flicking through. For example, Sarah Oppenheimer is a very intellectual and highly perfectionist minimalist artist. Her recipe is simply a boiled egg (and we all know how easy this should be, but we still often manage to sometimes mess it up.)

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