The Best Books For Art Lovers Around the World

Photo: Graham Carlow. Courtesy Frieze
Photo: Graham Carlow. Courtesy Frieze

Art & Design Editor

Missed that major blockbuster art exhibition when it was on in town, want to know more about the therapeutic properties of art, or just looking for that perfect gift for your art-loving friend? Well fear not – we have compiled the ultimate list of art books. From artist monographs to survey publications of artistic movements, here are just a few books that every art lover’s library needs.

Yayoi Kusama, published by Phaidon

The artist who made us go dotty for her immersive, out-there, ground-breaking art is celebrated in this revised monograph by Phaidon that coincides with the recently opened Kusama Museum in Tokyo and a major exhibition touring the US. Having become an Instagram sensation for her Infinity Mirror Room installations, the Japanese artist has gained a new audience and renewed acclaim for her work that makes you think twice about compulsive disorders. Still one of the most comprehensive studies of this intriguing artist (who lives as a voluntary resident at a mental hospital), Phaidon’s book allows readers to traverse from ‘Happenings’ in 1960s New York through to Kusama’s current work, which encompasses diverse media from paintings to sculpture. And, for the first time, a collection of poems by Kusama are published to accompany the colourful illustrations, compelling essays and interviews by curators and critics.

ARTIST | WORK | LISSON, published by Lisson Gallery

Spread from Artist

Basquiat Boom for Real, published by Prestel

How much do you know about Jean-Michel Basquiat? Where did he come from? How did he become Andy Warhol’s protégé? What informed his work? This brilliant compendium about Basquiat – published in conjunction with a major touring exhibition under the same name, currently on view at Barbican, London – evocatively looks at his emergence on the downtown New York scene in the late 1970s and 80s. Tracing Basquiat’s rise from a 17 year old leaving his mark on a financially crippled NYC under the graffiti pseudonym SAMO© to his inclusion in the seminal New York / New Wave exhibition, which cemented his future as an artist. Reproductions, archival material, polaroids, interview excerpts and insightful written pieces take you on a journey through the influencing factor of art history, the importance of jazz and the key relationships that shaped an artist who died far too young at 27.

The Art Museum, published by Phaidon

This impressive book puts a new twist on collating art history in one place. The Art Museum brings together a collection of 2,000 of the world’s most important works from international collections into a ‘virtual museum’. Guided by art scholars, archaeologists and curators, you’ll travel the world without ever having to leave your seat, discovering all the remarkable and inspiring art from the Stone Age, through the Byzantine period and Neoclassicism all the way up to the present day. From the ritualistic and religious to the abstract and expressionistic, you’re in for momentous ride of culture through the ages.

Soul of a Nation, published by Tate

An exhibition catalogue is the window into any show you may have missed, or a portal through which you can muse over key shows that make you look at art history and refocus your attention. With the huge popularity of the touring exhibition Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power co-curated by Mark Godfrey and Zoe Whitley at Tate Modern earlier this year (travelling to the US in 2018), the exhibition’s dedicated publication not only features works included in the show but contextualises the premise of the exhibition – celebrating the work of black American artists made two decades after 1963 – with informed, passionate texts and recollections from black curators working in the 1960s and 1970s. As Thelma Golden, director and chief curator of The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York said: ‘Soul of a Nation is a significant and transformative contribution to art history – and American history. Richly informative and deeply engaging, this volume documents the powerful role black artists had in shaping contemporary art and our society at a pivotal moment in history. It is sure to be a profoundly valuable resource…for decades to come.’

The Artist Project, published by Phaidon

Devised by The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, over 100 international contemporary artists share their favourite works from the museum’s renowned collection. From igniting the artist’s imagination to the enduring influences, The Artist Project not only draws links between history and contemporary practices, but also gives you rare insight into a museum’s collection. There are some surprising revelations as well as the more obvious. Cory Arcangel picks a late 17th-century harpsichord, stating: ‘I have a fixation with the harpsichord because I like to work with stuff when people are looking the other way.’ While Sheila Hicks chooses a prayer book, saying: ‘It’s…the kind of art you take home with you, metaphorically. You take it into your life; it becomes yours.’

Hiroshige, published by Prestel

Known as the master of woodblock print, the Japanese printmaker Utagawa Hiroshige is loved the world over for his stunning work that captures the beauty of Japan’s landscape. Organised by subject, this lavish edition by independent curator and Japanese Art expert, Matthi Forrer, gives an excellent overview of the artist’s oeuvre from prints of birds, flowers and scenes of his native city to a selection from the renowned series, One Hundred Famous Views in Edo. So get comfy as you are immersed in the wonder of Hiroshige’s magnificent work.

Vitamin C: Clay and Ceramic, published by Phaidon

The survey publication is what Phaidon do so well, and this hunk of a hardback book is your go-to tome for all things clay related. Ceramics has certainly come back in vogue, although it could be argued it never really went away. The rise in demand for classes around the world and programming of group and solo exhibitions makes this book arguably one of the most concise overviews of the clay and ceramic arena. Aside from the obvious inclusions of Grayson Perry and Ai Weiwei, you’ll be introduced to the emerging ceramicists that use clay to produce unimaginable creations that will leave you in awe and curious for more.

Looking for more art book inspiration? See the best books for photography lovers around the world.

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