As our News Editor Valentina Di Liscia queried after the wonderful frenzy of last year’s New York Art Book Fair, “what is an art book, anyway?” We’re continuing our probe into this question with a focus on the anthologies, catalogues, and monographs that we’re reading this spring. A number of books we came across knit multiple voices together to reflect on a single issue or artist, while other works result from years of research by scholars on topics like Native mound building and Ottoman photography. From artist Romare Bearden to the sweeping topic of feminist filmmaking to a free online resource dedicated to the late painter Martin Wong, we hope you’ll find a topic you’d like to learn more about, whether new or familiar, and check out reviews by our contributors. Happy reading, and as always, please email us recommendations for inspiring, whimsical, and intriguing art books that are on your reading list (or, if you’re like me, are piled high on your nightstand, eager to be read!).

Lakshmi Rivera Amin, Editorial Coordinator

Recently Reviewed

Feminist Worldmaking and the Moving Image, edited by Erika Balsom and Hill Peleg

This compilation of 30 essays and conversations considers the practices of women filmmakers working from the 1970s to ’90s, encompassing a huge swath of creativity and diversity that is acknowledged from the start. Edited by Erika Balsom and Hila Peleg, the anthology tackles the politics of filmmaking in Chile, India, Angola, Colombia, and more, extracting lessons we can take away from women filmmakers across the world and presenting a critical perspective of what feminist cinema has to offer. “In presenting a vast heterogeneity, the book leaves an open question as to what affirmatively brings these works together. An easy distinction could be made between two rough groupings of filmmakers: those from Europe and the US navigating feminist movements and a sexist arts world, and those in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, with a Third Cinema lineage and an anticolonial lens,” notes reviewer Sanoja Bhaumik. “This division is certainly too simplistic — complicated by diasporic origins, Western education, class and racial identities, and the actual substance of films — but it does motivate a more comprehensive framework for how women filmmakers relate to the West, to imperialism and its afterlives.”

The Umayyad Mosque of Damascus: Art, Faith and Empire in Early Islam by Alain George

Providing a deep dive into the historical significance of the titular Syrian mosque, scholar Stephennie Mulder writes that this volume is particularly urgent in the midst of the ongoing war in Syria, where threats to heritage sites accompany the immense loss of human life: “In this context, Alain George’s visually sumptuous, meticulously researched volume The Umayyad Mosque of Damascus: Art, Faith and Empire in Early Islam (Gingko, 2021) is a welcome reminder of the richness of that heritage. The mosque, built in 706 by the Umayyad caliph al-Walīd (r. 705–715), is one of the great monuments of world architecture, renowned for being among the largest and most lavishly ornamented mosques in the Islamic world. With its sweeping courtyard, ornamented by colored marble, painted wood, stained glass, and glittering mosaics, the grandeur of the Umayyad Mosque retains the power to awe visitors even today, and yet the building that we see is the merest shadow of the staggering beauty of its eighth-century self.”

Norman Rockwell: Drawings, 1911–1976 by Jesse Kowalski, edited by Stephanie Haboush Plunkett

So much has been written about American painter Norman Rockwell. But, as Lauren Moya Ford emphasizes, this volume is the first dedicated to illuminating the artist’s drawings and sketches: “The extensively illustrated book sheds light on the artist’s personal and professional drawings, including his preparatory sketches for advertisements, books, and magazine covers, as well as his illustrated letters, travel sketchbooks, cartoons, and caricatures. Rockwell has long been celebrated for his technical expertise, light humor, and meticulous attention to detail, traits that come through perhaps most strongly in his drawings.”

Outside the Palace of Me by Shary Boyle

Many of us are familiar with exhibition catalogues gone wrong. They can be bulky, uncritical, and inaccessible, and carry the impossible expectation of channeling physical curation into engaging writing. Shary Boyle’s recent catalogue, however, provides an opportunity to reflect on all the form has to offer that an exhibition cannot: “It can, for example, present the smaller ceramic works without the mediation of the display case, with the camera lens shoved up much closer and at angles that the museum context simply does not allow,” Sarah Rose Sharp points out. “It enables slow looking and endless return visiting, which is necessary to absorb work so densely packed with symbolism and exquisite detail.

On Our Reading List

Martin Wong Catalogue Raisonné

Martin Wong, “The Babysitter” (detail) (1998), acrylic on linen, 22 inches x 26 inches (photo Tiernan Morgan/Hyperallergic)

Speaking of catalogues, there are several new ones we’re excited to dig into this spring. For one, the late queer Chinese-American ceramicist and painter Martin Wong, best known for his captivating portraits of community life in New York City, has a catalogue raisonné out in a free, digital format. This online resource will be updated regularly and makes publicly accessible Wong’s extensive body of paintings and drawings, plus a trove of exhibition materials, interviews, and sketches.

Picturing the Ottoman Armenian World: Photography in Erzurum, Harput, Van and Beyond by David Low

In our special edition on Artists’ Signatures last week, historian David Low investigated two paintings by Armenian-American artist Arshile Gorky and uncovered the name of the photographer who took the images they’re based on. One question he tackles is that of archival gaps: who is left out and who is included. In his recent book, he continues to expand on this question by focusing on photographers in three regions on the Armenian Plateau, shedding light on the Armenian photography studios in the then-Ottoman East that have long been left out of art historical narratives. Many of the photographers he discusses have never been written about at length. Low’s careful, detailed research offers a vital look at these artists and their communities.

Romare Bearden in the Homeland of His Imagination: An Artist’s Reckoning with the South by Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore

Published last spring, this book on multimedia Black American artist Romare Bearden promises a new kind of biography, with the American South brought to the forefront of the artist’s life and family history, spanning four generations from North Carolina to Pittsburgh and beyond. Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore brings thorough research, some of which is presented here for the first time, on Bearden’s family and his own travels and pivots throughout his career, which include his forced relocation from the South as part of the Great Migration as a child. Yet, she explains, the place he once called home appears in his work long after he leaves, providing an insightful framework for understanding the richness of his imaginative artistic practice.

Wendy Red Star: Bíilukaa

In a new tome titled after a word meaning “our side,” referring to how Apsáalooke people speak of themselves, artist Wendy Red Star highlights the links between her vast body of work and familial history. The book includes interviews she conducted with her parents, her sister, and Indigenous art curators Annika Johnson and Adriana Greci Green. The layered transcripts and full-page spreads of her artwork — from childhood drawings to works based on Apsáalooke cultural objects held in collections — bring each other to life, rendering her already personal work all the more powerful.

Woody Guthrie: Songs and Art * Words and Wisdom by Nora Guthrie and Robert Santelli

It’s an especially fitting time to revisit this late 2021 collection of writing, art, and ephemera from American folk singer Woody Guthrie, whose music permeated social movements that fought against oppression and economic inequality through the 1960s and into today. Featured nuggets, thoughtfully curated by his daughter Nora Guthrie, include paintings he created of his own song lyrics, doodles and illustrations, and shots of his iconic “This machine kills fascists” guitar.

Tamara Kostianovsky: Rapacious Beauty, edited by Gonzalo Casals

A sense of unease suffuses Tamara Kostianovsky’s sculptures, often consisting of stitched-together floral textiles twisting into beautiful but unsettling figures. In this slim new monograph, several of the Argentinian artist’s works are pictured alongside a conversation with scholar Tatiana Flores and an essay by curator Rachel Vera Steinberg.

Sarah Sze: Fallen Sky, edited by Nora R. Lawrence

Accompanying the artist’s exhibition at Storm King Art Center, this catalogue brings together voices of poets, writers, and artists to muse on Sarah Sze’s enchanting sculpture comprising what appear as droplets of mirrored glass. I was struck by the informative reflections on Sze’s work and this particular sculpture; among several poetic meditations is one by novelist Susan Choi, who writes that the work is a puddle, a waterfall, and an absence all at once.

Earthworks Rising: Mound Building in Native Literature and Arts by Chadwick Allen

As part of the University of Minnesota Press’s Indigenous Americas series, scholar Chadwick Allen explores Indigenous mound building and earthwork art as simultaneously visual, literary, and mathematical practices in this title released last spring. The book is incredibly in-depth and traverses disciplines such as literary studies and archaeology with a critical eye that counters the white supremacist notion of Native earth art forms as bygone or archaic. Allen’s analysis of several contemporary artists and organizations, including Monique Mojica (Kuna and Rappahannock) and the Chickasaw Cultural Center, serves as a reminder that they are alive, ever-shifting, and defiant of easy categorization.

Inside the Spiral: The Passions of Robert Smithson by Suzaan Boettger

Though famed for his pioneering 1970 earth art sculpture “Spiral Jetty,” Robert Smithson’s personal history and lesser-known interests are the subjects of this new biography, the first dedicated to the late land artist. Interspersed quotes and writings from Smithson himself contextualize historian Suzaan Boettger’s voyages into each stage of his life, including the fact that he was a prolific painter, despite never identifying as such, and he incorporated themes of queer sexuality into drawings throughout his career, helping to piece together a much fuller picture of the artist.

The Political Body: Stories on Art, Feminism, and Emancipation in Latin America by Andrea Giunta

Scholar Andrea Giunta’s 2018 inquiry into feminist art practices across Latin America, now out in an English translation by Jane Brodie, places revolutionary activism and explicitly political practices at the center of art created by women in the region. Her research spans from Brazil to Mexico, and keeps its focus fixed on the intertwinement of feminist art and resistance against oppressive systems of power. The author’s recollection of the abortion rights movement’s activity in Argentina, which successfully won its legalization in the country two years ago, resonates especially strongly as reproductive rights remain under attack.

Lakshmi Rivera Amin (she/her) is a writer and artist based in New York City. She currently works as Hyperallergic's editorial coordinator.

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