The heavy heat of summer is officially upon us, and one way we can bear it is to lose ourselves in an art book or two. This month, we recommend an engaging new book on the vast landscape of contemporary Indigenous art, edited by Jeffrey Gibson; artist Ellie Irons’s guide to making paint from plants; Katy Hessel’s feminist rebuttal of the predominantly Western, White, and male art canon; a fictionalized account of artist Artemisia Gentileschi’s life for your novel fix; and more. Let us know what you think of these titles, get in touch over email to share what you’re reading this August, and, as ever, stay cool.

Lakshmi Rivera Amin, Editorial Coordinator

Recently Covered

Feral Hues: A Guide to Painting with Weeds by Ellie Irons

Ever wanted to capture a color found in nature and transform it into a watercolor paint? A fitting summertime zine, artist Ellie Irons’s Feral Hues reflects her continued dedication to recognizing the vitality of the natural world and imbuing its energy into the materials she uses to create her artwork. Bring this book along on your outdoor trips and experiment with the many paint recipes included within it, focused on current-day Hudson, New York. Irons’s harvesting and processing notes carefully outline how to find and collect these plants, with her introductory text exhorting a mindful relationship to the environment and land, especially crucial in the age of climate crisis. —LA

Read the Interview | Buy the Book | Publication Studio Hudson, May 2023

The Story of Art Without Men by Katy Hessel

As Nageen Shaikh writes in her review, The Story of Art Without Men is primarily “an introductory survey of several women artists who have not yet been appreciably researched or entered the art canon,” mining the history of women’s centuries-long exclusion from countless art worlds. Katy Hessel crafted its title by upending E.H. Gombrich’s The Story of Art (1950), a foundational yet sorely homogenous survey that leaves half the narrative untold. As you read Hessel’s newest book, I also recommend reflecting on Hall Rockefeller’s Opinion essay on what the abundance of aggregated women’s art history titles released in recent years indicates about the field’s future: “With new texts being published monthly, now seems a good time to ask: What is the state of women’s art history?” Rockefeller writes. “If Hessel is treading water, who is advancing scholarship?” —LA

Read the Review | Buy on Bookshop | W. W. Norton & Company, May 2023

On Our Reading List

An Indigenous Present

This is a gorgeous coffee table book that offers a visual delight of art by the leading practitioners of contemporary art from the Native American, Alaska Native, Inuit, and First Nations communities. Edited by Jeffrey Gibson, one of the foremost figures of this new contemporary art renaissance, he explains in his introduction that 20 years ago, he was dreaming about a community of other Indigenous makers and the challenges of identifying as an Indigenous or Native artist:

“It’s no secret that, at various points in my life, I’ve considered quitting being a professional artist. I’ve spoken about this publicly, and I’ve done so because I wanted to be transparent about the challenges of identifying as a Native/Indigenous artist. The historically pervasive racism of institutions and the market let me feeling like I had to do everything on my own. It was too difficult, too often, for too many reasons, but what really rattled me was the ways I’d come to accept — perhaps ‘metabolize’ is a better word — the racism in the art world. It has taken me two decades to recognize racism’s edges, the way it feels and looks, its pervasive reach.”

Twenty years forward and it’s quite clear he’s been able to help create such a community that can be as diverse and varied as he once dreamed. I’d highly recommend this book, which includes interviews Gibson did with some of the participating artists, for anyone who wants a good overview of Indigenous contemporary artists in the US and Canada. —Hrag Vartanian

Buy on Bookshop | Delmonico Books and BIG NDN Press, August 2023

Carrie Mae Weems: The Shape of Things

When Carrie Mae Weems debuted her show The Shape of Things at New York City’s Park Avenue Armory in 2021, she became the first Black American woman to exhibit artwork in the building’s historic Drill Hall. At the opening, Weems spoke candidly about the reality of being a “first” in an interview with Jasmine Weber: “They usually say the first one through the door is the most bruised, that you don’t do it easily. This bridge has been my back — and so I’m a little tender, I’m a little sore, I’m a little beat up. But I’m also happy that I’ve been able to chart a path of freedom for myself and for the people that I care about.” These intrepid works tackling the long shadows of sexism, racism, and power wielded to pernicious ends — and the beauty and community blossoming amid them — unfold in this publication with new reflections from the artist. —LA

Buy on Bookshop | Mw Editions, August 2023

The Kingdom of Surfaces by Sally Wen Mao

“Looting” took on new meaning during the Black Lives Matter movement of 2020. Observing the word’s weaponization as a racist attack to discredit protests for Black liberation and safety, poet Sally Wen Mao turned toward its true history in her eyes — cultures, communities, and artistic legacies being plundered with impunity to populate museums and private collections. She was also spurred to respond to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 2015 exhibition China: Through the Looking Glass. The titular poem positions her as Alice, stepping into the lurid yet alluring fantasy of the show’s decontextualized Chinese porcelain works, which wryly converse with her as a Cheshire Cat or March Hare. Her response to quotes from the catalogue essay by curator Andrew Bolton challenges the looting of art from East Asia, interconnected forms of racism, and gendered stereotypes that are threaded through the book. It’s an intimate family of poems, with gut-punch phrasings and tender lines that will stick to you like a bur. —LA

Buy on Bookshop | Graywolf Press, August 2023

Disobedient by Elizabeth Fremantle

We can always count on the hype around artists of the past to birth narratives that lean into the cloying, and historical fiction isn’t for everyone. Elizabeth Fremantle’s new novel may retain some of art fiction’s typical escapist qualities, but it promises a different experience. She constructs a first-person account of the early life of pioneering Italian Baroque artist Artemisia Gentileschi with a grounded approach, if archetypal in some of its characterizations, that includes notes delineating historical facts from the author’s imagination. Fremantle fleshes out the painter’s artistic calling, friendships, inner world, and navigation of life after a sexual assault with sensitivity and expressive, engulfing prose. —LA

Buy on Bookshop | Pegasus Books, August 2023

Whitfield Lovell: Passages

Whitfield Lovell is an artist who I believe has yet to get his due, but in the meantime, we can enjoy a new book that helps us dig deeper into his work, infused with political stories of every stripe. He renders his subject matter in a loving and sensitive manner that sometimes makes you wonder if you wandered into a private space when encountering his work. The artist appears to focus on historical states of mind and emotional moments with a graphic quality that always stays accessible and veers away from the overly sentimental.

This book, which is edited by Michèle Wije and includes essays by Cheryl Finley and Bridget R. Cooks, is, for those who don’t know it, a lovely introduction to Lovell’s work, but it is also a treat for those (like me) interested in learning more about his various bodies of work, including The Card Pieces, Deep River, and The Reds. —HV

Buy on Bookshop | Rizzoli, February 2023

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic.

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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