During this heavy month, we’re turning to a host of new art book releases that challenge and fill us up. In a compilation of hundreds of vignettes, scholar Christina Sharpe reflects on the ephemera of daily life and their political interstices, charting a path for us readers to do the same. Intrepid artist and PAIN Sackler activist Nan Goldin’s recent catalogue, developed on the occasion of her traveling exhibition in Europe, chronicles her tender photographic sensibility. We also delve into poetry by Brazilian sculptor Hélio Oiticica, a pairing of Thaddeus Mosley and Frank Walter, Marina Abramovic’s impressive visual biography, women artists and the monstrous, and much more. In this month’s edition, Hyperallergic readers can also get 10% off any purchase of these titles on Bookshop.org using the code “HYPER,” valid until December 1. Happy reading! —Lakshmi Rivera Amin, editorial coordinator

Recently Reviewed

The Way to Be: A Memoir by Barbara T. Smith

Honest and intimate, performance artist Barbara T. Smith’s memoir chronicles with refreshing candor the difficult realities the radical artist faced throughout her life: alienation from commercially successful feminist artists including Judy Chicago, financial insecurity, sexual violence. Refusing to shy away from painful moments, her writing punctures the smooth facade of prosperity and ease valued so highly in the art world and cuts to the heart of truths we often prefer to skim over — just as her art does. Smith details several of her well-known performances and discloses pivotal personal experiences, written in uneven but ultimately sincere prose. Critic Alice Procter sums it up best in her recent review: “Both despite and because of its roughness, The Way To Be is an evocative memoir. Smith’s willingness to lay herself bare to her audience and her ability to reckon with her uncertainty makes her a compelling (if at times erratic) narrator.” —LA

Read the Review | Buy on Bookshop | Getty, March 2023

On Our Reading List

Art Monsters: Unruly Bodies in Feminist Art by Lauren Elkin

Associating monsters and women, thanks to myths aplenty and sexism in general, is as old as patriarchy itself. But when Jenny Offill released her 2014 novel Dept. of Speculation, her use of the term “art monster,” specifically as it relates to women artists, struck a new chord, spawning a rich exploration and reclamation of its layered meanings. In Art Monsters: Unruly Bodies in Feminist Art, Elkin takes a poetic approach as she considers this concept in the context of feminist art and literature. She grounds her study in the symbolic duality of the forward-slash (/), which she uses to both link and distinguish her musings. Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Virginia Woolf, Ana Mendieta, Carolee Schneemann, Sutapa Biswas, and a host of other artists with feminist perspectives on the monstrous and disobedient are threaded together and put under Elkin’s magnifying glass. Straddling poetry and creative nonfiction, she invites us as readers to grapple with, and even nurture, the monsters within. —LA

Buy on Bookshop | Farrar, Straus and Giroux, November 2023

Hélio Oiticica: Secret Poetics

Stumbling upon poetry written by a visual artist can feel akin to reading a beloved story in a new language. In the case of the Brazilian artist Hélio Oiticica, Secret Poetics is precisely that portal into another world. With texts by translator Rebecca Kosick and scholar Pedro Erber, this brief collection of hand-written poems and accompanying artworks uses language as an entry point into the late sculptor’s practice and spirit — and arrives just as exhibitions of his work, alongside that of filmmaker Neville D’Almeida, open in New York City and Los Angeles. —LA

Buy on Bookshop | Soberscove Press and Winter Editions, November 2023

Camille Pissarro: The Audacity of Impressionism by Anka Muhlstein

Not to detract from The Met’s monumental exhibition on the rivalry between Manet and Degas, but amid all this Impressionism talk, where’s the appreciation for the so-called father of the movement? Historian Anka Muhlstein fittingly begins her new biography of the artist with: “Camille Pissarro was a most unusual man.” The text proves this, delving into the Danish-French artist’s epistolary archive to trace his relationships, passions, and challenges, with a particular interest in illuminating his persistent sense of being an outsider (due in no small part to widespread antisemitism at the time). Muhlstein contextualizes snippets from a range of the artist’s correspondences, including letters to dealer Paul Durand-Ruel and to his children, artists Lucien Pissarro and Georges Henry Manzana Pissarro. —LA

Buy on Bookshop | Other Press, November 2023

Marina Abramovic: A Visual Biography by Marina Abramovic and Katya Tylevich

I know I can give Abramovic a tough time — I mean, how could I not to someone who does wacky stuff at museum galas — but at the end of the day, I think she’s a talented artist who continues to challenge us all. So, her new A Visual Biography with Katya Tylevich was something I was eager to check out, and wow. Just wow. A beautifully prepared coffee table book, this moving volume is truly what it says it is. With sparse text and full-page images, Abramovic has told her story in an experiential way, which I’d expect from a performance artist. Its wealth of vulnerable insights — “[My father] left the house when I was 17. He was fucking everybody. I didn’t understand how hurt my mother was. Only after she died.” — will help you understand things that may have eluded you about her work until now. Highly recommended. —Hrag Vartanian

Buy on Bookshop | Laurence King, November 2023

Simone Leigh

In 2022, Simone Leigh utterly transformed the facade of the United States Pavilion at the Venice Biennale with her commission Sovereignty, later followed by a massive survey at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, and the release of this impressive monograph. It’s rich with insightful texts by 21 contributors including Saidiya Hartman, Lorraine O’Grady, Rizvana Bradley, and Christina Sharpe. Consider it an essential reading list about Leigh’s work, its historical and intellectual roots, and its compelling assertion of Black women’s subjectivity, power, and dignity. —Hakim Bishara

Buy on Bookshop | Delmonico Books and ICA Boston, October 2023

Thaddeus Mosley & Frank Walter: Sanctuary

This exhibition catalogue from a summer 2022 show in Maine that brought together two Black artists — Antiguan Frank Walter and Pittsburgh native Thaddeus Mosley  — handily achieves the oft-stated but seldom realized goal of putting two artists “in conversation.” A devotee of musicians like John Coltrane and Miles Davis, Mosley practices what he calls “sculptural improvisation” — its effects evident in the alternating rhythms of smooth and rough surfaces, broad and delicate forms, of his wood sculptures. In contrast, Walter’s figurative and landscape paintings mass blocks of color in irregular geometric forms to create a studied but no less animate effect. Mosley’s organic forms spring outward and command the space around them; Walter’s somewhat fantastical prospects (volcanoes, pyramids) have been confined to tiny pieces of cardboard (some smaller than five square inches). The dialogue between each artist’s aesthetic isn’t readily apprehended. There is, though, a deeper fluency between them — a shared sense of movement held momentarily in check, a vocabulary of voluptuous tension. —Albert Mobilio

Buy on Bookshop | Karma, September 2023

Yevonde: Life and Colour

Glamorizing shots of English royals and aristocrats aren’t my cup of tea, but the extravagantly theatrical images produced by Yevonde Middleton demonstrate how even a stodgy genre can be made compelling. Middleton, known as “Madame Yevonde” during her reign as one of the premier portrait photographers of the 1930s, pioneered the use of color and pursued an unconventional approach to photographic characterization. For her Goddesses series, she took inspiration from Man Ray as she employed an assortment of props to depict titled women as mythological figures like Ariel, Circe, and Persephone. The operatic effect was further heightened by her use of a color printing process that rendered hyper-rich hues she believed especially suited to female subjects whose “exquisite complexions and coloured fingernails came into their own.” This quote and others from the book reveal Yvonde to be a somewhat complex protofeminist.

Photographed through a green filter, Madeleine Mayer wears a snake-like cloth around her neck; her face is painted chalk-white, her lips purple. This image of an eerie, wide-eyed Medusa stares with unreserved malice at the viewer. Perhaps the true face of the aristocracy revealed. —AM

Buy on Bookshop | National Portrait Gallery, August 2023

Ordinary Notes by Christina Sharpe

We all know Christina Sharpe is one of those rare academics who tackles her subjects with true literary skill, so I was curious about her newest book that compiles short reflections, thoughts, and insights into a collection of 249 “notes.” Sometimes these passages read like social media posts, other times like very short stories. This is the kind of book that pokes and prods you into considering thoughts that are often floating in our minds and bodies and need to be given form — one of Sharpe’s talents. I do find the way the images are laid out a little awkward, but regardless, this is the type of book I’ll place by a reading chair, knowing it could inspire new thoughts by exploring the honest musings of someone who thinks deeply about the world around them. As she explains in note 242, “I write these ordinary things to detail the sonic and haptic vocabularies of living life under these brutal regimes.” I had to pause for a few minutes after reading that. —HV

Buy on Bookshop | Farrar, Straus and Giroux, April 2023

Nan Goldin: This Will Not End Well

In an art world full of feckless, two-faced opportunists, Nan Goldin stands out as an artist who doesn’t hesitate to put herself on the line for a just cause. Look at how she weaned major museums off the Sackler family’s dirty money with her opioid advocacy group PAIN. That’s just one of the struggles she waged throughout her life. She’s taken many hits along the way — her youth and early life marked by sexual and emotional cruelty — but she also gained myriad golden memories, many of which she captured with her camera and organized into slideshows and films. Accompanying a namesake traveling show organized by Stockholm’s Moderna Museet, this book gives you a glimpse into the work and life of this once-in-a-generation artist. Here’s the best part of Goldin’s story: She survived. —HB

Buy on Bookshop | Steidl and Moderna Museet, February 2023

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

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

Hakim Bishara is a Senior Editor at Hyperallergic. He is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital Arts Writers Grant and he holds an MFA in Art Writing from the School of Visual...

Albert Mobilio is a poet, critic, and an editor at Hyperallergic. He is the recipient of an Andy Warhol Arts Writers Grant, MacDowell Fellowship, Whiting Award, and the National Book Critics Circle award...

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