When the pandemic arrived, the art galleries closed, but the books were opened. Sales of physical books hit an eight-year high in 2020, so contrary to popular pessimism, print still has a lot of momentum.
From maverick monographs and topical tomes to coffee table icebreakers, these are the art books that have lived through the noise and silence of 2021.
The top 10 art books of 2021
Marcel Duchamp means different things to different people. For some, it spawned the readymade, for Willem de Kooning in 1951, it was a “one man movement”. Published in 1959, the book Marcel Duchamp has become the bible of the artist’s work. It is the result of Duchamp’s years of collaboration with its author, art historian and critic Robert Lebel, and offers a comprehensive and penetrating study of the artist: from his early paintings, his later farewells to painting, to his fixation on the fetish. Marcel Duchamp has been out of print for 60 years, but the English edition of Grove Press is now back in circulation with the licensed Hauser & Wirth Publishers facsimile.
Women Who Changed Art Forever: Feminist Art – The Graphic Novel
Spread of Women Who Changed Art Forever – Feminist Art Graphic Novel, by Valentina Grande and Eva Rosetti, published by Laurence King
In 1971, art historian Linda Nochlin asked, “Why haven’t there been great women artists? The problem, she writes, “does not lie in our stars, our hormones, our menstrual cycles or our empty internal spaces, but in our institutions and our education.” There had been great women artists, they had just been denied the opportunity for greatness. The women who changed art forever by Valentina Grande and Eva Rosetti tells the story of four pioneers of feminist art: Judy Chicago, Faith Ringgold, Ana Mendieta and the Guerrilla Girls. The fight for equality is a long road. The graphic novel tells this unfinished story with dynamism and accessibility through those who have opened and continue to pave the way for a more egalitarian art world.
The hotel by Sophie Calle
Sophie Calle, Room 28. Both in the book The hotel by Sophie Calle, Siglio, 2021
Private life. Nowadays it’s everywhere and nowhere. In 1981, Sophie Calle took a job as a chambermaid to pierce her, for art. At the Hotel C in Venice, the French artist slipped a camera and a tape recorder into his mop bucket. While cleaning, she voyeuristically and methodically documented the guests’ belongings; their bedding, books, postcards and toiletries. She rummaged through trash cans, diary entries, letters and family photos. She would listen to arguments and sex and spray herself with a scent that was not her own. The hotel, first released in English this year, is a provocative examination of privacy, its absence, and what fragmented possessions might reveal about our lives – all through goods that were never intended for Calle, or up to us to see.
1000 years of joys and sorrows, by Ai Weiwei
1000 years of joys and sorrows: a memory, by Ai Weiwei, published by Penguin Random House
Experiencing the art of Ai Weiwei is like biting into a scorpion. Lots of bites, extremely sharp and difficult to swallow. And that’s how it should be. The Chinese artist has dedicated his life, career and freedom to exploring some of the most relevant issues facing humanity. His long-awaited memories, 1000 years of joys and sorrows, is a century-old Chinese epic told through his own life and the legacy of his father, the famous poet Ai Qing, who was banned from writing and subjected to forced labor for 20 years. As Ai told us in an interview this year: “I [decided] to write a book about what was going on, so that my son would know his grandfather and his father, by their own words. ‘
From the sculptor’s studio: conversations with 20 founding artists, by Ina Cole
Anish Kapoor, Mother mountain, 1985, Wood, gesso and pigment. In From the Sculptor’s Workshop, by Ina Cole
There is a majestic quality in the artist’s studio; a sense of potential in the often private comings and goings of an artist grappling with concept, form and execution. From the Sculptor’s Workshop, published by Laurence King, is a recording of where the magic happens. Writer Ina Cole led conversations with 20 founding sculptors, exploring the lives and work of artists in their own words, in their own environments. The book contains 165 images of workshops and works of art, as well as portraits of each sculptor, including Phyllida Barlow, Anthony Caro, Antony Gormley, Mona Hatoum, Anish Kapoor, Richard Long, David Nash, Cornelia Parker, Marc Quinn, Eva Rothschild and Rachel Whiteread.
Photography now, by Charlotte Jansen
Cover of Photography Now: Fifty Pioneers Define Photography for the 21st Century, by Charlotte Jansen, published by Octopus Publishing Group
For 20th century photographers, things were simpler. Entire genres could be triggered by a single photograph of something the world had never seen. These days, it’s hard to stand out in a post-Instagram world saturated with images. In this comprehensive, authoritative and international book, longtime Wallpaper * writer and collaborator Charlotte Jansen examines the 50 most important photographers working today, with high-quality reproductions of their work, commentary and interviews. Featured artists include Nan Goldin, Wolfgang Tillmans, Hassan Hajjaj, Andreas Gursky, Juno Calypso, Zanele Muholi, Shirin Neshat, Catherine Opie, Martin Parr, Cindy Sherman, Hiroshi Sugimoto and Juergen Teller. It is an important book at a time when society is confronted with the increasingly heavy social responsibilities of photography, and more broadly of visual communication.
Wonderland, by Annie Lebowitz
Wonderland is the first book to relate Annie Leibovitz’s encounters with fashion. From his early works to Rolling stone in the 1970s to the present day. Over 340 photographs spanning five decades illustrate his distinctive style, keen eye, and talent for turning his subjects into cultural icons. Posted by Phaidon, Wonderland documents Leibovitz’s most ambitious fashion shoots – including looks from designers such as Alexander McQueen, Yves Saint Laurent and Rei Kawakubo. These stand alongside portraits of everyone, from Karl Lagerfeld to Serena Williams, from Nancy Pelosi to Queen Elizabeth II, from Lady Gaga to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Peter Blake: Collage
Peter Blake: Collage published by Thames & Hudson. Image and design credit by Praline
Throughout his seven-decade career – which included co-designing the Beatles Group Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club album cover – artist Peter Blake has redefined what collage can be: a collision of media, genre, time and space. Peter Blake: Collage reveals the British artist’s talent for extracting fragments of mundane reality, and transforming them into compositions that could only exist in the imagination. It also captures the artist’s flair for merging seemingly disparate and distinct objects, figures and scenes into one cohesive work of art, one that cemented his status as the ‘godfather of British pop art’. As an old school friend, David Hockney, notes in the book’s foreword: “Peter understands that collage places one time above another.”
The Soul of a Nation Reader: Writings by and About Black American Artists, 1960-1980
Spread of The Soul of a Nation Reader: Writings by and about Black American Artists, 1960-1980, edited by Mark Godfrey and Allie Biswas; published by Gregory R. Miller & Co.
What is “black art”? This question was often asked between 1960 and 1980 by artists, curators and critics living in the social and political turmoil in America. It was a time when civil rights became law, but civil rights in practice were a whole different story. The artists documented segregation, called for integration, and staged a multi-faceted cultural revolution. Designed as a linked reader to the 2017 Tate show “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power,” the book highlights the vital and transformative contributions of black artists over two decades. Edited by exhibition curator Mark Godfrey and writer Allie Biswas with an afterword by Zoé Whitley, the anthology features 200 texts and visual recordings of those who have faced the socio-political landscape of their time. Half a century later, their impact on contemporary art and activism remains palpable.
The Kitchen Studio: culinary creations by artists
As we know from our long Artist’s Palate series, creativity doesn’t stop at the studio door; for many, it extends to the kitchen. This is the subject of Phaidon The Kitchen Studio: culinary creations by artists, in which 70 leading contemporary artists present 100 recipes, illustrated with personal photographs, paintings, collages, sketches, iPhone photos and illustrations. Among the features – which include contributions from Subodh Gupta, Jeppe Hein, Carsten Höller, Laure Provost, Kehinde Wiley, Ragnar Kjartansson, Philippe Parreno and Rirkrit Tiravanija – we were delighted to find Charles Gaines’ Southern Style Candied Yams, a recipe originally commissioned for the March 2021 issue of Wallpaper *.