‘THE BLACK DADA READER’ By Adam Pendleton (Koenig Books). In 2011, artist Adam Pendleton started producing “Black Dada Reader”, a selection of photocopied spiral-bound essays, and circulated them among his friends and interested parties much like samizdat. Now a nice, more permanent version has arrived, 16 essays, poems and artist statements, an interview and a screenplay, sandwiched between introductions by five writers and curators and two manifestos by Mr. Pendleton. The writers are unlikely bookmates – Hugo Ball, WEB Du Bois, Adrian Piper, Gertrude Stein, Sun Ra, Joan Jonas – who give the collection its own form and urgency. The caption asks “What can Black Dada do for me?” It is up to the entire art world to find out.
‘JASPER JOHNS: PICTURES IN PICTURES, 1980-2015’ By Fiona Donovan (Thames & Hudson, New York). It’s hard to believe that this simple yet all-encompassing idea isn’t already a book. The artist, who began painting flat and easily identifiable patterns (the American flag, targets), switched in the 1980s to trompe-l’oeil compositions resembling collages of images from other arts. and his personal memories. This shift to autobiography continues, whether explicitly as with the floor plan of his grandfather’s house, or implicitly, with substitutes such as renderings of photographs of suffering young men or a damaged painting by Manet. The richness of the subject matter is demonstrated by sumptuous color photographs and text that offers new access to the often hermetic themes of Mr. Johns.
’40 YEARS NEW ‘ By Lisa Phillips (Phaidon and New Museum). The new museum reviews its history in this thick but a bit too big book, from its founding in 1977 by Marcia Tucker to the white Sanaa-designed building on the Bowery where it moved in 2007, growing if not old while maintaining its side provocative exhibitions, performances and conferences. The story is told in essays by curators past and present, a myriad of photographs and a well-annotated timeline. A valiant story and an excellent reference book.
‘MONOGRAPH’ By Chris Ware (Rizzoli, New York). The great designer, MacArthur and Chicagoan genius born in Omaha tells his life story in comic book form, complete with family photographs, New Yorker blankets, his toy-like wooden sculpture and magnificent dollhouse models he builds from some of his characters. ‘ houses. There is also a course program full of self-deprecation and helpful artistic advice. The book is not without its challenges. It has no table of contents or page numbers; it’s taller than the top of most side tables and the print is small. But Mr. Ware always writes as well as he draws, especially here when he is familiar with his subject.
“FULL POSTMODENE DESIGN” By Judith Gura (Thames & Hudson, New York). Whether you love or hate postmodern architecture and design this book – the heaviest on my list – will remind you why. The introduction is by Charles Jencks, a pioneer of postmodernism, and devotes an entire section to his 2011 painting, “Evolutionary Tree of Postmodernisms,” which makes its mass of little names readable. Over 480 pages, it covers architecture, design, graphic design, and edited design in the work of over 60 adherents. It includes a section on living with postmodernism and another on its consequences. As a very infrequent admirer, I was surprised how much I loved.
I still read the exhibition catalogs I see, but the exhibition catalogs that I miss are just as important. If done right, these books can be just as captivating as a museum presentation – and nowadays, in a global art world where none of us can attend every show, they offer a essential guide to cities and institutions abroad. Here are the art books I’ve spent the most time with this year, with art from Mexico to Russia, West Africa to East Asia – more, if you will allow me, a novel.