Tabish Khan the @LondonArtCritic is taking a break from exhibitions to recommend his best art books to read this summer. Each comes with a concise review to help you decide if it’s for you.
Muse by Ruth Millington, illustrated by Dina Razin – published by Square Peg
An excellent look at the artist’s muse and debunking the idea that she is just a passive object of passion. Supporting a mix of contemporary and past artists, it spotlights those categorized as muses, gives them agency and the major impacts they have had on artists’ lives.
Art Against Despair: Images to restore hope by The School of Life
Part art history book, part self-help book, this illustrated book lives the idea that art should inspire us, with each chapter taking a different work of art and showing how it can lead to living a better life from old masters like Rembrandt to a ‘selfie’ on Mars by the Curiosity Rover. It’s about the power of art, through art that can be joyful or dark, and there’s a welcome freshness to it.
Marina Abramovic by Ossian Ward, published by Laurence King
This illustrated biography of one of the most important contemporary artists is a useful and succinct overview of his career, containing details of some of his most important works, including his partnership with fellow artist Ulay. It is digestible in one sitting and contains everything someone new to their work would need, or for those who have experienced a work and want to explore their previous works.
Masterpieces in Pieces by Ingrid Swenson & Mary Auld, published by Hachette
Introducing people to art starts with children and this introduction to overarching categories such as portraits and animals in art is a great starting point using examples ranging from ancient to contemporary art. , from old masters such as Leonardo da Vinci to Faith Ringgold. The authors have chosen a diversity of artists, both in terms of gender and race, to move away from the usual approach of a Western and masculine look at art history. Plus, the use of questions and reference to other artwork is great for inquisitive young minds.
Portrait of Britain: Volume 4 – published by Hoxton Mini Press
These 200 photographs capture a Britain emerging from lockdown, so there are plenty of portraits of medical workers and forced home working. There is also hope for the future with the first hijab-wearing boxing trainer, Black Lives Matter protesters and an elderly woman embracing virtual reality on the cover. Fantastic works that capture what Britain is today.
The Beautiful Artist in Me by Irfan Virk
It’s a nice twisty farce of art school life playing on stereotypes of concept artists, and written by an artist so he knows how to capture it well. A highlight is the students who have formed a performance piece by essentially being cricketers who have their own pavilion in the canteen and engage in spontaneous matches.
The Color Storm by Damian Dibben, published by Penguin
What elevates this piece of historical fiction is that it is set in Renaissance Venice with the main character as the painter Giorgione, with cameos from other famous figures in art history, including Michelangelo. The hunt for a mysterious new pigment takes a while to get going, before a dramatic climax.
Photo of Marina Abramovic: Marco Anelli, courtesy of Marina Abramovi? Archives. All other images are courtesy of the author/publisher.
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Art critic for FAD and Londonist. Visit as many exhibitions as possible and write reviews, opinion pieces and a weekly top 5 for FAD.
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