Still looking for gifts for your art book loving friends or family? Just in time to give some holiday gifts (or make a wish list), here are some reviews of the best art books I’ve discovered this year.
“From the land of totems” by Aldona Jonaitis [Amazon] is a wonderful read that is more like two books in one. Part of it is the history of the American Museum of Natural History as it collects artifacts from the Northwest Coastal Tribes in the 19th century. Lots of stories of conquests, competitions, backstabbing and tribal rivalries, and that’s only between the different museum personalities! It took a German immigrant to become the American Museum’s trusted ambassador.
The other part is Native American history and a visual treasure trove of lavish color photos of sculpted masks, rattles, copper panels, and more of Northwest Coast tribes. I was fascinated to see the first examples of form line design and the ingenious transformation masks. The details of the artful staging used by the Tribal Shaman of the Northwest are also fascinating, such as how they used kelp tubes secretly buried in the ground as sound pipes: voices magically came from the burning fire!
268 pages filled with beautiful photos and historical maps.
Here’s another great holiday gift book idea to give or receive: “Mark Ryden The Art of Whipped Cream” from the American Ballet Theater [Amazon]. This large format art book (232 pages 14 “x 10”!) Is the best memory of the coolest ballet you will ever see.
German composer Richard Strauss’s 1924 production features the story of a boy who eats too much in a Viennese bakery and has feverish dreams of crazy characters, like the swirling Princess Tea Flower, Prince Cocoa jumping and dancing sprites à la whipped cream. Nutter than the Nutcracker! The text explains the political allegories of pre-WWII German politics, but the dreamlike visuals are stunning and speak for themselves.
And who better to create the over-the-top, candy-coated world of dreamy Viennese treats than fantasy artist Mark Ryden? I really enjoyed seeing the entire design process, from Ryden’s early sketches of sets and characters, to color palettes and fabrics, and finally to her full color paintings of the show. There are plenty of behind-the-scenes photos showing the lavish sets, unusual costumes and Ryden-y props. The huge 28 inch wide photo spreads of the book dramatically capture the panorama of wild stage production, giving you a front row seat!
This holiday book suggestion is only for a particular type of person on your gift list. “Robert Williams: the father of the exponential imagination” [Amazon] is the catalog of an astonishing retrospective of the “low brow” artist Robert Williams. As Ed “Big Daddy” Roth (who was Williams’ boss) might say, if I had to explain it, you wouldn’t understand. If you like Hieronymus Bosch, hot rods, Salvador Dali, tattoo art, Mad magazine, 50s girl pulps, and Juxtapoz magazine (which he founded) then Williams is your man.
I fondly remember Williams’ crazy advertisements for Roth’s Rat Fink T-shirts in automotive magazines from the 1960s. I was blown away when I saw the traveling version of this Williams retrospective at the Bellevue Art Museum in 2020 Your mind will be blown away by this hard to manipulate book, it is HUGE! 450 pages 12 “x 14” and weighing 11 pounds !! Some people might also find the grim images of Williams and the subjects very NSFW difficult to deal with, but for the true low-brow fan, this is a no-nonsense look at the stunning drawings, paintings and sculptures – and imagination – by Robert Williams. (I loved Williams’ synopses for his paintings where he explains his thinking and inspirations in detail: always smart, funny, self-deprecating, but unabashedly outspoken.)