Book Gift Guide 2016

3:43 PM 12/20/2016

by John DeFore

From Coppola's 'Godfather Notebook' to a collection of the greatest rock posters to a Robert Mapplethorpe retrospective, THR's guide for the holidays.

It's crunch time. Busy people can be too optimistic about gift-hunting, expecting a great idea to surface miraculously between that lunch meeting and a trip to the gym. Then they wake up and realize they owe presents to people this weekend, and haven't even finished putting up holiday decorations yet.

Fear not: It isn't too late to find something for nearly everyone by combining overnight shipping with your vast knowledge of this year's crop of gift-worthy art books. Knowledge that is easily obtained below — with four big-deal, ultra-lavish gift books followed by a slew of more affordable options, organized thematically.

  • AUBREY BEARDSLEY: A CATALOGUE RAISONNE

    Yale University Press

    Cheap editions have flourished for decades, gathering low-quality reproductions of Beardsley's elegantly depraved illustrations. Finally, this leading Art Nouveau figure and contemporary of Oscar Wilde gets his due, in a scholarly set presenting well over a thousand finished works alongside assorted sketches and writings. The sheer amount of work Beardsley left behind when he died at 25 is stunning, but his artistic prescience is the real mind-blower: As writer Morgan Meis put it in a review, "It is the art of a dying era peering, with a mixture of excitement and trepidation, into the next."

  • INTIMATE GEOMETRIES: THE ART AND LIFE OF LOUISE BOURGEOIS

    Monacelli Press

    Robert Storr's career-spanning tome, reportedly thirty years in the making, becomes the definitive book on this richly complicated artist, who died in 2010. Though her work is well known, Bourgeois was active over so many years and in such varied mediums that it can be difficult to assemble a full picture of her work and its psychology-probing autobiographical elements. The array of work seen and discussed here makes that much easier.

  • MAPPLETHORPE: FLORA

    Phaidon

    As the recent catalogue for LACMA/Getty's Robert Mapplethorpe show reminds us, the photographer became famous (or infamous, depending who's talking) with graphic sexual images that can still shock viewers decades after the fact. But Phaidon's lush Flora represents Mapplethorpe's Mom-friendly side — impeccably lighted examinations of flowers that are tactile enough to turn you on, but contain nothing explicitly shocking. (Even if the book kicks off with a self-portrait in which Mapplethorpe wears devil horns.)

  • HOUSES AND MONUMENTS OF POMPEII

    Taschen

    The kind of epic presentation Taschen's reputation was built on, this mammoth tome reprints the complete series of color lithographs Fausto and Felice Niccolini issued between 1854 and 1896, documenting the frescos, statues, and household objects that had been buried under volcanic ash for around a millennium and a half. New essays and photos augment the vintage material, discussing the lost city's excavation and showing its influence on artists all the way up to George Segal.

  • PHOTOGRAPHY BOOKS

    Inventor, entrepreneur, and "proud proto-feminist" Berenice Abbott was many things in addition to a pioneering photographer, but Steidl's gorgeous Paris Portraits 1925–1930 focuses on this discrete body of work; it's reportedly the first in a series of Abbott titles, the rest of which can't come soon enough.

    A smaller series pursues the ongoing rediscovery of Saul Leiter, whose upcoming In My Room follows Early Black and White and the entrancing collection Early Color (all from Steidl). Ralph Gibson's Political Abstraction (Lustrum/University of Texas Press) leads a pack of collections of abstract photos, which includes Ernst Haas's Color Correction (Steidl again) and Prestel's Emanations: The Art of the Cameraless Photograph.

    Gregory Crewdson's unsettling Cathedral of the Pines and Rocky Schenck's swampily atmospheric The Recurring Dream are the opposite of abstract, suggesting endless possible narratives; in New York Sleeps (Prestel), Christopher Thomas conjures a different kind of story, producing B&W scenes of a city devoid of human figures. Lastly, Forgotten Marriage: The Painted Tintype & the Decorative Frame (Burns Press) showcases a 19th century portraiture trend that combines the mechanical and handmade.

  • BOOKS FOR FILM BUFFS

    Movie fans will be fascinated by The Godfather Notebook (Regan), a facsimile of the script in which Francis Ford Coppola put all his notes, worries and inspirations as he prepared to film his masterwork. A similar behind-the-scenes thrill comes from The Art of the Hollywood Backdrop (Regan), devoted to an art that has been made obsolete by location shooting and digital effects. Fanboys who wish they could visit Guillermo del Toro's famously museum-like home can get a taste in his At Home With Monsters (Insight Editions/LACMA), while fans of more experimental cinematic environments will appreciate the Whitney Museum's Dreamlands: Immersive Cinema and Art. Those enamored of Hollywood's golden era will be transported by Hurrell: The Kobal Collection (Reel Art Press), which gathers classic portraits of Bogart, Cagney, Harlow and others.

  • DESIGN

    Two eye-popping titles — Patterns, by Peter Koepke (Phaidon) and P.J.M. Marks's Anthology of Decorated Papers (Thames & Hudson) collect as many vintage sample swatches as possible while adding just enough scholarship to make sense of them. But not a scrap of explanatory text interrupts the flow of charming images in John Derian: Picture Book (Artisan), full-page reproductions of the colorful ephemera Derian uses to inspire his houseware design lines. The current crop of excellent poster books includes Silvana Editoriale's two Manifesti titles, collecting Italian advertising posters from the 1890s-1970s; OMG Posters (Regan Arts), a compendium of rock-show posters that does justice to the craftsmanship of today's screenprinting artisans; and Gingko Press's self-explanatory, luridly great The Art of the B-Movie Poster!

  • ARCHITECTURE / DECOR

    Graphic designer Peter Chadwick celebrates a certain kind of stark concrete building in the fantastic, monochrome-printed The Brutal World (Phaidon); a more humble, decaying collection of similar forms is the star of Fuel's stocking-sized Soviet Bus Stops. Even those who think they've had their fill of Art Deco may reconsider after perusing Art Deco Collectibles (Thames & Hudson), which offers so many stunning cigarette cases and lighters you might want to take up smoking. Bridging the gap between Deco and sleeker modern design is the Jewish Museum's Pierre Chareau: Modern Architecture and Design. For students, The Grammar of Ornament (Princeton) is a handsome new edition of a classic 1856 text by Owen Jones.

  • COMICS

    Published last year, Fantagraphics' The Complete Eightball paved the way for several newer collections of seminal indie comics, some of them (like the work of Dan Clowes) due for big-screen adaptation. Fanta's crop this year includes collections of Peter Bagge's Neat Stuff and Kaz's Popeye-meets-punk opus Underworld. The New York Review of Books devotes Almost Completely Baxter to the singularly weird single-panel creations of Glen Baxter, and Ben Katchor's Cheap Novelties, which turns 25 this year, gets a beautiful hardcover edition from Drawn & Quarterly. D&Q has perhaps the year's most welcome comix title with The Greatest of Marlys, collecting Lynda Barry's alt-weekly newspaper staple about the weird, freckly, unstoppable title character.

  • OUTSIDERS

    A few new books about artists from out of left field are accompanied by two titles revolving around a fine artist who did much to popularize those without training: Hatje Cantz's monograph Jean Dubuffet and the more targeted Art Brut in America, published by the American Folk Art Museum (who also, with Mystery and Benevolence, celebrate the strange artifacts Masonic and Odd Fellows members used in their rituals).

    Swedish painter Hilda af Klint, who created a body of abstract art before Kandinsky got started on his, did go to art school, but her abstractions were inspired by voices in her head, and she meant her canvasses to serve as a means of communicating with supernatural realms; Painting the Unseen (Koenig Books) is the latest effort to establish her place in art history. The Drawings of Susan Te Kahurangi King (ICA Miami) gathers the one-of-a-kind output of a New Zealand woman whose drawings incorporate Donald Duck, Bugs Bunny and Woody Woodpecker but owe nothing at all to Pop Art. And Mark Mothersbaugh's Myopia (Princeton Architectural Press) shows the surprising array of weirdo visual art created when the film-score composer and DEVO frontman wasn't making music.

  • ENTERTAINING

    Hospitality-oriented books are a staple of the holiday season, and this year's offering are, as the mixologists say, spirit-forward, with a vast depth of cocktail know-how suddenly at readers' fingertips. Foremost is Regarding Cocktails, the only book left behind by one of modern bartending's legends, Sasha Petraske, who died last year. Similar brainy booze-books include Robert Simonson's A Proper Drink (Phaidon); Brian D. Hoefling's sciencey Distilled Knowledge (Abbeville Press); and Amaro (Ten Speed Press), an exploration of all the exotic bittersweet herbal liqueurs whose antique labels entice curious drinkers. For pure how-to pleasure, though, look to The Canon Cocktail Book (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), Brooklyn Bartender (Black Dog & Leventhal), and Spritz (Ten Speed). If you're still standing and would like to fix that, Smuggler's Cove (Ten Speed) demystifies the making of those knockout rum-based concoctions known as tiki drinks.

  • CONTEMPORARY ART

    Fans of experimental cinema will drool over Robert Frank: Film Works (Steidl), a wooden briefcase containing dozens of rare short films, including the 1959 Jack Kerouac/Allen Ginsberg collaboration Pull My Daisy. By contrast, the catalog to It's All True contains no DVD of the pioneering found-footage movies with which Bruce Conner helped set the stage for MTV; even so, this accompaniment to one of 2016's most exciting exhibitions (at NYC's MoMA this summer; currently at San Francisco's SFMoMA) is a must-have. (Real Conner freaks should also seek out the tiny, funny-sad photo essay Brass Handles, from J&L Books.)

    Lift with your knees when grabbing Ai Weiwei, Taschen's massive look at one of the biggest names in contemporary art. Smaller but similarly jam-packed is Pettibon (David Zwirner Books), collecting the punk-influenced drawings of Raymond Pettibon. Chron, which tracks about a decade of Sterling Ruby's career, is being treated as a rarity on Amazon, offered by dealers from $500-700; but as of this writing, it's still just $50 from the publisher at karmakarma.org. (Other Karma standouts include the lush Plein Air by Sam Falls.)

  • ART HISTORY

    Taschen's Art for All: The Colour Woodcut in Vienna Around 1900 examines one of the most fertile scenes of mass-produced turn-of-the-century artistry this side of Japanese woodblock prints, and its wealth of material from the Vienna Secession will be welcomed by anyone who has run out of Klimt and Schiele books to buy. Comprehensive new single-artist tomes include the oversized Hieronymus Bosch: The Complete Works (Taschen); Vermeer: The Complete Works (Silvana); Stuart Davis In Full Swing (Prestel); William Merritt Chase: A Modern Master (Yale); and Pierre Bonnard: Painting Arcadia (Prestel). MoMA opens eyes with the scholarship-driven Picasso & Rivera: Conversations Across Time; and while the museum's big Robert Rauschenberg retrospective is still several months away, the catalog has arrived just in time for gift-giving. That's also the idea with a new, slipcased edition of E.H. Gombrich's The Story of Art, an evergreen introduction that has made art history accessible to generations of readers.

  • ODDS AND ENDS

    The late filmmaker/record producer/self-taught eccentric Harry Smith is seeing a resurgence in popularity lately, thanks in part to two delightful little publications by J&L Books: Paper Airplanes and String Figures showcase two of the more peculiar archives (others included unusual gourds and decorated Ukrainian eggs) assembled by this packrat resident of the Chelsea Hotel. Paul Gambino's Morbid Curiosities showcases the increasingly visible subculture of people who treasure taxidermy, skulls, medical oddities, and other artifacts their neighbors find bizarre; it's a safe bet that nearly every collector featured here has already bought Stiffs, Skulls & Skeletons (Schiffer), a selection of vintage photos (some quite grisly) from the vast archive of Dr. Stanley B. Burns.

    For something weird that won't threaten delicate stomachs, try Maurice Collins's Bizarre & Outlandish Gadgets & Doohickeys (Schiffer), which collects a century's worth of inventions that didn't stand the test of time. Lastly, a different kind of inventiveness spills forth in Charles Fréger's Yokainoshima: Island of Monsters (Thames & Hudson) and Phyllis Galembo's Maske (Aperture, newly back in print): In each, artful photos capture an astonishing array of masks and costumes created for folk ceremonies in Japan and Africa, respectively.

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