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Turn a New Page: 13 Art Books to Self-Isolate With

Perhaps no better time to work through your “to read” list, a vivid book is the best way to escape from the news cycle and keep you busy during self-isolation.

From art biographies to historical fiction to spiritual guidance, here’s a list of some of the best art reads if you’re looking for what to pick up next.


Where Art Belongs

By Chris Kraus

In her novel, Where Art Belongs, Chris Kraus examines artistic enterprises of the past decade that reclaim the use of lived time as a material in the creation of visual art.

In four interlinked essays, Kraus unpacks the argument that “the art world is interesting only insofar as it reflects the larger world outside it.”

Chronicling the efforts of small groups of artists to reclaim public space and time, Where Art Belongs describes the trend towards collectivity manifested in the visual art world during the past decade and the small forms of resistance to digital disembodiment and the hegemony of the entertainment/media/culture industry. For all its faults, Kraus argues, the art world remains the last frontier for the desire to live differently.

Madame Picasso

By Anne Girard

When Eva Gouel moves to Paris from the countryside, she is full of ambition and dreams of stardom. Though young and inexperienced, she manages to find work as a costumer at the famous Moulin Rouge, and it is here that she first catches the attention of Pablo Picasso, a rising star in the art world.

A brilliant but eccentric artist, Picasso sets his sights on Eva, and Eva can't help but be drawn into his web. But what starts as a torrid affair soon evolves into what will become the first great love of Picasso's life.

With sparkling insight and passion, Madame Picasso introduces us to a dazzling heroine, taking us from the salon of Gertrude Stein to the glamorous Moulin Rouge and inside the studio and heart of one of the most enigmatic and iconic artists of the twentieth century.

Into Words: The Selected Writings of Carroll Dunham

By Carroll Dunham

Artist Carroll Dunham is one of the most innovative painters of his generation. But he is also an astute writer who has engaged with a wide variety of artists in the form of reviews, catalog essays, and interviews. Collected here for the first time, Into Words reveals the true depth of Dunham’s writing.

From reviews of Pablo Picasso and Jasper Johns to an appreciation of Kara Walker’s films and reflections on his own practice, Dunham writes about what is made and why it matters with real wit and candor.

Into Words is an invaluable read for anyone interested in contemporary art and culture. Introduction by Scott Rothkopf, chief curator of the Whitney Museum of American Art, and a publisher’s foreword by Paul Chan.

Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad

By Austin Kleon 

In his previous books Steal Like an Artist and Show Your Work!, Austin Kleon gave readers the keys to unlock their creativity.

Now he offers his most inspiring work yet, with ten simple rules for how to stay creative, focused, and true to yourself—for life.

The creative life is not a linear journey to a finish line, it’s a loop—so find a daily routine, because today is the only day that matters. Keep Going and its timeless and practical principles are for anyone trying to sustain a meaningful and productive life.

Just Kids

By Patti Smith

It was the summer Coltrane died, the summer of love and riots, and the summer when a chance encounter in Brooklyn led two young people on a path of art, devotion, and initiation. Patti Smith would evolve as a poet and performer, and Robert Mapplethorpe would direct his highly provocative style toward photography.

Bound in innocence and enthusiasm, they traversed the city from Coney Island to 42nd Street, and eventually to the celebrated round table of Max's Kansas City, where the Andy Warhol contingent held court.

In this milieu, two kids made a pact to take care of each other. Scrappy, romantic, committed to create, and fueled by their mutual dreams and drives, they would prod and provide for one another during the hungry years. A true fable, it is a portrait of two young artists' ascent, a prelude to fame.

Loot: The Battle Over the Stolen Treasures of the Ancient World

By Sharon Waxman

For the past two centuries, the West has been plundering the treasures of the ancient world to fill its great museums, but in recent years, the countries where ancient civilizations originated have begun to push back.

Where do these treasures rightly belong?

Sharon Waxman, a former culture reporter for The New York Times, brings us inside this high-stakes conflict, examining the implications for the preservation of the objects themselves and for how we understand our shared cultural heritage. For readers who are fascinated by antiquity, who love to frequent museums, and who believe in the value of cultural exchange, Loot opens a new window on an enduring conflict.

My Last Breath

By Luis Buñuel

A master filmmaker, inimitable and unrelenting in his assault on bourgeois values, Buñuel's method is free from all artifice. His honesty and humour are too extreme to accept any compromise in exposing our deceit and our decadence.

The great film director’s memoirs may not be entirely reliable but his sharp, cruel pen-portraits of his collaborations with Salvador Dalí, and other surrealists, are a wicked delight.

Like Pasolini, his work offers a remarkably sophisticated political analysis but remains based in the essentially peasant values of storytelling and the purposefully unsystematic supervisions of laughter. His recipe for the perfect martini may also be of assistance in these tense times.

Duty Free Art: Art in the Age of Planetary Civil War  

By Hito Steyerl

What is the function of art in the era of digital globalization? How can one think of art institutions in an age defined by planetary civil war, growing inequality, and proprietary digital technology? The boundaries of such institutions have grown fuzzy.

In Duty Free Art, filmmaker and writer Hito Steyerl wonders how we can appreciate, or even make art, in the present age.

Exploring subjects as diverse as video games, WikiLeaks files, the proliferation of freeports, and political actions, she exposes the paradoxes within globalization, political economies, visual culture, and the status of art production.

Donald Judd Interviews

By Donald Judd

Donald Judd Interviews presents sixty interviews with the artist over the course of four decades and is the first compilation of its kind. It is the companion volume to the critically acclaimed and bestselling Donald Judd Writings.

This collection of interviews engages a diverse range of topics, from philosophy and politics to Judd’s insightful critiques of his own work and the work of others such as Mark di Suvero, Yayoi Kusama, and Jackson Pollock.

The publication also gathers a substantial body of unpublished material across a range of mediums including extensive interviews with art historians Lucy R. Lippard and Barbara Rose. Judd’s contributions in interviews, panels, and extemporaneous conversations are marked by his forthright manner and rigorous thinking, whether in dialogue with art critics, art historians, or his contemporaries.

True Colors: The Real Life of the Art World

By Anthony Haden-Guest 

True Colors covers the past three decades of the American art scene, a period during which the prevailing artistic fashion has shifted, when art and money, talent and celebrity have often been confused.

Anthony Haden-Guest has moved within this world, known the players, and delivers here an authoritative and deliciously inside account.

Focusing on the lives and personalities of the art world's main players, and with a sure critical component, Haden-Guest gives us vivid portraits of the period's key artists as they strive to fulfill their ambitions. Filled with incredible anecdotes, dramatically told stories, and subtle critical assessments, True Colors tells the story of the art world that we have never heard before.

The Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon

By Daniel Farson

Widely regarded as the best British painter since Turner, very little is known about Francis Bacon's life. In this, the first-ever book to be written about him, Daniel Farson - friend and confidant to Bacon for over forty years - gives a highly personal, first-hand account of the man as he knew him.

This tremendously entertaining, often hilarious book takes you to the heart of bohemian Soho and, like a Nabokov novel, tells you as much about the author as his subject. 

From his sexual adventures to his rise from obscurity to international fame, Farson gives us unique insight into Bacon's genius. A sleazy masterpiece.

Millard Meiss, Painting in Florence and Siena After the Black Death

By Millard Meiss

The Black Death that gripped Europe between 1347 and 1351 was a calamity on an unimaginable scale. The plague killed perhaps 60 percent of the continent’s population and inaugurated a cultural reckoning that extended well into the Renaissance.

Here - in a rich interweaving of considerations of connoisseurship, style, iconography, cultural and social background, and historical events - is the first extended study of the history of Florentine and Sienese painting in the later fourteenth century.

No one has done a better job of explaining how the Black Death worked its way into Florentine and Sienese culture than the scholar Millard Meiss, whose study on the subject remains an art-historical classic.

Man with a Blue Scarf: On Sitting for a Portrait by Lucian Freud 

By Martin Gayford

Lucian Freud, widely regarded as the greatest figurative painter of our time, spent seven months painting a portrait of the art critic Martin Gayford. The daily narrative of their encounters takes the reader into that most private place, both technical and subtly psychological.

From this emerges an understanding of what a portrait is, but something else is also created: a portrait, in words, of Freud himself.

This is not a biography, but a series of close-ups: the artist at work and in conversation at restaurants, in taxis, and in his studio. Full of wry observations, the book reveals the inside story of how it feels to pose for a remarkable artist and become a work of art.

*partially sourced @ www.goodreads.com and thegaurdian.com


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