I’m currently spending my summer working in the publications department of an art gallery here in New York, proofreading manuscripts, checking proofs, doing archival research, researching book designers, and learning about book production. Although I’ve been collecting art books for ages (mostly hand-me-downs and from free book piles out on the street), this moment of being so deeply immersed in art book publishing has had me revisiting my bookshelves with renewed fascination.
I plan to turn this into an ongoing series where I can take you through my latest finds, showing you books ranging from pocket-sized reads to coffee table books across all kinds of genres, mediums and styles. For now, I hope you enjoy this little bookshelf survey. Maybe you’ll find an interesting new read along the way.
When I first started my museum job nearly a year ago, I decided to treat myself by picking up the first design book that caught my eye. This book brings together architecture and film history to show how building designs can influence the way we see antagonists depicted on screen. Beyond the edgy black book design, you’ve got film stills, illustrations, and commentary from architects, production designers, and directors who take you behind the scenes as these different villainous set pieces are brought to life and historic buildings are transformed to fit fictionalized settings. You’ve got classics like James Bond and Hitchcock’s thrillers, as well as more contemporary sci-fi films like Ex Machina, Blade Runner 2049, and The Incredibles. It’s such a treasure trove of critique and history, turning buildings into stars of the show.
In honor of the 2021 exhibition at the Centre Pompidou, Women in Abstraction brings together the work of over 100 female artists from the 19th century to today in a single monumental book. I was lucky to receive this as a Christmas gift last year, and I love how it’s become such an important resource for me. The book doesn’t just show you glossy pictures of these beautiful works, its many essays also add much-needed scholarship to an overlooked group of abstract artists who innovated in painting, dance, collage, and sculpture. Expect to see heavy-hitters like Helen Frankenthaler, Hilma af Klint, Joan Mitchell, and Agnes Martin, but also women that are still less visible in the canon like Howardena Pindell, Alma Woodsey Thomas, Nasreen Mohamedi, and Sophie Tauber Arp.
I’ve long enjoyed flipping through Standards Manual’s books, so I was over the moon (pun intended) when I got to take home this book for free when it got damaged in a gift shop I worked in. This book is unlike anything else in my collection, giving a comprehensive overview for NASA’s branding as the government agency entered a sleek knew era of space exploration during the Cold War. If you’re interested in graphic design history, type, branding, and logos, you’ll love reading this. Oftentimes, we take these kinds of bureaucratic visual styles for granted, so it’s interesting to learn about the thought process behind them and see design concepts come to life.
Special Nothing is a collection of food and fungi photography from author and amateur mycologist Phyllis Ma. Reminiscent of 1980s ads, Ma has made a name for herself through her vibrant, saturated images and her keen eye for color and texture. Special Nothing isn’t afraid to go to surreal places as Ma uses all kinds of flowers, mushrooms, and culinary confections to create optical illusions and silly staged photographs.
This might just be the biggest and heaviest book in my collection. It’s dedicated to Anne Brigman, an early 20th century photographer known for her fantastical images of nude figures in dramatic landscapes. This monograph, produced by the Nevada Museum of Art for a 2018 retrospective, is so massive that it comes in its own casing. Along with the main catalog, you get a little book of Brigman’s poetry. that slides out of the underside of the case. Between the gorgeous images and the great selection of scholarly essays about her legacy in the history of photography, this is a book that does her weird, witchy body of work justice.
I picked up The Plant Collection by Inge Meijer from Miriam Gallery here in Brooklyn. Did I buy this book for its beautiful fold-out binding? Yes. But the more I learned about Meijer’s project, the more I appreciated having this in my collection. Meijer sourced the images in this book from the archives of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. From 1945–1983, the museum displayed plants alongside their artworks in the galleries to “connect the indoors with the outdoors.” These kinds of in-gallery botanical displays are few and far between these days (mostly because of conservation risks and maintenance costs), so I appreciate Meijer’s thoughtful curation. Through her eye, these mundane pieces of living décor become framed as artworks or non-human visitors, imbuing the flat white walls with bursts of color and texture.
This book on book-making is a beautifully-designed primer for those who want to learn about binding and paper. Co-published by a bookmaker and a conservator, this title is full of insights on proper tools and techniques, catering to novices and advanced beginners. My favorite detail in this book’s design is that, for each type of binding, you get diagrams with exact measures and images that walk you through each fold step by step. Whether you’re looking to take up a new skill, give shape to a DIY project, or looking to appreciate the beauty of the craft, this is the book for you.
Aleia Murawski has been one of my favorite artists to follow over the years. So when she announced that she was going to publish her first book of photography, I was overjoyed to finally have a physical version of all of the photos I’ve scrolled through on Instagram. As the title suggests, this book features follows the life of a snail as it goes on trips, eats out, runs errands, and even works a boring 9-to-5. Aleia’s skillful miniature dioramas are surreal scenes, poking fun at contemporary consumerist culture. At times whimsical, sometimes funny, or downright existential, this dreamy array of photographs turns the ordinary snail into the hero of a cinematic story.