A new art season is upon us, but with the “new normal” restrictions on travel and gatherings, like everything else it won’t be the same this year. One ray of light however is the world of gorgeous new art books that can help satisfy your love of beautiful objects and new visual culture. Here are six of our favorites, including a history of photography, a community portrait of Irish Travellers, compendium of contemporary Black artists, an album of impactful feminist artists, an illustrated guide to avant-garde DIY, and the by-popular-demand publication of the museum from home photography challenge that brought us together in the early days of quarantine.
Good Pictures, by Kim Beil
From the invention of photography in 1826 to the modern Age of Instagram, ideas about what makes a picture “good” have shifted as surely and as frequently as fashions. In a lush and lavishly researched new book, Stanford art history professor Kim Beil breaks down 50 trends that informed what society has deemed a “good picture,” with examples and thoughtful essays that explore each theme’s “original appeal, their decline, and sometimes their reuse by later generations.”
Genres include portraiture, commerce, architecture, landscape, wildlife, and vernacular captures beginning from 1839 — deployed across chapters like Props and Poses, Hand Painting, Clouds, The Rembrandt Effect, Night Photography, New Angles, Hollywood Glamour, Motion Blur, Lens Flare, Drones and of course, Selfies. As Beil notes, the rules are always changing — and tracing their evolution is a brilliant way to research and reflect upon broader changes in our society and ourselves. sup.org/books.
Jamie Johnson, Growing Up Travelling
Photographer Jamie Johnson spent a number of years visiting and following along with communities of Irish Travellers — the famous caravan families that have roamed in a nomadic and tradition-rich lifestyle for generations. After gaining their trust, Johnson was welcomed into a world that may seem strange and hardscrabble to outsiders, especially the precociousness of its children, but is in fact enlivened with creativity, fashion, ancestral culture and a deep sense of freedom and adventure. It is her emotional, dark, funny, beguiling, and mysterious portraits of these children chronicled in this beautifully produced volume. jamiejohnsonphotography.com.
Young, Gifted and Black: A New Generation of Artists, edited by Antwaun Sargent
With a title inspired by a Nina Simone lyric as well as the modern moment in society and art history, this landmark publication explores the foundational and exceptional work of modern Black artists, as well as the salient role of the collectors who champion them. Drawn from the world-class collection of Bernard I. Lumpkin and Carmine D. Boccuzzi, this book considers the work of a new generation of Black artists including Mark Bradford, David Hammons, Glenn Ligon, Kerry James Marshall, Julie Mehretu, William Pope.L, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Henry Taylor, Mickalene Thomas, Sadie Barnette, Jordan Casteel, Jonathan Lyndon Chase, Noah Davis, Deana Lawson, Eric N. Mack, Christina Quarles, and Brenna Youngblood. Edited and with evocative text by acclaimed writer Antwaun Sargent (author of The New Black Vanguard: Photography Between Art and Fashion) and a host of stellar contributors, while this book examines one private collection, its true reach extends to every aspect of contemporary art history. artbook.com.
Truth Bomb: Inspiration from the Mouths and Minds of Women Artists by Abigail Thompson
The 22 artists included in Truth Bomb each have something powerful and indelible to say about the rewards of taking risks as a woman seeking to make her mark on the culture. From the diverse voices, eclectic styles, and canonical careers of artists from Yayoi Kusama to Miranda July and the Guerrilla Girls, each woman tells a story of “resilience, tenacity, sacrifice, and steely determination,” throughout a colorful, animated, witty, warm, and withering critique and celebration of what it takes to make it. thamesandhudsonusa.com.
DIY Art Projects by Thomas Bärnthaler
In typically gorgeous Phaidon style, 50 visual designers and artists have pulled together a proper syllabus of simple, sophisticated DIY art and design projects. With an eye towards affordability and accessibility when it comes to varying skill sets, each project claims to be easily made with “basic tools and everyday items.” Every idea comes with hand-drawn step-by-step illustrations, time and cost guides, and color photographs. It also includes more information on each designer and their work and inspiration for their idea, so you can grab a primer on contemporary design while you’re at it. phaidon.com.
Off the Walls: The Getty Museum Challenge Book
Remember four thousand years ago in March when everyone was still trying to make quarantine fun? One of the most rousingly successful iterations of the make-the-best-of-it ethos was the #GettyMuseumChallenge and the hundreds of others like it that flooded Twitter and Instagram with DIY recreations of art history classics. Armed with nothing but the family, pets, random wardrobes, household items from furniture to food, toys, and their own innate creative genius, by May folks had put well over 100,000 re-creations out into the world, and of course everyone just wanted to know when the book would be out. Well, it’s almost here. With 246 re-creations chosen by Getty editors, it will be available soon and Getty Publications will donate profits to Artist Relief. blogs.getty.edu.