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What was the best art book you read in 2020? The Art Newspaper team reveals its favourite publications

What was the best art book you read in 2020? The Art Newspaper team reveals its favourite publications


What was the best art book you read in 2020? The Art Newspaper team reveals its favourite publications

Some of the Art Newspaper staff’s favourite books of the year

Alison Cole, editor Leonardo da Vinci Rediscovered (2019) by Carmen Bambach“I would plump for Carmen Bambach’s magnificent boxed, four-volume publication Leonardo da Vinci Rediscovered. Though published in 2019, it has consumed most of 2020 (brilliant for successive lockdowns) and will be the monograph I most return to in years to come. Twenty-three years in the writing, it fully integrates Leonardo’s creations—paintings, manuscripts, sheets of drawings – into his life, finally making sense of his continuous digressions and multifarious activities. Three volumes correspond to the Renaissance idea of the Three Ages of Man: youth, maturity, and old age. The fourth is devoted to all the scholarly paraphernalia, with the notes containing some of the most fascinating points.”Ben Luke, podcast host, review editorPhilip Guston Now (2020) by Mark Godfrey, Alison de Lima Greene and Kate Nesin “My art book of the year is an exhibition catalogue for a show that never happened. The National Gallery of Art, Washington DC’s catalogue for Philip Guston Now, published with the three other museums who have infamously agreed to postpone the show and re-curate it, is a marvellous exploration of Guston’s work, from the early political murals through abstraction, to the late, great figurative paintings. The scholarship is first-rate, with the Tate curator Mark Godfrey’s essay on Guston and Judaism particularly compelling, and the contributions of several artists, reflecting on distinct aspects of Guston’s work, are an inspired bit of commissioning. My other book of the year is not a new one: I finally got round to reading 4321 by Paul Auster, a magnum opus in which four versions of a single life in post-war America unfold with very different outcomes. Typically, art is weaved into the stories. In one, Ferguson, Auster’s protagonist, meets a welcoming Pierre Matisse in his New York gallery.”Nancy Kenney, senior editor Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle (2019) by Elizabeth Hutton Turner and Austen Barron Bailly“This fascinating book celebrates a travelling US exhibition of 25 of the 30 dazzling panel paintings in Struggle: From the History of the American People, a series painted by Jacob Lawrence from 1954-56. In absorbing essays and in commentary from contemporary artists, we gain a sense of how the artist’s fervid attempt to recapture seminal events in early American history resonates in today’s strife-ridden political environment—just as it did in the 1950s, when the civil rights struggle was unfolding.”Donald Lee, literary editorPoetry, Painting, Park: Goethe and Claude Lorrain (2020) by Franz R. Kempf“Few are the writers who have the competence truly to be interdisciplinary and Franz Kempf is one of them. In Poetry, Painting, Park (Legenda) he carefully lays out the complex intellectual links forged by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe from his life-long considerations of Claude’s landscapes. Kempf fluently ranges over the consequences of Goethe’s encounter with Claude— literature and literary theory, painting and drawing, horticulture and garden design, philosophy, natural science and optics, reality and spirituality—to arrive at striking a double portrait.”Gabriella Angeleti, staff reporter Michael Heizer: the Once and Future Monuments (2019) by William L. Fox“William Fox, the founding director of the Centre for Art and Environment of the Nevada Museum of Art and chief advocate for the work of the artist Michael Heizer, provides the most comprehensive account of the artist’s philosophy and psyche in Michael Heizer: the Once and Future Monuments (2019). A pioneer of the Land Art movement, Heizer has lived in seclusion in the Nevada desert since beginning to work on his magnum opus, the monumental sculpture City, in the 1970s. Through fieldwork and personal narrative, Fox gives an intimate and illuminating account of the building of Heizer’s key works—which are largely inaccessible or have not withstood the elements—and life, including the influence of his father, the famed archaeologist Robert Heizer, whose studies largely focused on the southwest US and gave the artist his singular and metaphorical artistic vision.”Anna Brady, art market editorFunny weather: Art in an Emergency (2020) by Olivia Laing “ ‘Suffering from oedema of the cornea, he took a hairdryer to the National Gallery, plugged it in and calmly dried his waterlogged eye in order to see the paintings.’ So writes Olivia Laing of the visually impaired painter Sargy Mann—and that sort of frank, unsettling sentence is why she is so good. This collection of essays, written by the writer and critic over the past decade, makes the case for why art matters in times of political turbulence—and, though planned and written pre-pandemic, seems eerily prescient. Dipping into this is a shot in the writing arm when the ennui of working from home sets in.”Louisa Buck, contemporary art correspondentModern Nature (1990) by Derek Jarman “During lockdown I found much inspiration and solace from Modern Nature by the late artist and film maker Derek Jarman. It’s a vivid erudite diary chronicle of how Jarman managed to create a garden out of the barren shingle surrounding Prospect Cottage, his fisherman’s hut on England’s south coast in the shadow of Dungeness nuclear power station. In 1986, Jarman discovered that he was HIV positive and as well as being a classic of contemporary nature writing, Modern Nature is also an intimate, unabashed reflection on Jarman’s life, sexuality and illness set against his relentless struggle to keep his garden alive and also to get his films made as his own health was failing. Reading Modern Nature turned out to be just one of the ways in which Jarman and his garden offered glimmers of light and hope throughout 2020: I began the year with a repeat pilgrimage to Prospect Cottage on 1 January and the news that Prospect Cottage had been saved due to a £3.5m crowdfunding campaign was a welcome piece of good news a week into lockdown. Then the Garden Museum’s exhibition My Garden’s Boundaries are the Horizon devoted to Jarman in Dungeness was one of the first shows I visited once we were allowed to go out again in July and if we are allowed, it will also be one of the last exhibitions I see this year.”Gareth Harris, chief contributing editor and Book Club co-editor Paper Bullets (2020) by Jeffrey H. Jackson“The story of how the artists Lucy Schwob and Suzanne Malherbe—better known by their alter egos Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore—outfoxed the German invaders of the British Channel island of Jersey during the Second World War is a transfixing page-turner. Jackson’s superb, meticulously researched study reveals how the gender-fluid couple drew on their own avant-garde artistic practices under occupation, creating subversive, satirical Dada-esque messages that bewildered the Nazis. The story of these ‘paper bullets’, and their audacious, artsy resistance campaign, attests to the courage and intelligence of two women who are finally gaining recognition as LGBTQ heroes.”José da Silva, exhibitions editor and Book Club co-editorTales from the Colony Room: Soho’s Lost Bohemia (2020) by Darren Coffield “This oral history of one of the most renowned clubs in London, the Colony Rooms in Soho, feels like standing at the bar as a decades-long tale unfolds told by its famous, infamous and not-so-famous members. Only three legendary proprietors ran the tiny club from its opening in 1948 until its closure in 2008 and it became a place where artists, writers, journalists, pop stars, and even royalty rubbed shoulders as near equals in its tiny room. But above all they had to be interesting people—otherwise they’d be given short shrift by one the proprietors, Muriel Belcher, Ian Board or Michael Wojas—and serious drinkers, of course. Francis Bacon was perhaps its most enduring and famous regular, dolling out champagne like there was no tomorrow and being bitchy and charming in equal measure. Later a new generation of artists would call the Colony their home: the Young British Artists spearheaded by Damien Hirst who had followed his hero Bacon there. The book is a who’s who of London culture in the second half of the 20th century—but a lament for a world of liquid lunches and debauchery that no longer exists.”

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