There’s plenty of beautiful art books to liven up your living space. Today, Best Design Books decided to show you the best art books that marked 2019.
Henry Darger was still very much an unbridled outsider when, in 1999, John Ashbery wrote a book-length poem called Girls on the Run (1999) in celebration of his strange and fantastical art. Newly available in a revised edition (first published in 2014), the substantial, landscape-format book by Klaus Biesenbach called nothing but Henry Darger shows it off with an almost cinematic degree of excess. Here come skipping along with those throngs of near-fairy-tale girls and boys, so sweet and so mock-innocent-looking until you pry into some of the more ominous detailing. One fact is undeniable: Alice would have found them interesting companions down the rabbit hole.
LUCIAN FREUD HERBARIUM
No one has ever tried to deny that the libidinous artist Lucian Freud would have been an ominous prospect for most women. The year’s most intriguingly sidelong take on the painter is entitled Lucian Freud Herbarium. Written by Giovanni Aloi, it begins with a potted history of plants in art, and then examines Freud’s own use of plants, flowers, and vegetation in many of his paintings. Toughness? Unbridled fecundity? Odd mixings of the wild with the sweet? All these potential themes seem to be afloat in the air when Freud faces humanity off against the raw, messy energy of the natural world.
THE NATIONAL GALLERY MASTERPIECES OF PAINTING
As far as books are concerned, The Met in New York and London’s National Gallery have been showing off the best of themselves in rather similar ways this year. Each institution has published a new guidebook to its permanent collection. The National Gallery’s is heavy, large of format, lavishly illustrated, and best suited to browsing at a leisurely pace at a stout table; the Met’s new guide is a more readily transportable, on-the-move, under-the-arm, flexi-backed affair that feels very good to have and to hold. Each one includes an excitable commentary by its relatively new, go-getting director.
PAULA REGO: THE ART OF STORY
The year’s finest monograph about a female artist is Paula Rego: The Art of Story, Deryn Rhys Jones’s account of the trajectory of the 84-year-old, Portugal-born printmaker and painter. Rooted in an often savagely playful brand of storytelling, Rego’s pictures owe as much to literature and folktales as it does to the work of other painters, and Rhys Jones delicately unpacks its mysteries. Alice in Wonderland has been lucky to escape her attentions. So far.
HOKUSAI: THIRTY-SIX VIEWS OF MOUNT FUJI
It is the suave turning of waves that we are inclined to remember best when we recall the works of Katsushika Hokusai, that 19th-century Japanese master. Hokusai: Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji, compactly presented in a handsome slipcase, opens up like a nigh-on infinitely expandable concertina of a book, in wave after wave after wave of images of daily life as it proceeded in the eye of that dreamily cloud-wreathed sacred mountain: a junk converted into a home is moored amongst reeds; a woman with her babe in the shadow of a lumber yard takes time out to admire smoke wisps encircling the snowcap… This magnificent suite of woodblock prints feels as homey as it is exalted. And how magically alluring is its oh so dominant Prussian Blue!
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