Best Coffee Table Books of 2015
Pictorial books to adorn your coffee table or some such, that represent some artist or art form are pretty straightforward—subject and basic materials— some as exhibition catalogues, some as pedagogic monographs and some simply as displays of compelling images. There are oddities which often are surprising that delve in to pop culture and commerce—tomes on movie posters, classic designers (a book on Brioni), graphic narratives (Red Rosa, a biography of Rosa Luxembourg), illustrated design manuals (How To, by Micheal Beirut), icons and classic brands, celebrities (director Terry Gilliam’s Gilliamesque: A Pre-posthumous Memoir), tie-ins with the resurrection of a movie (Back to the Future: The Ultimate Visual History) or musicians (The Complete Beatles Songs: The Stories Behind Every Track Written by the Fab Four) or an unusual connection between media or an artist outside his art form (American Epics: Thomas Hart Benton and Hollywood), or a focus on the information architecture via maps and atlases or spotlight a region or facet of the natural world (a lifetime travelogue such as Enchanted Lands: Roland and Sabrina Michaud). Needless to say, the titles that follow are such oddities.
Given yoga’s entrenchment (over 250 million practitioners worldwide) as a commonly accepted and useful self-improvement regimen, portrait photographer Micheal O’Neill (from Andy Warhol to the Dalai Lama) intended these photographs as much a study in anthropology and sociology as in beauty of form and spirit of what he calls “the architecture of peace… a series of postures that bring the practitioner closer to touching the infinite.” Part of this is accomplished with portraiture of the most prominent masters, B.K.S. Iyengar, Shri K. Pattabhi Jois, T.K. V. Desikachar, Rodney Yee, Colleen Saidman, Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa and various celebrity practictioners—Donna Karan, Sting and Trudie Styler. Ten years from when he started, he had traveled to far and remote places to gather all manner of information and images (the book contains over 200 photos), O’Neill reveals, “All I wanted to do was to pay homage to yoga’s classical lineage and understand this unique moment before it slips away.”
Weimar Germany represents a cultural artistic highpoint for 20th century Germany and in a highly literate country, book publishing reflected the innovations across the whole cultural spectrum. Bookstore owner and collector Jürgen Holstein provided most of the 1,000 examples of dust jackets and bindings from his own authoritative monograph, Blickfang. Holstein has an extensive archive of artworks, objects, books, catalogs, and posters from this period (which are housed in the Getty Center, Los Angeles). He provides an introductory overview and brings in other experts to explicit the fertile context of those very special 14 years before Weimar fell victim to the scourge of Nazism.
(Serious) cartoonist Adrian Tomine (Shortcomings, Scenes from an Impending Marriage) is acknowledged as one the great talents in contemporary literature. With six interconnected stories. Tomine provides a deadpan portrayal of contemporary life—“Amber Sweet” shows the consequences of mistaken identity in a wired world; “Go Owls” features the frustrations of a rage-filled middle-aged stoner”; “A Brief History of the Art Form Known as Hortisculpture” describes the invention and destruction of a new art form; “Translated, from the Japanese,” is a vividly colorful exhibition of narration through stills; “Killing and Dying” is an unlikely meditation juxtaposing parenthood, mortality, and stand-up comedy.
Although the atlas may be heading toward extinction, for the past five years I have looked forward to Oxford University Press’s annual publication of its nonpareil and imposing (15' x 12', 8 pounds) Oxford’s Atlas of the World. The 22nd edition which is a rigorous update of the previous edition’s multitudinous city and world maps, is chocked full of accurate cartography of both the globe’s urban centers and sparsely populated terrains. Per usual, the Atlas opens with useful geographic statistics. The new edition contains a six-page special on “The Future of the Oceans and Seas,” and satellite images of the planet including 11 images provided by NASA from Landsat 8, launched in 2013. There is an accessible 48-page “Introduction to World Geography,” whose information architecture lucidly explicates such areas of significance as geology and atmosphere of Earth, food and water supply, biodiversity, energy, global conflict, human health, and standards of living.
Mid-century movie star Marilyn Monroe, like Elvis Presley, another celebrity from that era, has ascended to icon status representing a salad of glamour, sexuality, and existential turmoil. For over 20 years no other personality received the relentless media attention (much of it sought by Monroe) than this blonde bombshell. Of course, being married to two boldfaced-type types, playwright Arthur Miller and baseball superstar New York Yankee Joe DiMaggio, added to her press appeal. Monroe connoisseur David Wills (Marilyn Monroe: Metamorphosis) assembles an impressive pastiche of hundreds of rare and unseen photographs that have been beautifully restored—outtakes uncropped and unretouched with behind-the-scenes notes, and interviews with, among others, key press agents.
Think of this as a illustrative version of the Humans of NewYork photo project. Artist Jason Polan set his goal to draw every person in New York, from food truck chefs to to celebrities. So, this block of a book includes thousands of New Yorker captured in unlikely poses—sleeping, eating, sightseeing. Its an energetic presentation of the diverse fauna of this formidable metropolis. Actress and free spirit Kristen Wiig offers her two cents. And if that isn’t sufficient for your taste, Polan has a web presence.
If there can be substantial monograph devoted to shoe designers Manolo Blahnik and Jimmy Choo , it should not be surprising that there is a traveling exhibition accompanied by well-illustrated history devoted to the (humble) sneaker (the term sneaker was coined in 1873). The exhibition designed by well regarded Karim Rashid, originated at The Bata Shoe Museum and spent July through September at the Brooklyn Museum. Over 150 pairs of sneakers are included—ranging from an 1860 spiked running shoe, a pair of 1936 track shoes, Air Jordans I—XX3, the original Air Force 1, and early Adidas Superstars to contemporary sneakers drawn from the archives of Adidas, Converse, Nike, Puma, and Reebok, the Kosow Sneaker Museum, and Northampton Museum and Art Gallery. Private collectors such as hip-hop legend Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, sneaker guru Bobbito Garcia, and Dee Wells of Obsessive Sneaker Disorder also made materials available. Additionally featured are sneakers by Prada and other major fashion design houses and designers, as well as those made in collaboration with artists including Damien Hirst and Shantell Martin.
The 1960s are recognized as a transformational period in U.S. and European history—as Andrew Blauvelt, Walker Art Center exhibition curator opines, “It’s difficult to identify another period of history that has exerted more influence on contemporary culture and politics.” Not much scholarship has been devoted to its cultural yield until Hippie Modernism, both an exhibition hosted until February 2016 by Minneapolis’s Walker Art Center and a 450-page tome with close to 300 images examines the art, architecture and design of the counterculture. Included are interviews with such seminal countercultural figures as Gerd Stern of USCO; Ken Isaacs; Gunther Zamp Kelp of Haus-Rucker-Co; Ron Williams and Woody Rainey of ONYX; Franco Raggi of Global Tools; Tony Martin; Clark Richert and Richard Kallweit of Drop City. There is also scholarly discussion of ground-breaking publications such as Oz and The Whole Earth Catalog and the books of Marshall McLuhan and Buckminster Fuller. And much more.
Fashion historian E.P. Cutler has compiled 25 influential pairings of art and fashion that has resulted in a book entitled Art + Fashion: Collaborations and Connections Between Icons. With vivid illustration it explores creative relationships past and present—from Elsa Schiaparelli’s collaborations with Salvador Dalí and Jackson Pollock’s with Cecil Beaton, all the way through to Louis Vuitton with The Chapman Brothers and Prada with Elmgreen + Dragset and Cindy Sherman with her self-portraits in vintage Chanel. Included are illuminating essays.
Photographing dancers is a wonderful specialty that is dominated by a select few (Philip Trager). With her third monograph over the past 20 years edited by William A. Ewing, museum director, curator, and writer on photography. The incomparable Lois Greenfield chronicles with a highly collaborative and experimental process, the talented dancers of our time drawn from leading dance companies and creates images (many shot at 1/2000th of a second)that appeal to two constituencies—photography enthusiasts and dance afficionados. Greenfiel explains, “The ostensible subject of my photographs may be motion, but the subtext is time. A dancer’s movements illustrate the passage of time, giving it a substance, materiality, and space. In my photographs, time is stopped, a split second becomes an eternity, and an ephemeral moment is solid as sculpture. My interest in photography is not to capture an image I see or even have in my mind, but to explore the potential of moments I can only begin to imagine.” There is a Q&A with Ewing, who also wrote the book’s preface. You can find some of the images here.
This is the second volume of movie posters reinvented by over 100 young artists (Jason Edmiston, Gary Pullin, Akiko Stehrenberger, Randy Ortiz, Brandon Schaefer, Gabz, Dave Perillo, Chris Garofalo, Anthony Petrie, Godmachine, Tracie Ching, Clark Orr, Orlando Arocena, Steve Dressler, Paul Shipper, Tom Hodge, Luke Insect, to name a few) that intend to subvert the pro forma enhanced head shots of film stars that movie studios use as “the one-sheet” poster and bring back aesthetic values to a popular cultural artifact. Vertigo, Rosemary’s Baby, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Dazed and Confused, Donnie Darko, Ghostbusters, Back to the Future, and Labyrinth are some of the films that are illustrated.
In most instances maps are straightforward pieces of information architecture with obvious utilitarian purpose. Artist Martin Vargic, whose Map of the Internet 1.0 used old National Geographic cartography to map the most world’s most-visited websites displaying Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Amazon, and Apple as sovereign states and with other original twists, brought him international recognition. He followed with Map of Stereotypes, a cartogram based on a Westerner’s stereotypical view of the world. Now comes his newest opus, in vivid full-color with eight original conceptual atlases: “The Music Map,” “The Map of YouTube,” “The Corporate World Map,” and others. Additionally there are 50 mini-maps of the world that list inventive and quirky data, such as the number of heavy metal bands per capita, the probability of getting struck by lightning, average penis length, NSA surveillance rate, and number of tractors per 1,000 inhabitants.
Gonzo illustrator /caroonist Ralph Steadman came to prominence as the Dr. Hunter Thompson’s collaborator (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) and has illustrated such classics as Alice in Wonderland, Treasure Island and Animal Farm, Fahrenhet 451 as well as such originals as Sigmund Freud, I Leonardo and The Big I Am. This tome, a sequel to Extinct Boids, partners him with filmmaker Ceri Levy. Each of Steadman’s 150 or so feverish, comically sinister illustrations of endangered and nearly extinct birds are accompanied by a humorous informative text from Levy, explaining how the species found itself on the list. There is a running narrative—the book takes place on the mythical Toadstool Island, where birds are stalked by a sinister hunter and his band of henchmen, “the blue-panted bird-killers. There are the 192 critically endangered birds on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List, species such as the Giant Ibis, the Kakapo, the Sumatran Ground-cuckoo and the iconic Spoon-billed Sandpiper—these, along with a number of classic Steadman creations such as the Unsociable Lapwing, are the Nearly-Extinct Boids. A portion of the proceeds from this book will go to BirdLife International to help them prevent the Nextinction.