The Art Books That Art People Want for the Holidays

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Finding the perfect holiday gift can be maddening — is this the color they’d want? Is it something they already have? Is it so last year? — but really, once you have a sense of a person’s taste, it’s not impossible. This season, we’ll be talking to members of various tribes to find out exactly what to get that serious cook, or Star Wars fanatic, or picky tween in your life. Think of it as a window into their brain trust — or at least a very helpful starting point. Today, 14 artists, curators, and art editors on the coffee-table and art books they want (or want to give) for the holidays.

“When I was a kid, about 7 years old, my dad who was in the printing industry gave me his loop and his used Pantone book. I loved, obsessed over, and treated it as a sacred object. I continue to love the Pantone books and it’s an essential tool in my studio. This five-book set looks great, highly pleasurable to peruse along with a bowl of ‘edibles’ on the coffee table. Alternatively, I do also like the Taschen published book of menus.” —Rob Pruitt, artist

(The Pantone Solid Guide Set is also available on Amazon for $329.)

“I’m excited for the Met’s Artist Project book, out with Phaidon. It’s a fascinating look at how contemporary artists dialogue with this historic collection, in often surprising pairings! It has a lot of my favorite artists in it, and shows a wide breadth of the museum’s holdings. I participated and got to speak about Kathe Kollwitz’s graphic work, the work that set me on the path to become an artist.” —Natalie Frank, artist

“What better ‘book as object’ to display than a book entitled Object and Display? Steinbach has had a prolific career of dealing precisely with these two motifs and they’re catalogued beautifully here. From salt and pepper shakers to cookie jars to Freudian mise en scènes, Steinbach’s work pulls from so much that’s recognizable, but always shifted or shuffled a bit. To me, his work feels like a gentle mix of suspicion and care for all the objects around us. In a sense, that seems like the right thing to have on a coffee table — it’ll keep the other objects in the house on their toes.” —Ajay Kurian, artist

“This is a go-to inspiration gem of a book that should be required of every art library. I was told by Connie Tilton (who co-constructed this book for Tilton Gallery — of the now-late Jack Tilton) that in the making of the gallery’s exhibition catalogue on David Hammons’s body prints they came across so much ripe and underrepresented documentation of and by the artist’s peers who were working in assemblage and activism at that time — circa the Watts riots in L.A. — that they decided to fold the research into a much larger archive. The result is a richly dense anthology of socially and politically charged artworks, essays, posters, ephemera, photos of the period, and portraits of great artists such as John Outterbridge, Betye Saar, and Senga Nengudi, to name a few of my favorites.” —Sarah Trigg, artist

“A must-have for architecture geeks, Kumpusch’s new book looks at the details of contemporary buildings to reflect on architecture today. He includes interviews with Zaha Hadid, Kazuyo Sejima, Steven Holl, and many others, but the clear illustrations and renderings are what makes this 1,000-plus-page tome a pure joy. Kumpusch may be best know as Lebbeus Woods’s collaborator on the wondrous Light Pavilion in Chengdu, China, but this book shows us that he continues to challenge our perception of built environments through his work and publications.” — Hrag Vartanian, editor-in-chief and co-founder, Hyperallergic

“Finally, a contemporary art lens on what is happening in the field of clay/ceramics. This book presents the read a global survey of 100 of today’s most important clay and ceramic artists, chosen by leading art professionals. The selected art critics have finally made ceramics/ceramic artists come out of the minor-art- stratosphere and into the conversation of art history. The illustrations/photography is well done and the written descriptions while short are packed full of pertinent information.” — Elysia Borowy-Reeder, executive director, Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit

Sex, by Madonna. Glenn O’Brien. Fabien Baron. Isabella Rossellini. Naomi Campbell. Big Daddy Kane. Udo Kier. The Gaiety Theater. And the number one pop star of all time. Naked. Hitchhiking down a Miami highway.” — Ryan McNamara, artist

“Many of my favorite art critics have also been poets. ‘They see without the jargon of art,’ Philip Guston said in 1980, after he had painted dozens of canvases inspired by poets like D.H Lawrence, W.B. Yeats, Wallace Stevens, Eugenio Montale and T.S. Eliot. These works were shown in a mesmerizing exhibition at the Gallerie Dell’Accademia in Venice earlier this year and there’s something especially enticing about bringing them home to ‘read’ again in book form.” — Rachel Corbett, deputy editor, artnet News

“The book I’ve already scored is a signed copy of GingerNutz, the jungle memoir of a model orangutan. My aunt volunteers at the Atlanta Zoo and generally prefers orangutan or golden retriever-themed gifts. It’s a tongue-in-cheek biography of Grace Coddington told through a children’s book about an orangutan. (Spoiler alert, Mary Alice.)” — Travis Boyer, artist

“We can’t hope to understand today’s changing tablescape without unpacking it’s recent history. Designing for the Table is not a coffee table book about coffee tables, but it is a really fabulous reference book of post-modern flatware, stemware, and 80s avant-garde platters and pottingers.” — Travis Boyer

“Why didn’t I just buy this book when I had it in my hand at the MoMA bookstore so many years ago? I still want it just as much now, and now even more, like those things are that one denies oneself, even though one knows that that thing is needed and wanted so badly. I need that book! I want to see her work. Page after page of great art works: stuffed animals on trampolines, rivers of red blood fabric and Pinocchio with stuffed striped sofas! A brick of a book that was sexy and squishy and shiny gold and full of the works of one of my all time favorite artists. “ — Liz Collins, artist

“The big heavy catalog from this summer’s spectacular show at the Palazzo Fortuny in Venice. This show floored me and deeply affected my aesthetic sensibilities, and opened my eyes to Axel Vervoordt, an interior designer and antiquarian who curated this show with Palazzo’s Daniela Ferretti. It feels like a strange story, this Belgian tastemaker-Martha Stewart of the art world co-curating a blockbuster survey that for many showed up the Biennale. Vignettes from this exhibition have burned themselves into my brain. I would love to be able to sit with that book and read the essays.” — Liz Collins

“A new in depth look at the High Line gardens, with insights from Piet Oudolf, the talented dutch horticulturalist that design the High Line planting and new stunning photographs by Rick Darke. Fresh out of press!” — Cecilia Alemani, director and chief curator, High Line Art

Radical Women is a show (and a book) that will change the way we approach Latin American and Latinx art. It’s a survey of women artists and their groundbreaking contribution to art history of Latin America and their influences on the rest of the world.” — Cecilia Alemani

“Tauba Auerbach, master of the artist’s book, offers a view into her brilliant and original understanding of patterns. With its sculptural slipcase and inexpensive printing, A Partial Taxonomy of Periodic Linear Ornament is sensuous and beautiful through its austere means.” —Carol Bove, artist

“If I could choose one ‘coffee table’ book as a gift for this holiday season, I would absolutely request Eyes As Big at Plates, by artists Karoline Hjorth and Riitta Ikonen. This photographic collaboration between the two artists captures mythical portraits of seniors from a number of countries, connecting Nordic Folklore, the landscape, and performance. The book itself is beautifully handcrafted, and the images contained within are breathtaking, absurd, and truly touching.” —Sara Maria Salamone, Mrs. Gallery

“Sam Contis’s Deep Springs and Isaac Julien’s Looking for Langston. I can’t choose between these two beautiful books. Both are near-perfect adaptations of projects that exist beyond the bounds of the book page — Samantha Contis’s exquisite printing and details of display that complete her photographs in the presence of viewers, and Julien’s classic film of which the artist book is titled and can only be experienced in real time. Each translate the original works into something that is not just a catalogue but a stand-alone work.” —Paul Mpagi Sepuya, photographer and artist

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The Art Books That Art People Want for the Holidays