Perfecting a coffee-table-book collection is much like curating anything else — the more personal and intentional, the better. We asked people with enviable taste about the Black coffee-table books that decorate their homes. Our list includes Kimberly Drew’s recently released Black Futures that uses a range of mediums, like memes, Instagram posts, images, and recipes to showcase what it means to be Black right now and monographs from some of the most impactful painters and photographers of our time.
Arts educator and founder of Black Art Library Asmaa Walton says this book, a companion to the art exhibition “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power,” is a must-have, particularly for anyone who loves visual art and history. The book features writings by and about Black artists and features icons like Gwendolyn Brooks, Jacob Lawrence, Faith Ringgold, and Lorraine O’Grady.
To round out your collection, Walton also recommends purchasing the OG Soul of a Nation book, which chronicles work created by Black artists from 1963–1983. The time period, which is often defined by civil-rights leaders like Malcolm X and groups like the Black Panthers, focuses on the art of the time, much of which wrestled with questions about racial identity and politics and what it means to be Black in America. In addition to works by artists like Sam Gilliam, Betye Saar, Howardina Pindell, and Noah Purifoy, it contains essays by Mark Godfrey and Zoe Whitley, and gives context to a unique moment in history.
“Mario Moore is an artist that has all eyes on him right now with his figurative work depicting Black people,” says Walton of the Detroit-born painter. The Work of Several Lifetimes is a collection of Moore’s sketches, drawings, etchings, and paintings, which focus on Black blue-collar workers, interrogating who is allowed to be the subject of portraiture. The book is currently available for preorder and starts shipping June 8.
Walton is most excited to add this book to her coffee-table book collection. The Ultimate Art Museum, which debuts later this year, imagines what it might be like to have all the world’s greatest art in one place, jamming 40,000 works into one brightly colored book. While the book isn’t exclusively about Black subjects (or specifically for adults), it’s curated by a Black author — Ferren Gipson, an art historian, researcher, and host of visual-arts podcast Art Matters, who lives and works in London.
Artist and writer Lorraine O’Grady’s retrospective exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum covers four decades of her work along with a new performance piece, Announcement. Both/And is the accompanying catalogue, which Walton calls “super important to have.” In addition to a survey of her work, the book also includes letters, journal entries, and interviews, which offer insight into her process and art.
When we asked curator Larry Ossei-Mensah about the ten things he can’t live without, he mentioned this book, which accompanies Yiadom-Boakye’s show at the Tate Britain. She draws inspiration from historic European portraiture techniques with a focus on Black subjects. Ossei-Mensah has been following the artist for a decade: “I study her paintings because I mentor a lot of young emerging artists and want to give them advice, and she’s one of the best,” he says.
Both Ossei-Mensah and Walton name-checked Duro Olowu: Seeing, which accompanies an exhibition of the Nigerian-born designer’s work at MCA Chicago. “I think Duro, the Nigerian-born British fashion designer, is the ultimate creative,” says Ossei-Mensah. “Part of me aspires to put things together the way he does, because he can take these very complex, disparate ideas and just make it look elegant.” The book was produced specifically for the exhibition, so if you want a copy, it would be smart to pick it up soon. Ossei-Mensah, for one, plans to purchase a few and gift them to friends.
Two people we spoke to mentioned this coffee-table book about Noah Davis, a contemporary, Los Angeles–based artist who died in 2015 from a rare cancer at 32. In addition to making indelible artwork, he also co-founded the Underground Museum, an institution that centers work by artists of color. “Learning more about Noah Davis as I read his self-titled book — and the community of artists for whom he has posthumously provided a platform — reminds me to relish the group of young Black creatives I see creating impactful work today, in real time,” says Utibe Mbagwu, a social-media manager and content strategist at Glossier and Into the Gloss.
Mbagwu also recommended this book about Kerry James Marshall, another great American painter. “Kerry James Marshall’s works have a visual attitude that is immediately jarring, then majestic,” she says. “His subjects’ skin tones are not only Black, but the color black, a boldness that delves the viewer into a Black American world in an unapologetic way.” The book accompanies the exhibition of the same name and offers a retrospective of the artist’s 35-year-long career. The book, which includes commentary by well-known curators, also delves into his career trajectory, inspirations, and the way his work has been received by his peers and, more widely, the world.
“Black Is Beautiful is a beautiful time capsule of fashion photography in the 1960s in New York from photographer Kwame Brathwaite,” says Mecca James-Williams, a New York–based stylist. “It’s one of my favorites.” The book covers the work of Brathwaite, a key figure in the second Harlem Renaissance who founded the African Jazz-Art Society & Studios, a collective of artists, playwrights, designers, and dancers. He also founded Grandassa Models, a modeling agency for Black women. “His pictures are sweet with hope, and pure with love. The depth of the culture is on every page through every picture — one of my favorites.”
This book (another James-Williams favorite) celebrates the work of Bruce W. Talamon, including almost 300 photographs spanning 1972 to 1982. Talamon captured some of the most iconic soul, funk, and R&B acts of the time, including Diana Ross, Parliament-Funkadelic, and Al Green. “This book is iconic,” says James-Williams, “these pictures are narrated with stories from the famed photographer and his famous subjects.”
Tyler Mitchell might be best known for being the first Black photographer to shoot a Vogue cover, but his body of work is expansive and culture-shifting. I Can Make You Feel Good is his first monograph and imagines what a Black utopia might look like through full-bleed images of Black people in motion and at rest. It’s a favorite of writer Shelton Griffith, who calls it an aesthetic from cover to cover. “Tyler’s photographic aesthetic, to me, allows Black people to just simply exist,” he says. “I have the book open, sitting on an acrylic book-display stand, and I turn the pages every few days for inspiration.”
Curator and writer Kimberly Drew name-checked this book about the Joyner Giuffrida family, which offers an insight into their collection, which is widely regarded as one of the most significant collections of modern and contemporary work by African and African diaspora artists. “This book is a welcome reminder that being a collector and curator is an act of diligence and love,” says Drew. “Pairing scholarly essays and full-color images of works, we’re invited into their collection and, more than that, invited to think about how we might regard our own collections.”
Drew is also the author of Black Futures, which tells the story of contemporary Black life through images, photos, recipes, tweets, memes, and poetry to create a collection that captures what it means to be Black and alive right now.