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Best Art Books of 2022 by New York Times

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Holland Cotter, Jason Farago and Roberta Smith round up their favorite books, from museum catalogs of high-profile shows to photographs by Native artists to the treasures of Ukraine.

Lots of NFT art collections nose-dived in this year’s crypto crash, but a well-stocked library will never lose its value. Museums, galleries and art institutions have not yet lost faith in high-quality print publications in this screened-out century, and even as venues for cultural debate keep shrinking — pour one out for Bookforum, the lively art-adjacent book review that shuttered this week — art publishing remains in fine fettle, with more titles every year than even the most committed bibliomaniac could peruse. My fellow critics and I have selected here some of the best we read in 2022: splashy or studious, affordable or investment-grade, all of them worthy of a space on your shelves. — JASON FARAGO


Jason Farago

It was the “stay woke” of its day: Sapere aude, “dare to know,” a Latin motto that Immanuel Kant raised to a moral command. This dense and very handsome overview of 18th-century European graphic arts (the catalog of a show on view at Harvard through Jan. 15) takes the form of a dictionary whose 26 chapters, from Antiquities to Zealotry, cast a sharp new glare on the Enlightenment’s transformations in science, economics, religion and liberty. Anatomical studies face off with satires of quack doctors, watercolors of erupting volcanoes with cross-sections of slave ships; and if Enlightenment reason is found somewhat wanting, its philosophers also furnish us tools for its own critique. (Harvard Art Museums / Yale University Press)

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This urgent new title introduces us to more than 100 buildings and art objects, from prehistory to the Baroque era to the bomb-shelter present, in the nation we now finally see as the heart of Europe. With chapters on Orthodox icons and Catholic cathedrals, Soviet avant-gardism and nationalist folk crafts, this book illustrates a culture whose very diversity now puts it in danger — and indeed some works pictured, such as stone statues near Kharkiv dating from the 9th to 13th century, have already been destroyed. The Ukraine war is a culture war, and these are the stakes. All proceeds from the book’s sale are being donated to PEN Ukraine. (Thames & Hudson)

Traditional Volyn glass painting from the 19th century in “Treasures of Ukraine: A Nation’s Cultural Heritage.” It is from Ostroh, a historic city in western Ukraine.Ivan Vdovin/Alamy, via Thames & Hudson

The curator and Rutgers professor Sandrine Colard organized one of the most ambitious shows I saw this year, at Antwerp’s photography museum: an excavation of photographs from Congo under Belgian colonial rule, by Europeans and Africans, as propaganda and as free expression. The trilingual catalog is even more expansive, and unfolds rare amateur photo magazines, 1930s studio portraiture, missionary and ethnographic documentation, and also wrenching but important photos of colonial atrocities (framed here with uncommon care). A talented slate of African writers, including the novelists In Koli Jean Bofane and Annie Lulu, offers crucial readings. (Fotomuseum Antwerp / Lannoo)

Is there any application today of Renaissance classicism to our glutted cities, anything the architect of St. Peter’s Basilica can teach builders of condos and duty-free concessions? Pier Paolo Tamburelli, an architect and editor of the now defunct cult magazine San Rocco, insists in this spirited treatise that Donato Bramante’s spatial innovations can propel a new practice of “architecture as public art.” Strange, sometimes flippant, as conversant with Rem Koolhaas as with Pope Leo X, this book is a rare effort to rethink our present deadlocks through historical models — and its ironic Neo-Classicism is beautifully buttressed by Bas Princen’s spare photographs of Bramante nerve centers: Milan’s Santa Maria delle Grazie, where Leonardo painted “The Last Supper,” or the cloisters of Rome’s Santa Maria della Pace. (MIT Press)

The superb architecture of Santa Maria delle Grazie, from “On Bramante” by Pier Paolo Tamburelli.Bas Princen and The MIT Press

So much of this century’s fanaticism and insularity has rested on a stubborn error about art and religion: Christians like pictures, Muslims don’t. The far richer truth is that the world’s two largest religions both have long histories of creating images and destroying them — as detailed in this learned book, the catalog for a major show I saw last spring at the Museum Rietberg in Zurich. Looking at Byzantine coins, Persian miniatures, and images of Jesus and Muhammad both preserved and scratched out, Axel Langer and a dozen other scholars dissolve the clean Occident-Orient opposition inherited from the 19th century, and reveal how iconophilia and iconophobia go hand in hand. (Hatje Cantz)


Holland Cotter

One of the year’s singular beauties was this catalog accompanying an exhibition at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth (through Jan. 22). The earliest pictures here, dating from the 19th century and taken of Indigenous North Americans by non-Native photographers, emphasize exoticism, controllable otherness. The richly varied work of 20th- and 21st-century Native artists who make up the bulk of the book, edited by John Rohrbach and Will Wilson, moves beyond constricting categories and has the power of poetry. (Radius Books)

Kali Spitzer’s portrait of the Indigenous rights activist Audrey Siegl from “Speaking With Light: Contemporary Indigenous Photography.” Radius Books

Now 96 and sometimes referred to as Mexico’s “first female sculptor,” for half a century Geles Cabrera produced small-scale, semiabstract cast and carved female forms and displayed them in her own custom-built garden-museum. For a compact career survey, Americas Society created a mini-version of that museum and published a tiny takeaway souvenir catalog that distills the essence of a treasurable artist’s life and work. (Americas Society/ISLAA (Institute for Studies on Latin American Art)

For a few years, beginning in 1968, four young New York artists — William T. Williams, Melvin Edwards, Guy Ciarcia and Billy Rose — turned Harlem into abstract art heaven. Calling themselves Smokehouse Associates, they painted neighborhood walls with brilliantly colored abstract murals and enlisted local residents in the creative team. This book, by Eric Booker, was produced by the Studio Museum in Harlem, which came into being at this time (Williams was instrumental in its founding too). It wonderfully catches the energy, in interviews with the original artists and through a generous sheaf of photographs of empty lots being cleaned, walls being prepped, kids playing and pitching in, and artists doing their totally wow-inspiring thing. (Studio Museum in Harlem)

The first English-language publication in 30 years devoted to the resplendent 14th-century Umbrian painter focuses on a single altarpiece owned by the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston and spins interlocking narratives around it: about the artist himself, about the city for which he made important work, about the genre of gold-ground painting he perfected, and about the path that brought the altarpiece to Boston, where it is the centerpiece of an exhibition through Jan. 16. Edited by Nathaniel Silver. (Yale University Press)

Simone Martini’s circa 1320 altarpiece, “Virgin and Child With Saints,” at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, via Yale University Press

The Gardner publication reads like an adventure story, and so does another study of a single work, this one from the Getty Center in Los Angeles and edited by Andrew D. Turner. The Códice Maya de México, an illustrated book in the form of a paper scroll painted by an unknown Mayan artist around 1100 A.D., remains mysterious in its precise meanings, celestial and earthly. Historians writing in the Getty catalog offer fascinating theories on both. And thanks to a foldout insert, we get to peruse the Codex itself, which is as visually inventive as any graphic novel you’ll ever see. (Getty Publications)

When future art historians seek perspectives on our era of billion-dollar auctions, carbon-footprint art fairs, and market-driven diversity, this collection of essays by the American critic Ben Davis is a text they’ll consult. An alert data hoarder, a shrewd analyst, and a propulsive stylist, Davis views the hot-air balloon called the art world in a broad political context. He writes with the coolness of a sociologist, the passion of someone with a horse in the race, and the smarts to avoid both cheerleading and snootiness. (Haymarket Books)

While Davis’s restricts his beat primarily to the United States, Kaelen Wilson-Goldie’s trim, tough book takes a global view of current art by focusing on politically minded artists living elsewhere: Amar Kanwar in India, Teresa Margolles in Mexico, and a collective called Abounaddara in Syria. They are among the most persistently daring artists we have, and Wilson-Goldie tells us why. (Columbia Global Reports)

Designed to match the physical dimensions of old-time Life magazines, “New York: 1962-1964” is the catalog for a fabulous Jewish Museum exhibition on new American art and culture in the early 1960s, which the museum did much to promote at the time. Even more than the exhibition itself (through Jan. 8), the book, conceived and edited by Germano Celant, is a packed time capsule, one that includes a detailed timeline of three fire-starting years of public violence, disobedience and liberation. With blast-from-the-past (and echoes-in-the-present) images on every page, it has the pull of a fast-paced documentary film. (Skira)

“New York: 1962-1964,” the catalog for an ongoing exhibition about new American art and culture in the early 1960s at the Jewish Museum.The Jewish Museum

Comparably engaging is the catalog for the Museum of Modern Art’s stellar survey “Just Above Midtown: Changing Spaces” (through Feb. 18), which chronicles a piece of cultural history from a decade later: the brilliant 12-year run of the first Black-owned commercial art space to gate-crash New York’s white art world. Just Above Midtown opened its doors in 1974 and kept them open, on a shoestring budget, for 12 years, giving debut shows to extraordinary artists in the process. The book captures the JAM vibe, and its lead essay by Thomas (T.) Jean Lax, one of the MoMA show’s curators, that gets my vote as best of the year. (Museum of Modern Art/The Studio Museum in Harlem).

Finally, rounding out the saga of a city, and an art world, in the process of inclusionary transformation, I found a page-turner in another Americas Society book, the catalog for the exhibition “This Must Be the Place: Latin American Artists in New York, 1965-1975.” It’s a chronicle of young artists who migrated north to the city to visit or to stay; who mingled — or didn’t — with Latino artists already here; and who, by being here, permanently changed what “art” and “American” meant. (Americas Society/ISLAA (Institute for Studies on Latin American Art.)

ROBERTA SMITH

It turns out that some books can, indeed, be judged by their covers: Their exterior beauty can signal an interior of visual and textual pleasures. So it is with the handsomely proportioned, lace-embossed exterior of “Threads of Power: Lace From the Textilmuseum St. Gallen” at the Bard Graduate Center (through Jan. 1).

Inside, the history of Lace is told in about 17 highly focused essays that cover a great deal of cultural, political and economic as well as lace-making history without being overwhelming. It’s a big ongoing saga, made newly comprehensible here with the latest research, clear prose and lots of pictures. (Bard Graduate Center, New York; distributed by Yale University Press)

“Threads of Power: Lace from the Textilmuseum St. Gallen” chronicles the history of this much coveted textile.Bruce M. White/Bard Graduate Center

This marvel of interwoven narratives hinges on imaginary letters written by a living painter, Celia Paul (born 1959), to an admired deceased one, the Welsh painter Gwen John (1876-1939). Their common ground includes reticent, largely figure painting styles; formative but damaging relationships with difficult older artists (Rodin and Lucian Freud, respectively); and the embrace of solitude as essential to art making, in part because of the domination of male artists. Paul reaches out to John to examine her own life, art, relationships and her work habits, creating a portrait within a self-portrait, flanked by memorable sketches of their feckless lovers. (New York Review Books)

“Letters to Gwen John” features an excerpt from a letter by the book’s author, Celia Paul, and John’s painting “A Woman in Profile.”New York Review Books

Over the years, Maira Kalman has used her talent for writing and painting in different ways — most often in illustrated books. But rarely has she combined them with such complex resonances as in her latest, “Women Holding Things.” The book’s 85 images — many of them based on appropriated material — constitute a large exhibition; they continue Kalman’s droll evocations of the School of Paris heated up with intensely contemporary reds, magentas and olive greens. With them and their various captions and texts, she pays homage to the people known for holding things together, and includes a few men as well. Depicting relatives, cultural heroes and invented women, Kalman’s images encompass both everyday pleasures and incomprehensible loss, always affirming art’s sustaining grace. (Harper Design, distributed by HarperCollins Publishers)

The catalog “Louise Bourgeois Paintings,” and the revelatory exhibition of the same name at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, are the first of their kind. Together, they introduced 50 examples of the artist’s 100 or so almost entirely unknown paintings. Evincing a singularly personal Surrealism and quantities of red, these works were made between 1938, when Bourgeois first arrived in New York, and 1949, when she turned to her sculpture career. Both show and catalog were overseen by Clare Davies, associate curator in the Met’s department of modern and contemporary art, who has commissioned an insightful essay from the art historian Briony Fer. But there’s another bonus: Beyond the paintings in the show, the catalog reproduces around 25 more, meaning that three-quarters of Bourgeois’s contribution to modern painting can now be seen in one place. (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

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Criss Bellini Art Fans Urge for Pop-Up Gallery – E! NEWS

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Since the brand’s launch in 2020, Bellini’s sales have skyrocketed, selling over $1 million in its first year and exceeding its sales in 2021, in 2022, with over 2 million sales in euros. Seeing this, it is clear that art sales are booming, and people want to see more of his unique pieces.

However, because Bellini’s website is the only place to view and purchase his art, the public has begun to request a gallery or a pop-up gallery where they can go visit Bellinis’ work and see it for themselves.

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Wish you could set fire to the last 3 years? A huge flaming art installation is coming to Toronto – CBC.ca

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3D digital rendering of The Burn, an art installation. Visible is a brassy dodecahedron adorned with perforated patterns. It appears to glow from within and floats above still dark water.
Rendering of The Burn, 2023. (Javid JAH)

What if you could just set fire to the past? Would you feel liberated — free to start fresh in 2023, flush with feelings of love and peace and other things you could file under positive vibes?

The City of Toronto launched an interactive art project last Thursday called The Burn, a seven-week initiative that aims to offer a moment of respite in the wake of COVID-19, and it comes to a climax on March 11 — the third anniversary of the pandemic. 

On that date, a monumental art installation will go up at Nathan Phillips Square, and the centrepiece involves three towering steel sculptures that’ll be set aflame for 24 hours — fires that will keep on burning with a little help from the public, who’ll be invited to add bits of (supplied) wood to the blaze.

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It’s a scenario that sounds significantly more thoughtful and controlled to hear Roger Mooking describe it. Mooking is the lead creative on the project, and he talks about The Burn as a chance to heal and grow as a collective. In short, it’s bigger than an all-day bonfire. 

Mooking says he began thinking about the work in 2021, prompted by the “overwhelming melancholy” of lockdown. “I recognized that I was not the only one, that we were in this kind of collective consciousness globally, and we all needed to heal,” he tells CBC Arts. And with The Burn, he’s inviting Torontonians to actively begin that healing process. 

The first phase of the project is already underway, and involves a series of interactive sculptures — significantly smaller vessels than the ones that’ll go up at Nathan Phillips Square. They’re being stationed at public sites around the GTA as part of a tour that launched Jan. 19 in three locations: Fort York National Historic Site, the Toronto Zoo and Twist — Mooking’s restaurant at Toronto Pearson International Airport. 

Here he is, testing it out in Terminal 1.

As of writing, people can find The Burn at three new sites through Feb. 1: Spadina Museum, Native Canadian Centre and the Market Gallery at St. Lawrence Market.

“We want to make sure that we’re hitting every corner of the GTA: north, east, south, west, central — all the nooks and crannies,” says Mooking. Twenty-one locations are currently scheduled for the tour, and a full map and schedule can be found through the city’s website. 

Through March 11, visitors will find metallic dodecahedrons at different destinations — sculptures created by local artist Javid JAH. And under each sculpture is a bowl of wooden balls: spheres the size of marbles that have been carved out of cedar. 

Photo of a brassy dodecahedron adorned with perforated ornate designs. It's mounted on a wooden stick. A wood bowl full of small wooden spheres rests below the polyhedron. In the background, two step-and-repeats printed with extensive instructions for how to engage with the artwork, are visible.
Find vessels like this one throughout the GTA. This shot was taken during The Burn’s install at Fort York National Historic Site. (CBC Arts)

Take a ball, and you’ll be asked to stop and think — to sit with your feelings, really. In the language of The Burn, you’ll be “setting an intention.” Is there something weighing on you: an emotion you wish you could change or simply set free? Once you’ve identified that feeling, you’re asked to drop your ball inside the sculpture. It’s a moment for “letting go,” so to speak. 

“People are carrying so many things, especially coming through this COVID time,” says Mooking. “It’s a very simple thing … that can be very, very emotional.”

A multihyphenate known for his success as a chef, TV personality (Man Fire Food), and musician (Bass is Base), Mooking’s presented participatory art projects for the city before. Just last August, to coincide with Emancipation Month programming at Toronto history museums, he launched Read(In), an interactive installation that also appeared in multiple locations throughout the GTA. 

To bring The Burn to life, project curator Umbereen Inayet connected him with collaborators JAH (who designed and produced the installation’s ornate sculptural elements) and artist Catherine Tammaro, a Wyandot Elder who served as an advisor, particularly concerning the project’s spiritual bent. Says Mooking: “There’s a deep history of Indigenous cultures using fire and water for cleansing and preservation and healing, so we needed that guidance to make sure that we were respecting that tradition.”

The wooden balls collected at each tour site will eventually fuel the fire on March 11, and Mooking says those attending the activation at Nathan Phillips Square will also have the opportunity to set an intention. At the big event, visitors will send their cedar spheres down a chute, directly into the flames. And when the fire’s extinguished, all the ash that’s left behind will be collected for use in city gardens. “We’re really trying to emulate the cycle of life: from the spark to the ash,” says Mooking. “We’re looking to carry the spiritual intentions from everybody in the city to fortify our Earth.”

The city says it will be announcing more public projects that respond to COVID’s impact on residents. Like The Burn, they’re part of a program called Stronger Together that launched in late November. More programming is expected to be revealed in February.

In the first few days of The Burn’s cross-city tour, Mooking says he was receiving reports from the participating venues. Folks are interacting with the sculptures already, he says. “It’s been cathartic, I hope. … I can’t wait to see how much healing we’re able to do when we really roll out the full scale of this at Nathan Phillips Square.”

Full event details, including a map of The Burn’s tour locations, can be found on the project’s website.

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Art is everywhere this weekend

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Saturday, Jan. 28

2023 ArtsEverywhere Festival

Multiple locations; 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

From film screenings to drag brunches and book fairs, the free annual festival has something for everyone. Learn more here.

Winterstock

Royal City Studios; 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Join Royal City Studios for a live music tribute to Woodstock 1969; attendees are encouraged to wear their best 60s style clothes. Get tickets here.

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Music Weekends

Western Burgers & Steaks; 2:00 p.m. to 5 p.m.

The genre-bouncing Probable Cause will perform live at The Western, pay-by-donation. Doors open at 2 p.m., show starts at 2:30.

Sunday, Jan. 29

2023 ArtsEverywhere Festival

River Run Centre; 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

The last day of the free festival features a lecture and a film screening, both at the River Run Centre. Learn more here.

Music Weekends

Onyx Nightclub; 2p.m. to 5 p.m.

Join SHEBAD for their live concert at Onyx. It’s family-friendly and pay-by-donation. Doors open at 2 p.m., show starts at 2:45.

OHL Hockey

2 p.m.: Guelph Storm vs. Sudbury Wolves, Sleeman Centre

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