MutualArt's Top 10 Art Books of 2014

Whether it's a catalogue that allows us to enjoy an exhibition long after its doors have closed, or an in-depth investigation into the oeuvre of our favorite artists, these new books will surely be treasured for years to come.
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As we say goodbye to 2014, we thought it might be nice to look back at what the year offered us in terms of art printed on paper and bound between two covers. Whether it’s a catalogue that allows us to enjoy an exhibition long after its doors have closed, or an in-depth investigation into the oeuvre of our favorite artists, these new books will surely be treasured for years to come. We’ve paid particular attention to art books that actively question what it means to make a book, and highlight examples where the book’s form echoes the artworks depicted or curatorial methods represented within its pages. Spanning the spectrum from wide-ranging surveys to in-depth investigations into a single work of art, from massive retrospectives on established careers to emerging artists’ self-published titles, here are a few of the art books from the last year that truly inspired.
1. The Thing The Book, Jonn Herschend and Will Rogan eds.
Publisher: Chronicle Books (September 23, 2014)
Cover of The Thing The Book.
From the people who brought you THE THING Quarterly, an “object-based publication” whose subscribers receive artist-designed objects rather than a print magazine, Jonn Herschend and Will Rogan have edited this delightful tome: The Thing The Book. Described as a “monument to the book as object,” Herschend and Rogan went about putting together the book as one would an exhibition. Participating artists (Lawrence Weiner, Miranda July, David Shrigley, Ed Ruscha and so many others) contributed essays, drawings, appropriated texts, non-sequiturs, errata and marginalia, all inspired by the form, function and conventions of the book as a thing. The result is a playful, irreverent compendium—including a table of contents as well as an index that have nothing to do with the pages in between, rambling footnotes throughout, a kineograph in the top right corner, bookmark ribbons and an obscene errata slip—that bears little continuity between its constituent parts. In much the same way as those pedagogical maps meant to illustrate every type of obscure geographical feature (with the requisite peninsula, isthmus and archipelago), The Thing The Book succeeds in prodding the imagination and inviting the reader to consider what a book is and could be.
2. Lakes and Reservoirs, Matthew Brandt
Publisher: Damiani in collaboration with Yossi Milo Gallery (July 2014)
Cover of Lakes and Reservoirs, Matthew Brandt
Matthew Brandt’s series Lakes and Reservoirs involves those selfsame lakes and reservoirs as more than subject matter. Each C-print in the series was submerged in water collected from the source of its subject, so in a sense, the water, inasmuch as an inanimate object, or, in this case, a body of water, can be an active collaborator in the artistic process, makes its own mark on the photograph. These unique photographs are more surprising looking than one would think, with washes of residues and oils and swirling and shifting the colors of the picture. There’s a sense of poignancy here too, as these vibrant colorations doubtless result from the level of pollution present in the water.
3. The Box, Paul McCarthy
Publisher: Catje Hantz (April 30, 2014)
Cover of The Box, Paul McCarthy
There are a few things we know Paul McCarthy is quite fond of: bodily fluids, perverted Disney characters, ketchup, butt plugs... He’s also fond of inverting images, something he has done since the early 1970s, particularly of architecture. In 1999, he rotated a replica of his entire studio on a 90 degree axis, along with the 3,000 objects inside. Titled The Box, it was exhibited at the Neue Nationalgalerie in 2012, which occasioned this exhibition catalogue. Echoing the artwork’s intent and form, the catalogue’s pages, with text in both German and English, are printed in a radical fashion, with half of the pages appearing upside-down—an exercise in frustration for you, the reader, which you’ll certainly, if a bit grudgingly, accept as totally brilliant.
4. Lee Lozano: Dropout Piece, Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer
Publisher: Afterall Books, One Work series (2014)
$35 hardcover, $16 paperback, $12 e-book
Cover of Lee Lozano: Dropout Piece, by Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer
Part of the One Work series by Afterall Books, in which one author takes an extended look at one work of art, Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer took it upon herself to study a work of art that has/had no definitive date, object or exhibition, and may or may not have taken place at all: Lee Lozano’s Dropout Piece. Drawing upon Lozano’s personal notebooks, in which she recorded ideas for her (often unrealized) “Life-Art” conceptual pieces, Lehrer-Graiwer investigates the origins and outcomes of Dropout Piece, first mentioned in her notebooks in 1970, which entailed the artist’s gradual but complete withdrawal from art and the art world. A fascinating read, particularly for those who have ever fantasized about leaving it all behind.
5. Pikin Slee, Viviane Sassen
Publisher: Prestel (May 19, 2014)
Cover of Pikin Slee, Viviane Sassen
All light and shadow, angles and textures, Viviane Sassen’s Pikin Slee is an absolutely gorgeous collection of photographs. A fashion photographer by trade and reputation, the Dutch artist here strays into the territory of close-cropped landscapes—palm fronds figure prominently—and still-lifes of quotidian objects—buckets, gourds, string, plastic wrap—along with figurative photographs of the inhabitants of a village in Suriname named Pikin Slee that she took as her subject. The project could be accused of some form of exoticism, but the images feature such banal objects and views that the only thing they reveal is the astonishing acuity of Sassen’s eye for composition.
Sample spread, Pikin Slee, Viviane Sassen
Publisher: Koenig Books (October 31, 2014)
Cover of Bernadette Corporation: 2000 Wasted Years
This survey of the artist collective Bernadette Corporation extends from the eponymous retrospective held at Artists Space in New York in 2012. Forming in New York in the 1990s, Bernadette Corporation’s work centers around the notion of image; the exhibition, with its awkward mannequins and timelines, suffered slightly for its physicality. This sleek but hefty volume more than makes up for that, offering the complete history of the collective, with photographs and essays, as well as an insert of an excerpt of the novel Reena Spaulings.
7. Made in L.A. 2014, Connie Butler, Michael Ned Holte
Publisher: Prestel with the Hammer Museum (June 3, 2014)
Cover of Made in L.A. 2014, by Connie Butler, Michael Ned Holte
The 2014 Hammer Museum’s biennial of Los Angeles artists, Made in L.A., was often described as containing “shows within a show,” featuring not only artists in its roster of participants, but also artist-run exhibition spaces like Public Fiction and LAMOA (Los Angeles Museum of Art), and other alternative venues like KCHUNG Radio. Design-wise, the exhibition catalogue reflects this impulse; it comes in two volumes, a catalogue and a reader, contained in an attractive slipcase, along with pop-out inserts featuring more in depth material about particular artists. Its contents go beyond the purview of the usual exhibition catalogue, including not only histories of the artists and photographs, but also writing by and from the artists, and even a smattering of poetry.
8. Tectonic, Johan Rosenmunthe
Publisher: SPBH Editions (October 2014)
40 GBP
Cover of Tectonic, Johan Rosenmunthe
An interest in stones and what they have symbolized over the millennia drives Danish artist Johan Rosenmunthe’s latest work. He has staged performances of crystal healings, an installation of rocks gathered from the church of Scientology and now this book Tectonic. Rosenmunthe’s photographs are a mix of alchemy and modern technology, critical distance and a healthy portion of mystery, here accompanied by an excerpt of the famous 1850 text “A Suggestive Inquiry into the Hermetic Mystery” by Mary Anne Atwood. With a cover of shimmering Corvon Illusio material, this book is a lustrous jewel.
Sample spread, Tectonic, Johan Rosenmunthe
Publisher: Phaidon Press (May 5, 2014)
Sample spread, Bruce Nauman: The True Artist, by Peter Plagens
At 288 pages, somehow bound with fluorescent orange thread, and a wrap-around hardcover, this book is a hefty tome—reflective of the long and varied career of Bruce Nauman, “the true artist” as author Peter Plagens posits. Plagens, an artist, critic and former neighbor of Nauman, has enjoyed a long standing friendship with the artist over many years, resulting in a text chock full of amusing anecdotal information.
Sample spread, Bruce Nauman: The True Artist, by Peter Plagens
10. Damage Control: Art and Destruction Since 1950, Kerry Brougher, Russell Ferguson, Dario Gamboni
Publisher: DelMonico-Prestel, with the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (November 2013)
Cover of Damage Control: Art and Destruction Since 1950, by Kerry Brougher, Russell Ferguson, Dario Gamboni
Although this exhibition catalogue was technically published in late 2013, I’m including it in this list because the exhibition has been on the road throughout 2014, from the Hirshhorn in Washington D.C., to the Musée d’Art Moderne Gran-Duc Jean in Mudam, Luxembourg and finally to Kunsthaus Graz in Austria where it will be on view until March 15, 2015. Damage Control is essentially bookended by the detonation of the atomic bomb and the disaster of September 11th: two vividly visual acts of unthinkable destruction. The book chronicles art’s response to the existential dilemmas of the atomic age and the post 9/11 era, along with general reflections on the creative destructive force. Lucio Fontana slashing canvas; Ai Weiwei smashing a Han dynasty vase; Laurel Nakadate in a girl scout uniform as the twin towers burn behind her; Chris Burden firing a gun at a commercial jet overhead; SUPERFLEX flooding a replica of a McDonald’s; Christian Marclay dragging a guitar behind a moving vehicle; Gordon Matta-Clark slicing a house in half; Pipilotti Rist smashing out car windows with a gleeful grin; Michael Landy systematically destroying all of his possessions—Damage Control is crowded with so many surprising, exuberant and supercharged works of creative destruction, the book is incredibly hard to put down. And once you do, you might feel compelled to smash something, for art, or just for the fun of it.
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