Arts & Culture

Jewcy Top 10 Art Books of 2010

Our resident art nerd discusses the best art books of the past year. Read More

By / December 29, 2010

These addictively beautiful books of 2010 combine biting contemporary issues with visual stimuli in such ways that totally deserve the overpriced binding containing them.

1. Drawings from the Gulag by Danzig Baldaev (FUEL Publishing)

From FUEL Publishing, the visual culture fanatics who brought you the Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopedia, Volumes I-III (which scored a Design & Art Direction Award for Book Design in 2005 and inspired David Cronenberg’s direction of Eastern Promises), comes another taboo-exposing book of raw Soviet wasteland with familiar illustrations by Danzig Baldaev. Informed, as the volumes on criminal tattoos were, by his 50 years of KGB-backed chronicling of gulag life across the USSR, Baldaev’s illustrated ethnography perfectly fits the trends of glasnost in the wake of Wikileaks in 2010.

2. 75 Years of DC Comics: The Art of Modern Mythmaking by Paul Levitz (Taschen)

Taschen’s reputation makes it the Criterion Collection of art book publishing, every release a guaranteed aesthetically and conceptually-fresh experience. Teaming up with DC Comics this round, they call it “the single most comprehensive book” on the company’s contributions to the graphic novel genre through the years. Picture over 2,000 images and four-foot foldouts intermingled with essays by the amazing Paul Levitz, the Brooklyn-native who created the first comic fanzine at McCourt-era Stuyvesant High School and went on to do about 40 years at DC Comics as editor, writer, and eventually as president and publisher. This stunning folio is so huge, let’s hope your coffee table isn’t from Ikea.

3. Trespass: A History of Uncommissioned Urban Art by Carlo McCormick (Taschen)

I may be biased, but 2010 is the year of public art. Tremendous media attention has been payed to the urban art scene, including Banksy’s riveting flic Exit Through the Gift Shop that he guerrilla snatched from the original documentarian. Now, another Taschen release has taken it to the streets too. With a scope that reaches across continents and generations, Trespass presents the works of 150 artists with such goodies as previously unpublished works of Keith Haring and Martha Cooper, and even a preface by Banksy. Stickers: Stuck-Up Piece of Crap: From Punk Rock to Contemporary Art is another hot pick not to be missed that pays due respects to the people’s artforms.

4. Helvetica and the New York City Subway System: The True (Maybe) Story by Paul Shaw (MIT Press)

What could be said of this long awaited release of the Type Director’s Club? The profusely illustrated book containing the 2008 AIGA essay of the same name on the design of NYC’s subways has been worth the wait. After 500 limited release copies were made available and disappeared from the market in a blink early in the year, MIT Press will graciously be reprinting Blue Pencil Editions’ original with slight improvements in March 2011.

5. The Autobiography and Sex Life of Andy Warhol by John Wilcock (Trela Media)

This brilliant remake of a pop primary document is brought to you by John Wilcock, probably the Most Interesting Man in the World in the realm of writers. The Village Voice cofounder had also edited Warhol’s seminal mag Interview in the 70s. The fruit of the book is in the genius of its redesign. After 40 years out-of-print, the newly edited edition is “beautifully redesigned in a bright, Warholian palette” that surrounds a trail of Harry Shunk’s internationally Pop-art-informed camera as well as transcribed interviews with those closest to Warhol that ultimately make up an oral history of the artist’s Factory period. By looking at him through the scope of his peers, this book is the equivalent of Pittsburgh’s Warhol Museum in illuminating qualities of Warhol’s warped mirror on which our American culture was briefly reflected.

Said John Wilcock in explaining the book, “A lot of people really misunderstood him then and indeed still do, although there’s hardly a day when Andy’s name is not mentioned in the paper.” Especially interesting is the timing of Warhol’s booming popularity as it comes half a century after pop rushed the 60s, a period similar to our own with fluxes in economic, political, and civil rights climates.

6. Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter by James Gurney (Andrews McMeel Publishing)

“A researched study on two of art’s most fundamental themes, Color and Light bridges the gap between abstract theory and practical knowledge.” It is college. From James Gurney, whose Imaginative Realism fed the hungry brains of fantasy artists internationally, this new book is recession-friendly real world wisdom and poised to become a classic guidebook for the century. If you’ve felt like a failed artist all year, starting twenty eleven well-trained will get you on the right track.

7. Comic Art Propaganda: A Graphic History
by Fredrik Stromberg and Peter Kuper (St. Martin’s Griffin)

Earlier analyzing graphic art as a useful venue for academic discourse, now Jewcy hits up Fredrik Stromberg and Peter Kuper who take readers through the surreal art world of propaganda and the strange interrelationships between artist, government, groups, and individuals. A brilliant medium that can communicate much, the powerful tool is dissected in its many forms, pulling from such sources as war messages and Tintin comics. It is so brightly eye catching, you can’t help but want to be herded by the ideologies as you turn through the pages.

8. Maira Kalman: Various Illuminations (of a Crazy World) by Ingrid Schaffner (Prestel USA)

Absolutely no shame in citing Maira Kalman for the second time in 2010’s Top 10s, this round for an exhibition catalog with previously unseen works of the brilliant illustrator whose influence remains strong, emitting a New York vibe that often eclipses her Tel Aviv roots. The art in this collection provides a fascinating account of Kalman’s life as illustrator as well as the philosophies behind her art as a form of journalism.

9. Masters of Cinema: Woody Allen by Florence Colombani (Phaidon)

Filmmaker, American University of Paris film professor, and regular contributor to the art section of Paris’s Le Point, Florence Colombani wrote the sliver of Phaedon’s Masters of Cinema series on the Jew York great, Woody Allen. Along with the rest of the collection concisely summing up the greatness of Lynch, daddy Coppola, Hitchcock, Scorcese, Kubrik, Burton, Spielberg, Almodóvar, and Eastwood, this read is a most ergonomic introduction to the director, chronologically contextualizing his works in the eras of his lifetime in sections titled From Brooklyn to the Upper East Side, A Time to Laugh, King of Manhattan, and Deconstructing Woody. Colombani is a seasoned analyst of the film world with another book released this year in French on the equally scandal-riddled director Polanski (Philippe Rey). One volume spewing over 100 images, the entire delectable Masters in Cinema series is worthy of your undivided cinematic attention, especially for the price.

10. Simple Times: Crafts for Poor People by Amy Sedaris (Grand Central Publishing)

Who knew that a Second City vet would be staking property that fucks up Martha Stewart’s monopoly on the craft world? Amy Sedaris’s whimsically and raunchily illustrated edition features great craft ideas for the readers who didn’t get on the insider bandwagon and couldn’t afford the good shellac. Aptly redefining craft as “a whole host of activities associated with skillful attempts at making things with your hands, and resulting in stocking stuffers, grab bag items, and painted rocks,” the book is the film noir of googly eyes, revealing the teeming underbelly of struggling Americana under the pretenses of idyllic suburban cupcakers.  Moral of the year: Whatever you’re working with in 2010, it may be shtick drek but you might as well throw glitter at it if you’ve got some.