Are you looking for the best art books as Christmas fast approaches? Well look no further, as you can't go wrong with the recommendations of experts in the field right?
I've asked seven leading figures to recommend their favourite culture books of 2023 to help you choose the best gifts for art lovers to put under the tree. And I mean experts — this list includes high profile names such as the Director of the National Portrait Gallery Nicholas Cullinan, and Farah Nayeri, Culture Writer at the New York Times. They know their stuff!
With Christmas just a days away, I hope it gives you some inspiration for your gift buying. Oh, and there's one book Christmas art book recommendation from me too!
ALL THE BEAUTY IN THE WORLD: THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART AND ME by Patrick Bringley
Recommended by Dr Nicholas Cullinan, Director of the National Portrait Gallery
“In the lead up to the National Portrait Gallery’s reopening in June, I was reading Patrick Bringley’s All the Beauty in the World. The book chronicles the author’s 10 years spent as a museum guard at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. As a former museum guard myself, and someone who worked at the Met, it nails the very particular thing of spending your days in galleries, and how close you grow to the works and the people that come to see them. It felt like a poignant book to be reading at a time when thousands of our best-loved portraits were making their way back onto our walls.”
ARTISTS MAKING BOOKS: POETRY TO POLITICS by Venetia Porter
Recommended by Gareth Harris, Chief Contributing Editor at the Art Newspaper
“This book — published by British Museum Press — opens up a whole new world: the rich seam of artists’ books from the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia. Porter curated the accompanying display at the British Museum (on now until 18 February 2024), stressing that the project “aims to expand the boundaries of the subject” by concentrating on 61 artists. We read to find out something new and there are plenty of discoveries here from the range of techniques and styles used — concertinas and photo books — to intensely personal pieces such as Beirut-born Abed Al Kadiri’s My Father’s Grave (2020), which was written during the pandemic.”
ART IS MAGIC by Jeremy Deller
Recommended by Geraldine Collinge, Chief Executive Officer of Compton Verney
“This is an art book that has brought me joy this year. It’s a celebration of the work he has created and its power to transform. One of things I love about it is that it showcases how his work responds to place, is collaborative and makes you think in different ways — I won’t forget the experience of bouncing on Stonehenge in Glasgow. It’s a fun, playful book, though his work explores challenging questions and shows that these aren’t mutually exclusive. And if I may have another choice, a book that is making the way into the stockings of my nieces and nephews this Christmas is The Women who Changed Art Forever a graphic novel that highlights the work of four brilliant artists and is a great introduction.”
AN ATLAS OF ES DEVLIN by Es Devlin
Recommended by Nick Hornby, artist
“I think unequivocally it has to be Es Devlin’s new publication… it’s not so much a book but an entire universe in a physically beautiful object. It’s a comprehensive look at her mind-bending career. And I’d love to include a novel if I may: IN MEMORIAM by Alice Winn is simply the most moving book I have ever read. An agonising gay love story set in WWI. It’s brilliant to compare the indescribable abstraction of war with that of love…. and more precisely all the unspeakableness of war and same unspeakableness of illegal gay love at the time.”
DAVID SMITH: THE ART AND LIFE OF A TRANSFORMATIONAL SCULPTOR by Michael Brenson
Recommended by Farah Nayeri, Culture Writer at the New York Times
“Artist biographies, even bestselling ones, are usually one of two things: (1) a great read, but full of conjecture and unsubstantiated gossip, (2) highly documented, but somewhat turgid and dull. Michael Brenson’s biography of David Smith, which took the better part of 20 years to produce, is both a seamlessly written narrative and one where every sentence is documented and rooted in fact. It’s the most important book on David Smith published to date, and a major contribution to art history. Brenson, one of America’s foremost art historians, is a former New York Times art critic and a onetime Getty and Guggenheim fellow. He was for two decades on the sculpture faculty at Bard College. If you read one artist biography, make it this one.”
GRAYSON PERRY: SMASH HITS by Grayson Perry
Recommended by Helen Smout, Chief Executive of Culture Perth and Kinross
"My art book of the year is Smash Hits written by Grayson Perry to accompany his largest ever exhibition which was held at the National Galleries of Scotland in Edinburgh earlier this year. It also features contributions from TV presenter Victoria Coren Mitchell. The book is vibrant, joyful and includes some new and never-before-seen work."
FRANS HALS by Bart Cornelis, Friso Lammertse, Justine Rinnooy Kan
Recommended by maxwell museums
“An exceptional exhibition is usually always accompanied by an exceptional catalogue, and this five-star survey of Frans Hals at the National Gallery is no different. Written by three curators from the institutions involved, it offers an illuminating insight into the talents of the Dutch artist and how he revolutionised portraiture. Featuring all the masterpieces of the exhibition, it allows you to dive into 17th Century Europe long after leaving the show.”
PAINTED TRAVELS: PORTRAITS OF REMARKABLE PLACES by SJ Axelby
Recommended by Ana Garcia, Marketing Manager at Leighton House
“I’ve been so excited about this new book by illustrator and colour fanatic SJ Axelby. Her innate passion for interiors paired with a love for travelling and storytelling have resulted in a curated collection of around 60 destinations she has visited or dreamt about, depicted with her vibrant signature watercolours. The book is extra special for me as Leighton House and Sambourne House are beautifully featured!”
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