Artwork: Walter Robinson, Three Beers, 1987. Acrylic on canvas, 36 x 48 inches. © Walter Robinson, courtesy of Tops Gallery, Memphis, and the artist.
As the year comes to a close, the one thing we may all agree on is that 2016 has been one of the most pivotal years in recent memory. There is a palpable sense of polarization that underlies so many things in our lives, and as we approach a new year, we find ourselves in a brave new world filled with fake news and propaganda from all sides.
To that end, we may turn (even return) to books for solace, wisdom, and insight from those who have been here before and had the presence of mind to record their insights. Crave has selected five of the best art books of 2016, with an eye towards hope, justice, and understanding who we are and where we’ve been so that we know where we’re going—for the sake of our own, as well as future generations.
Postcard America: Curt Teich and the Imaging of a Nation, 1931–1950
Let us begin with a look back in the past, to the “good old days” and the way in which they were manufactured as a response to desperate times. Postcard America: Curt Teich and the Imaging of a Nation, 1931–1950 by Jeffrey L. Meikle (University of Texas Press) takes us back to the Great Depression, when the country had reached it’s lowest point; it was here that one company invoked the glories of the Landscapes and Cityscapes from coast to coast in beautifully colorized photographic postcards that folks could send each with a personalized note. The simplicity of the paradigm holds the key to it all: optimism is forged in the space between veneration for the earth and communication between its inhabitants. Check out the full review for more artwork and insights.
Make Art Not War: Political Protest from the American Century
At the same time, the America of yesterday was far from the way it portrayed itself; in a system rife with inequity and inequality, it was a far cry from the utopian ideals the Declaration of Independence espoused. However, the brilliance of the First Amendment has always shone forth: freedom of speech and freedom of protest exist to challenge the government’s abuse of its people. Make Art Not War: Political Protest from the American Century by Ralph Young (NYU Press) is a visual tribute to the long-standing tradition of dissent that enables this country’s citizens to speak truth to power and fight for their rights. Featuring 87 political posters from Tamiment Library’s Poster and Broadside Collection at NYU, the book is a visual history of how protest movements shaped the course of the twentieth century. Check out the full review for more artwork and insights.
Syria Off Frame: Contemporary Artists from Syria
The beauty of books is the way they can give us entrée into an entirely new world, providing perspectives we might not otherwise discover. While it is easy to be consumed by our own problems and challenges, it is difficult to appreciate just how much worse life can get. The Syrian Civil War has created the greatest refugee crisis of our time, as more than 3.8 million people have been forced to leave their country in order to survive. Many Arab countries have closed their borders to the refugees, forcing them into Europe and North America, where there is already great enmity for Islam and its adherents.
In an effort to build understanding and foster a connection between the West and the Middle East, the Luciano Benetton Collection has created Imago Mundi, which in turn created Syria Off Frame: Contemporary Artists from Syria (Fabrica). Featuring 140 artworks by Syrian artists living in over 100 countries, the book provides a kaleidoscopic view of life for artists from all walks of life, with the one constant: art is one of the most humanistic ways to communicate when hatred and violence abound. Check out the full review for more artwork and insights.
Ever since I saw “George Stiney Jr.” at the Armory Show earlier this year, I’ve been enthralled by the work of Brazilian artist Vik Muniz. Although the recreation of existing images is can be quite trite, Muniz avoids the cliché of appropriation by transforming the media in order to add a new level to the experience itself. Whether recreating the Mona Lisa in peanut butter and jelly, Karl Marx in caviar, or Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in diamonds, Muniz both challenges and confirms the meaning and purpose of icons in ways that are soulful, humorous, and touching. Vik Muniz by Arthur Ollman (DelMonico Books • Prestel) is a sumptuous tribute to the artist’s oeuvre, featuring more than150 works created throughout his career, revealing the long thread of art historical references that will intrigue the amateur and the aficionado alike. Check out the full review for more artwork and insights.
Is there anything quite as American as the culture of consumption? Here, there are no sacred cows, only hamburger meat. We’ve managed to commodify everything in our path, including its very critique. Because, at the end of the day, art is a market and books are products. Yes, they can be imbued with spiritual and intellectual powers, but that does not preclude the desire for their sale. So we find ourselves like the snake eating its tail, spinning round and round.
Walter Robinson (University Galleries at Illinois State University) brilliantly traipses through the twenty and twenty-first centuries with over 200 color reproductions spanning a 35-year career that question and celebrate the consumerist heart bating beneath the breast like a beast salivating to shop, to buy, to own in order to exist. It’s fun and funny how well it works. The longer I look, the more I want—which makes it one of the best art books of the year, as it activates the obsessive compulsion to turn its pages again and again. Check out the interview with curator Barry Blinderman for more artwork and insights.
Artwork for Top Image: Walter Robinson, Three Beers, 1987. Acrylic on canvas, 36 x 48 inches. © Walter Robinson, courtesy of Tops Gallery, Memphis, and the artist.
Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.