Top 10 Art Books of 2012, Part 2

When the art and publishing worlds work in harmony, imagery merges with typography and innovative formats give us unexpected views of famous works. Through images and prose, our final five picks for 2012’s best art books gave us new eyes: 

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The Art Book, Phaidon- First published by Phaidon in 1994, The Art Book is as intriguingly tangled as ever in its 2012 edition. It’s an art history book made for creatives, its artists presented in alphabetical rather than chronological order. Seventy new artists join the pantheon, encouraging the crackling connections that only The Art Book could provoke. Where else would you find Duccio next to Duchamp or Manet in dialogue with Mangold?

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Always Looking: Essays on Art, John Updike- John Updike wasn’t an art critic, but the third, posthumous volume in his Looking series guides us through the crowds at notable exhibitions and along the arc of art history with signature elegance. The collection starts with Updike’s 2008 lecture on American art “The Clarity of Things” and includes 14 essays Updike wrote for The New York Review of Books and other publications.

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Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art from Egypt to Star Wars, Camille Paglia- Paglia kicks off Glittering Images by declaring her intent to help the masses, hypnotized by technology and riddled daily with thousands of disconnected images, understand and appreciate art’s compelling historical sweep. You can’t trust the inflammatory culture warrior for a minute, but that’s what makes the proceedings so fun. Paglia picks 29 of her favorite artworks, from Egyptian funerary imagery to George Lucas’ “Revenge of the Sith”, and presents them as pinnacles of humanity’s artistic legacy. Her selections are mostly confined to the West and heavily weighted to the 20th century, but her arguments are entertaining whether you agree with them or not.

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The Art of Not Making: The New Artist/Artisan Relationship, Michael Petry- Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, Murakami Takashi, Ai WeiWei. They’re some of the biggest names in contemporary art, but could you call them artists? Petry examines the Renaissance-old dependence between art and craft—and the questions of authorship that it raises—with images from 115 contemporary artists who don’t always have a hand in creating their work. The book’s five chapters are intriguingly organized by material, a nod to the industries that brought these objects into existence.

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100 Ideas that Changed Art, Michael Bird- Art historian and broadcaster Bird is quick to caution that his numbered list of artistic turning points, from “narrative” (#7) to “street art” (#94), is anything but concrete in its essential properties. “No sooner has an idea changed art that art reformulates that idea, allowing it to recognize itself,” he writes. This collection of 500-word essays is particularly fascinating for the playful lines it draws between modern and contemporary art and works of old. Bird doesn’t shy away from party tricks like comparing Byzantine icons with Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe images, and the results are charming for dilettantes and art experts alike.

Browse our first five selections here, and check out our Twitter and Facebook feeds for more insight.

Top 10 Art Books of 2012, Part 1

Our favorite art books of 2012 span centuries and movements, and include names both new and familiar. Follow the adventures of Paul Cezanne, meet Vivian Maier and her many subjects, and discover the (real) secrets of Leonardo Da Vinci in our first five selections: 

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Cezanne: A Life, Alex Danchev- Critics called Paul Cezanne’s paintings unfinished, but the artist himself insisted they were “unresolved.” A biographer who wishes to capture the spirit of the revolutionary post-impressionist must play to the distinction. Danchev doesn’t try to solve the riddle of the man who diagnosed himself mad, who hid his wife and child from his family until he was 40, and who spent his final years in wild seclusion. With the aid of more than 100 images—including a series of self portraits—and excerpts from Cezanne’s favorite readings, the raconteur gives us a beautiful, perplexing glimpse through one of the most influential sets of eyes of the 19th century and beyond.

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Mark Rothko: The Decisive Decade: 1940-1950; Todd Herman, Christopher Rothko and David Anfam- Though Mark Rothko’s journey from the figurative to the abstract happened rather rapidly, The Decisive Decade presents it as a careful, scientific evolution. An early canvas showing a trio of figures begets a painting of three figures merged into one, which bears a fascinating resemblance to the horizontal planes of color for which Rothko gained renown. The full sweep is a tribute to the artist’s deliberate genius.

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Vivian Maier: Out of the Shadows, Richard Cahan and Michael Williams- Amateur street photographer Vivian Maier’s now famous body of work was discovered before her death in 2009, when the contents of a storage locker she couldn’t pay for were auctioned off. It wasn’t until her obituary appeared in the Chicago Tribune that real estate agent John Maloof, who had purchased thousands of her negatives, discovered her identity. Cahan and Williams shine some light on the mysterious artist through interviews with Maier’s confidantes, but it’s the work itself, mostly captured on the streets of New York and Chicago in the 1950s and 1960s, that bring her into full focus.

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Leonardo and the Last Supper, Ross King- Perhaps the most shocking secret of The Da Vinci Code is that, had Dan Brown done more digging, he wouldn’t have needed to rely so much on fiction. King introduces us to an aging, depressed Leonardo and the seemingly impossible project he took on at the Convent of Santa Maria della Grazie. There are many secrets to uncover, from the true identities of the Apostle models to the significance of the food Leonardo chose for the table. No symbologist needed.

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Lucian Freud Portraits, Sarah Howgate with Michael Auping and John Richardson- As ever, the severe portraits of Lucian Freud cast a captivating spell in this new collection. New to the game is a series of rare, revelatory interviews on everything from the artist’s process to his famous grandfather, conducted in the last years of his life.

Click here to browse our next five selections, and check out our Twitter and Facebook pages for more art musings.