I have many weaknesses, but perhaps the best of them is my weakness for art books. I suppose it started when my first job out of college was as an Editorial Assistant at a prominent art book publisher.
I developed a love for beautifully written, lovingly published, lavishly illustrated art books that has never left me. I used to buy heavily from Edward Hamilton Booksellers (http://www.hamiltonbook.com), one of the most prominent "remainder" outlets. Lately, my favorite art book splurge is the half-yearly sale at the Taschen Bookstore in Beverly Hills.
Last week, I exercised moderate self-control and scored these beauties:
GUSTAV KLIMT: THE COMPLETE PAINTINGS – Edited by Tobias G. Natter / "Directed and Produced by Benedikt Taschen"
Weighing in at sixteen pounds and measuring 15-1/4 by 11-1/4 inches, this might be the most sumptuous art book I own. It is obviously a labor of love. I've seldom seen a publisher take a movie-like "Directed and Produced" credit on a book, but it is well-deserved. From the selection of papers to the liberal use of fold-outs and fold-ups to the well-chosen range of essays from some of the top Klimt specialists in the world, this book is meant to be definitive.
Austrian symbolist painter Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) is one hot artist. Ever since 2006, when "cosmetics magnate" Ronald S. Lauder (son of Estee) paid $135 million for Klimt's portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer – the most ever paid for a painting -- and gave it to the Neue Gallerie, and Helen Mirren starred in "Woman In Gold" about the recovery of five Klimt paintings by a Los Angeles woman, heir to the Jewish family whose art was stolen by the Nazis, Klimt has received more and more attention. With all the attention has come public recognition that Klimt is one of the world's great artists. I have a lot of books about Klimt and the Vienna Secession, but this volume offers unprecedented actual-size details of Klimt's work that let you see his genius close-up.
Klimt's art is known for many things, but sensuousness and eroticism are two of his hallmarks. Klimt's primary subject was the female body, and his portraits are some of the most beautiful ever created. This lavish book shows in glorious detail all the mosaics, gold leaf, and enameled ornaments that Klimt used to decorate the works from his triumphant "gold phase." I can see things in his paintings that I never saw before.
When the TG and I were in Vienna for four, not-long-enough, spectacular days, we saw a lot of Klimt's work including the masterpiece "Beethoven Frieze" in the Secession Building.
This book will greatly add to my knowledge and enjoyment of this great artist. I've already jumped into it ... but I need a big table and plenty of room to read it and open up all the fold-outs.
EGYPTIAN ART: THE COMPLETE PLATES – by Emile Prisse d'Avennes.
I don't have many books on Egyptian art. Their culture always seemed a little death-obsessed for me. All those mummies, tombs, etc. But I couldn't resist this beautiful volume. At 17-1/8 by 12-1/2 inches, it's even larger than the Klimt book.
Emile Prisse d'Avennes (1807-1879) was a great French archaeologist, writer, and artist whose field was ancient Egypt. I know from my recent reading about Napoleon just how obsessed certain Frenchmen became about Egypt. (The Luxor Obelisk in the middle of the Place de la Concorde is not of local origin.) This book collects Prisse d'Avennes' two major works – Egyptian Monuments and History of Egyptian Art – in one volume for the first time.
The 159 beautiful color plates of the author's drawings and lithographs are based on a lifetime of travels to Egypt and depict a wide range of architecture, sculpture, paintings, and industrial arts. Just leafing through it – gorgeous architectural details, friezes, columns, capitals, sphinxes, thrones, temples, jewelry, vases, etc. -- gives me a new appreciation for beauty and breadth of Egyptian art beyond what I previously thought.
There are valuable maps, appendices, and a glossary to help me learn more. Although the book is edited by art historian Salima Ikram, this is another book "directed and produced by Benedikt Taschen."
(Sight unseen, I can bet that Edward Said had some bad things to say about M. Prisse d'Avennes.)
EXPANDING UNIVERSE: PHOTOGRAPHS FROM THE HUBBLE SPACE TELESCOPE
The Hubble Space Telescope has given us some of the most startlingly magnificent images of the universe that man has ever seen. Since the beginning of time, people have looked up into the night sky and wondered what was out there. Launched in 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope has let us see deeper into space – and in greater detail – than ever before.
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the launching, Taschen has brought together some of the most breathtaking photographs of deep space that the Hubble has taken. Not only does the Hubble yield important information for science, it makes Great Art. I guess it shouldn't have been such a surprise -- to see that the Universe is surpassingly beautiful – but the Hubble confirmed it. These photographs of our solar system, the Milky Way, our neighboring galaxies, superclusters, nebulae, and infinite space dust are images comparable to the greatest work of Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Helen Frankenthaler, Cy Twombly, Morris Lewis, and others. Lots of nice fold-outs in this one, and a good Glossary. This is a book to dream on.
Perhaps the most amazing thing is that, in 2018, the James Webb Space Telescope is being launched into orbit about a million miles from Earth – the Hubble is at 350 miles above the Earth – and will be the most powerful space telescope ever built. And then the Hubble will be old science, old news.
FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT – Edited by Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer
This book is a distillation of the massive, three-volume Complete Works of Frank Lloyd Wright that Taschen published in cooperation with the Frank Lloyd Wright Archives of Taliesin, Arizona.
Edited by Wright's apprentice from the 1950s, this book gives an overview of Wright's entire career, from the early Prairie Houses to the Usonian concept home to the Tokyo years to the "living architecture" buildings up to the Guggenheim Museum, which opened six months after Wright's death in 1959.
I have a few books on Wright, especially his stained glass (or "light screens" as he called them), but this one seemed to be a very good price for a comprehensive, well-illustrated volume covering Wright's full career.
Taliesin is a Welsh word meaning "shining brow" and was the name of a 6th century Welsh bard who celebrated the glories of high art. It suited both the site on which Wright built the first house in Spring Green, Wisconsin that bore the name and Wright's own grand artistic pretensions.
As controversial as ever, he's still "the greatest American architect of all time." That's how he was recognized by the American Institute of Architects in 1991. But I think that Frank Gehry might have something to say about that now.
THE BOOK OF SYMBOLS: REFLECTIONS ON ARCHETYPAL IMAGES
At over 800 pages and more than 17,000 photographs and illustrations, this remarkable book is a wide-ranging reference on mythological, ritualistic, and symbolic images from around the world and from every era of human history.
Drawing upon Carl Gustav Jung's work on the archetype and the collective unconscious, this book is the project of the Archive for Research in Archtypal Symbolism. It collects symbols from all cultures, provides their cultural context, probes the universality of archetypal themes, and shows the deep connections that exist.
I'm a sucker for any book with a thumb cut indexing, and this nice, thick book has it. The thumb cuts are for the major sections -- "Creation & Cosmos" ... "Plant World" ... "Animal World" ... "Human World" ... "Spirit World" – and make it easy to jump around in this endlessly interesting volume.
In the Preface, the editor Ami Ronnberg says that it took thirteen years to complete this book. I'm not surprised.
I got this book for my son -- Calder's Father -- who, among many other things, teaches Art History at one of the best private schools in southern California. I thought he could use it.
Not surprisingly, he already owned it.
But fortunately, I wanted to keep it myself. It's a book to get lost in and learn from.
SCULPTURE: FROM ANTIQUITY TO THE PRESENT DAY
Calder's Father is also a sculptor. (Duh.) I had gotten him this book at a previous Taschen sale, and I liked it so much that I bought one myself.
It's a large, generous, one-volume history of sculpture – and all three-dimensional art – from ancient times to the present. The book jacket nicely summarizes the content: on the front is Michelangelo's David and on the back is Jeff Koons' Rabbit.
I like having a book that's devoted solely to sculpture. It makes me see it in a fresh way, not as an adjunct to painting or architecture. Leafing through the book, I find that I'm lucky enough to have seen a lot of these works ... in Greece, in Italy, in France, etc. Rodin and Bernini are among my favorite artists, regardless of genre. So often it's in front of a great sculpture that I remark to myself –"how did a human being actually make that?"
R. CRUMB'S SEX OBSESSIONS
I became a fan of Crumb's in the 1960s and have never stopped being one. I have a decent-sized collection of his work: The R. Crumb Coffee Table Art Book, The Book of Genesis, The Weirdo Years, The Sweeter Side of R. Crumb, and many of the volumes of The Complete R. Crumb Comics.
This book is a selection from a very expensive, "collector's only" 2007 Taschen book that contained some of the highs (or lows, depending on how you look at them) of Crumb's rich sexual fantasy life in Art.
The cover line -- "Absurd Hi-Jinx With Big Beautiful Girls 'n' Creepy Little Guys" – says it all. There are full comic strips: My Troubles With Women, If I Were A King, A Bitchin' Bod, and How To Have Fun With A Strong Girl, as well as 60 single-page drawings.
Crumb's drawing – the effortless cross-hatching, the precision of his pen-and-ink styling – has always played well for me against his libido-driven, unchained, anything-for-a-laugh content. Sometimes I cringe when I read this stuff, but I almost always laugh too. So I keep reading.
I saved 50%-70% on these beauties.
You can't stuff like this on a Kindle!!
A good Klimt site
A good Frank Lloyd Wright site
R. Crumb's site
The Hubble Space Telescope site
The site for The Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism