Two very different art books this time. Next up will be a review of Kim Stanley Robinson’s massive new cli fi novel The Ministry of the Future – I’m halfway through and enjoying it a lot. It’s totally unapologetic KSR, interesting both for its form as well as its content, and a swansong of sorts.
ALBRECHT DÜRER – Edited by Christof Metzger (2019)
This catalog was published to accompany a huge Dürer exhibition in the Albertina in Vienna from September 2019 to January 2020.
As far as I can tell, this book doubles as the new go-to publication on Dürer as a draftsman and print maker – with the following caveat: Dürer has a legacy of nearly 1000 drawings, about 90 paintings and hundreds of woodcuts, and 3 theoretical books, so do not expect a full overview in these 488 pages. This is no catalogue raisonné.
As is the nature of the Albertina museum, the book focuses on Albrecht Dürer’s drawings, but includes some paintings and woodcuts too. The exhibition held 205 works, and there are 32 illustrations of other works not included in the exhibition. Most if not all famous Dürer drawings are included – the exhibition had loans from 23 other museums around the world.
The fact that the publication focuses on the drawings is a good thing, as Dürer was a much better in drawing than painting, and when he died in 1528, it would take about a century for Rembrandt to pick up the batton. The level of detail and expression is amazing. The fact that his famous chiaroscuro drawings on darker paper are still so poweful is telling, as the white pigment used to highlight hasn’t survived centuries of rubbing well.
Christof Metzger and Julia Zaunbauer wrote the bulk of the texts: a 24-page biography and two essays of about 20 pages. There’s additional writing by Andrew John Martin & Erwin Pokorny. I must say the scholarly foundation of the book is in-depth – at times even too detailed for my expertise & interest, especially the section on the provenance, but that’s a very minor issue: most of it was very readable and interesting. There’s also a few appendices and an extensive bibliography. The catalog is ordered chronologically for the most part, and each section has accompanying in-depth text.
As for the reproductions – the core business of any art book – they are simply splendid. The bulk of the artworks in the exhibition get a full page reproduction, a few get additional pictures of details. Top notch printing on quality paper, Dürer’s genius splashes of the pages easily. Prestel Publishing has done an outstanding job.
JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT AND THE ART OF STORYTELLING – Edited by Hans Werner Holzwarth (2020)
Simply splendid. 512 pages, and not one bad work of art to be found. Obviously, that’s on the conto of Basquiat, and not Taschen. Nevertheless, this publication is truly spectacular, and for 20 euros one of the best art books you will ever buy value/money-wise. El Pais called this the “most complete monograph on Basquiat that exists.”
Jean-Michel Basquiat only painted for 8 years, and left us with over 600 major canvases – he truly is the 20th century Van Gogh.
There’s a solid introduction to Basquiat by the editor, a good essay by Eleanor Nairne, and a few pages that introduce each of the book’s eight chronological sections. They really shine a light on both the artist as well as his work.
The text doesn’t dominate the visual experience. This is an eye book first and foremost – fantastic reproductions, great printing quality. Some documentary pictures of Basquiat’s life and exhibitions too. One minor blemish: the book doesn’t indicate the whereabouts of the paintings. On all other accounts: exceptional.
If you have money to spare – consider buying the much larger XXL edition of this, for 150 euros. It was first published in 2018. I have both the XXL editions of Rembrandt, and I can attest to the production values of that series. Basquiat’s paintings, often with intricate detail, are undoubtly done more justice in even bigger reproductions.
Here is a list of my favorite art books, and here’s an index my other art book reviews.
I’d love to lay my hands – and eyes, especially – on that Dürer. I have lots of admiration for the old masters, and Dürer’s drawings and woodcuts are just amazing. Thanks for the rec, Bart!
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How far does it suddenly seem: the world in which one could simply take a train to Vienna to see an exhibition, without second thoughts. (All the more reason to take every opportunity to do so when and if that world comes back.)
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Yesterday I realized it too: we live in a different world, living different lives, but it already seems normal too.
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