A globe-trotting collection of lush and lovely art books brings world culture to your lap and library.
“Art That Changed the World”
(DK, 400 pages, $40)
If you could have only one art book, this smartly written, extravagantly illustrated, crisply designed volume would be a splendid choice. The title is a bit misleading, since its “world” is only Europe and the Mediterranean basin. But Europe’s rich heritage unfolds crisply with insightful overviews, biographies and neatly defined terms organized by time lines. Sweeping from the cave paintings of Lascaux through ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, the book swirls through the Dark Ages, Renaissance and the Neoclassical eras into the 19th century and wraps up with the Modern Age. All the usual geniuses are covered, but the book gets stars for touting such great undersung talents as Fernand Khnopff, a melancholy Belgian symbolist, and important but neglected works like J.S. Sargent’s harrowing memorial to soldiers gassed in World War I.
“Art/ Fashion in the 21st Century”
By Mitchell Oakley Smith & Alison Kubler (Thames & Hudson, 320 pages, 238 color illus., $60)
Let artists into fashion’s pricey playpen and you’re likely to get campy surrealism, like Alexander McQueen’s sullen white-faced models swaggering past a runway mountain of garbage, or Italian models in red longjohns garnished with crocheted skulls and gas masks. The mashup of art and fashion has produced such inspired pairs as Cindy Sherman and Christian Dior, Jeff Koons and Valentino, and Louis Vuitton tricked out in Yayoi Kusama’s polka dots. A must for the fashionista on your list.
Edited by Tom Henry and Paul Joannides (Thames & Hudson, 384 pages, 238 color illus., $65)
Another youthful genius, Raphael Sanzio (1483-1520) was a big operator in the Rome of Michelangelo, turning out portraits, murals, tapestry designs and religious commissions, all while supervising construction of St. Peter’s Basilica and overseeing some 50 assistants. Also accompanying a major Prado show, this book focuses on the last seven years of Raphael’s too-brief career, from 1513 until his death in 1520 at age 37. Biographies of his sitters and key assistants enrich the book along with beautiful photos, details and infrared images that show the condition and under painting of key images.
“New Museums in China”
By Clare Jacobson (Princeton Architectural Press, 256 pages, 400 color illus., $50)
In the past decade, China has opened more than 2,500 new museums to house everything from archaeological relics to contemporary art and pickles. Yes, pickles. In 2001 alone, 395 museums opened there. Many were built by international “starchitects,” including Zaha Hadid, Steven Holl, I.M. Pei, David Chipperfield, Rem Koolhaas and Arata Isozaki. Written by a Shanghai-based expert, this handsome volume discusses 51 buildings whose striking engineering and design innovations will soon percolate through the field.
“Art & Place: Site-Specific Art of the Americas”
Edited by Amanda Renshaw (Phaidon Press, 376 pages, 800 color illus., $79.95)
Arranged geographically, the 500 site-specific artworks range from 2,500-year-old rock paintings in the Utah desert to 20th-century San Francisco murals, from a dazzling gold-encrusted baroque church in Puebla, Mexico, to the modern sculpture and buildings of Brasilia. The combos of ancient and contemporary, earthworks and buildings, sculpture, stained glass, mosaics, tapestries, murals and more — plus maps and plans — make this an enticing armchair tour.
“The Art Glass of Louis Comfort Tiffany”
By Paul E. Doros (Vendome Press, 228 pages, 196 color and b. & w. illus., $75)
Stunning photos of Tiffany’s gorgeous vases and other objects make this luxurious book a perfect gift, especially coupled with the delightful text about the artist’s life, businesses, employees and family, including twin daughters nicknamed “Strawberry and Vanilla,” speeding tickets, sailboats and Manhattan’s largest mansion, which cost $1 million in 1885, when that was really a lot of money.