Best Christmas gift books 2008

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Time Out's critics pick the best books to be giving as Christmas presents: art books, film books, classical music books and top reads in comedy, dance, music and theatre


  • Art | Classical | Kids | Teens | Comedy | Dance | Film | Music | Theatre Stocking fillers

    Art


    Chagall: Love and Exile
    Jackie Wullschlager
    5/6
    Allen Lane £30
    Movsha Shagal, better known to posterity as Marc Chagall, had the self-preservation instincts of the true egotist: born a Jew in a Russian ghetto town, he deftly steered his way round Tsarist anti-Semitism, revolution, Stalinist purges and Nazi final solution to die at 98 in the US, fêted, respected and wealthy. America became his lodging-place but never his home: that was always Vitebsk, a town in the Pale of Settlement so Jewish that even the post office closed on high holidays. His emotional loyalty to the landscape of his childhood, sustained first by an adoring mother and then by three put-upon wives, translated on the palette into joyous magic: the aerial love stories, the throbbing colours, the centuries-old traditions of Judaism made radical and new. His life was full of travel, tragedy and change. In calm but riveting prose, Wullschlager tracks his movements – whether romantic, artistic or geographical – without circumventing the uncomfortable fact that his dependency on women may have helped sustain his talent, but did nothing for his humanity – or, until Vava, the last and wiliest, for his wives. Nina Caplan

    Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before
    Michael Fried
    3/6
    Yale Unversity Press £30

    Fried’s best known work, the anti-minimalist polemic ‘Art and Objecthood’, was published in 1967, but age has not withered him, as the muscular title of this tome indicates. Fried takes a group of photographers – Jeff Wall, Thomas Demand, Douglas Gordon, Luc Delahaye and others – and uses them to illustrate a theory of art and objecthood (quoting liberally from his own work) that substitutes the photograph for the painting as the modern battleground of representation. Is a photograph more than just a picture of an object? The answer, surely, is yes, but it is hard not to contrast Fried’s pontificating with Susan Sontag’s lucid elaboration of the same subject. His context is narrowly academic: any conclusion that feels the need to discuss another source’s discussion of his, Fried’s, book within that book is not going to resolve anything with rapidity. It’s not that Fried’s arguments aren’t interesting, or his engagement with photography passionate, and most of us with a strong interest in the medium would have to admit to a curiosity about notions of theatricality and anti-theatricality (very roughly, how much is art, how much pure representation, where do the two meet and how does the beholder come into all this?). But we lay readers would not couch our interest in these terms, nor will Fried’s digressive style persuade us to do so.

    For anyone looking to give someone an introduction to photographic theory, Sontag – both the seminal ‘On Photography’ and her final book, ‘Regarding the Pain of Others’ – is the place to go. Her concern is why photography matters; Fried’s is why it matters in the cloistered world in which he is such a considerable figure. Whether the beholder is part of the photograph as artwork is a fascinating, never-ending debate, to which Fried contributes here. But one thing is certain: he considers himself central to any artwork he contemplates. It is not a position that helps his argument. Nina Caplan

    Nature Over Again: The Garden Art of Ian Hamilton Finlay
    John Dixon Hunt
    4/6
    Reaktion Books £29.95
    Though it contains numerous illustrations of Ian Hamilton Finlay’s most famous art work, this isn’t a book specifically about Little Sparta, the garden just south of Edinburgh, designed and created by the late Scottish artist over several decades. Instead, John Dixon Hunt, Professor of the History and Theory of Landscape at the University of Pennsylvania, applies his knowledge of landscape architecture and garden design to Finlay’s outdoor art, ranging from large projects like the Fleur de l’Air garden in Provence, to smaller installations and interventions of text and sculpture in settings as diverse as the University of California campus in San Diego and St George’s churchyard in Bristol.

    Dixon Hunt is a sensitive guide, alighting on often complex and intertwined themes while lending Finlay’s garden art a seriousness that seems to elude some art historians. Keeping the reader attuned to poetry in art and nature, it’s a book that will appeal equally to fans of Finlay and ardent horticulturists. Martin Coomer

    Hell Bound: New Gothic Art
    Francesca Gavin
    4/6
    Laurence King £15.95

    There’s nothing new about the gothic art genre but there’s a hell of a lot of it about at the moment. The sheer quantity of depressingly dark and monochromatic melancholia in art galleries makes this a prescient topic to interrogate with a bright light in the face and a blood-curdling scream of ‘Why now!?’. The introduction sets up our moment of contemporary malaise neatly enough, blaming the current culture of fear that begets ever more fear. Some more historical lineage might have been nice, but the focus is squarely on what’s grim and ghostly about the now, and I feel these 25 artists’ pain. Ossian Ward

    The Dog: 5000 Years of the Dog in Art
    Tamsin Pickeral
    3/6
    Merrell £29.95
    Printed coffee table-size, this lavishly illustrated hardback will probably be flicked through more for its pictures than for its words. Not that the text isn’t worth reading – it’s just that it’s not sure whether it wants to be more art history with a dog theme or dog history with an art theme. The result is that content, under chapter headings such as ‘The Portrait Dog’, ‘The Real Dog’ and ‘The Modern Dog’, can be somewhat interchangeable, and the informative canine timeline at the end of the book features among its facts the date ‘Lassie Come Home’ was released as a film (October 1943, if you were wondering) and the founding date of the Spanish Kennel Club (1911). It does however have images of some great paintings, including Van Eyck’s ‘The Arnolfini Marriage’ and ‘Las Meninas’ by Velázquez. Devoted dog owners will of course love it, but then I keep tropical fish. To any publishers interested in a book deal for writing ‘The Fish in Art’, I’m open to offers. Helen Sumpter

    Formulas for Now
    Hans Ulrich Obrist
    3/6
    Thames & Hudson £12.95
    This book + a wet afternoon = moderate amusement. That’s one formula. Here’s another. An obsessive international art man + an indulgent publisher = this book. Over the past few years, Serpentine Gallery co-director Hans Ulrich Obrist has asked dozens of creative minds to come up with equations for the twenty-first century. Unfortunately for anyone seeking enlightenment, just a handful of the published formulae are by useful people like scientists (including Richard Dawkins) and mathematicians. The bulk of them come from artists, most of whom fudge and doodle and aspire to cleverness in their loveable but obtuse way. None of which matters, really, for ultimately this is a book of inconsequential diversion, destined for the post-Christmas pile of reading matter in the smallest room in the house. Martin Coomer

    Women Who Read Are Dangerous
    Stefan Bollman
    4/6

    Merrell £14.95
    Books that are read with one hand, while the other roves beneath the skirts and bodice; immobile innards slumping into flatulence; the inner life enacted beyond the reach of surveillance – these are some of the reasons that reading has historically been deemed bad for women or, rather, for the men around them. ‘Women Who Read Are Dangerous’ is a collation of thirteenth- to twentieth-century paintings, drawings and photographs of women browsing through, poring over and wantonly casting aside books. The protagonists run the gamut of morality and emancipation, from the Virgin Mary to bored housewives and from self-improving revolutionaries to Marilyn Monroe. As the introductory text explains, the book, throughout its history, has been a signifier of these conditions, since reading one amounts to a public declaration that a woman has spare time, is asserting her independence or needs an emotional outlet. But, I ask, if women who read are dangerous because the internal life they breathe into a text cannot be controlled, what about women who write? C’mon, sister, pen a potboiler and be damned. Sally O’Reilly

    See also...
    The Phaidon Atlas of 21st Century World Architecture
    Phaidon £100, 6.86 kg: Superheavyweight
    Packing the biggest punch, this publication details over 1,000 works of world architecture built since 2000.

    Kandinsky
    Prestel £99, 5.94 kg: Heavyweight
    An extensive and comprehensive workout on the famous Russian artist’s colourful abstract art and life.

    Hiroshige:One Hundred Famous Views of Edo
    Taschen £80, 4.42 kg: Middleweight
    The champion Japanese printmaker’s woodblock prints of nineteenth-century Tokyo make a big impact.

    Salon to Biennial:Volume 1
    Phaidon £45, 2.67 kg: Welterweight
    Exhibitions that have made a lasting impression on art history from 1863 to 1959. Round two follows next year.

    Renaissance
    Merrell £49.95, 2.44 kg: Lightweight
    Powerful images from all the big hitters, including Botticelli, Bosch, Michelangelo, Raphael and Titian.

    Lost Buildings
    Goodman £30, 2.08kg: Featherweight
    Out for the count. Architecture writer Jonathan Glancy details historical and mythological buildings that have been demolished or destroyed.

    The Treasures of the Impressionists

    Andre Deutsch £25, 1.96kg: Bantamweight
    Among the pull-out extras included in the pages of this publication are sketches by crowd-pleasing performers Monet, Degas, Pissarro and Renoir.

    Dracula
    Four Corners Books £13.95, 1.02kg: Flyweight
    Four Corners’ latest artist/author combination puts James Pyman’s pencil drawings in the ring with Bram Stoker’s classic text.

    Have a Nice Day!
    Redstone Press £9.95, 0.2kg: Lightflyweight
    Artist Adam Dant’s witty comic-strip observations on the annoyances of everyday life floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee.
    Helen Sumpter

    Art | Classical | Kids | Teens | Comedy | Dance | Film | Music | Theatre | Stocking fillers

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Fried’s best known work, the anti-minimalist polemic ‘Art and Objecthood’, was published in 1967, but age has not withered him, as the muscular title of this tome indicates. Fried takes a group of photographers – Jeff Wall, Thomas Demand, Douglas Gordon, Luc Delahaye and others – and uses them to illustrate a theory of art and objecthood (quoting liberally from his own work) that substitutes the photograph for the painting as the modern battleground of representation. Is a photograph more than just a picture of an object? The answer, surely, is yes, but it is hard not to contrast Fried’s pontificating with Susan Sontag’s lucid elaboration of the same subject. His context is narrowly academic: any conclusion that feels the need to discuss another source’s discussion of his, Fried’s, book within that book is not going to resolve anything with rapidity. It’s not that Fried’s arguments aren’t interesting, or his engagement with photography passionate, and most of us with a strong interest in the medium would have to admit to a curiosity about notions of theatricality and anti-theatricality (very roughly, how much is art, how much pure representation, where do the two meet and how does the beholder come into all this?). But we lay readers would not couch our interest in these terms, nor will Fried’s digressive style persuade us to do so. For anyone looking to give someone an introduction to photographic theory, Sontag – both the seminal ‘On Photography’ and her final book, ‘Regarding the Pain of Others’ – is the place to go. Her concern is why photography matters; Fried’s is why it matters in the cloistered world in which he is such a considerable figure. Whether the beholder is part of the photograph as artwork is a fascinating, never-ending debate, to which Fried contributes here. But one thing is certain: he considers himself central to any artwork he contemplates. It is not a position that helps his argument. Though it contains numerous illustrations of Ian Hamilton Finlay’s most famous art work, this isn’t a book specifically about Little Sparta, the garden just south of Edinburgh, designed and created by the late Scottish artist over several decades. Instead, John Dixon Hunt, Professor of the History and Theory of Landscape at the University of Pennsylvania, applies his knowledge of landscape architecture and garden design to Finlay’s outdoor art, ranging from large projects like the Fleur de l’Air garden in Provence, to smaller installations and interventions of text and sculpture in settings as diverse as the University of California campus in San Diego and St George’s churchyard in Bristol. Dixon Hunt is a sensitive guide, alighting on often complex and intertwined themes while lending Finlay’s garden art a seriousness that seems to elude some art historians. Keeping the reader attuned to poetry in art and nature, it’s a book that will appeal equally to fans of Finlay and ardent horticulturists. There’s nothing new about the gothic art genre but there’s a hell of a lot of it about at the moment. The sheer quantity of depressingly dark and monochromatic melancholia in art galleries makes this a prescient topic to interrogate with a bright light in the face and a blood-curdling scream of ‘Why now!?’. The introduction sets up our moment of contemporary malaise neatly enough, blaming the current culture of fear that begets ever more fear. Some more historical lineage might have been nice, but the focus is squarely on what’s grim and ghostly about the now, and I feel these 25 artists’ pain. Printed coffee table-size, this lavishly illustrated hardback will probably be flicked through more for its pictures than for its words. Not that the text isn’t worth reading – it’s just that it’s not sure whether it wants to be more art history with a dog theme or dog history with an art theme. The result is that content, under chapter headings such as ‘The Portrait Dog’, ‘The Real Dog’ and ‘The Modern Dog’, can be somewhat interchangeable, and the informative canine timeline at the end of the book features among its facts the date ‘Lassie Come Home’ was released as a film (October 1943, if you were wondering) and the founding date of the Spanish Kennel Club (1911). It does however have images of some great paintings, including Van Eyck’s ‘The Arnolfini Marriage’ and ‘Las Meninas’ by Velázquez. Devoted dog owners will of course love it, but then I keep tropical fish. To any publishers interested in a book deal for writing ‘The Fish in Art’, I’m open to offers. This book + a wet afternoon = moderate amusement. That’s one formula. Here’s another. An obsessive international art man + an indulgent publisher = this book. Over the past few years, Serpentine Gallery co-director Hans Ulrich Obrist has asked dozens of creative minds to come up with equations for the twenty-first century. Unfortunately for anyone seeking enlightenment, just a handful of the published formulae are by useful people like scientists (including Richard Dawkins) and mathematicians. The bulk of them come from artists, most of whom fudge and doodle and aspire to cleverness in their loveable but obtuse way. None of which matters, really, for ultimately this is a book of inconsequential diversion, destined for the post-Christmas pile of reading matter in the smallest room in the house. Books that are read with one hand, while the other roves beneath the skirts and bodice; immobile innards slumping into flatulence; the inner life enacted beyond the reach of surveillance – these are some of the reasons that reading has historically been deemed bad for women or, rather, for the men around them. ‘Women Who Read Are Dangerous’ is a collation of thirteenth- to twentieth-century paintings, drawings and photographs of women browsing through, poring over and wantonly casting aside books. The protagonists run the gamut of morality and emancipation, from the Virgin Mary to bored housewives and from self-improving revolutionaries to Marilyn Monroe. As the introductory text explains, the book, throughout its history, has been a signifier of these conditions, since reading one amounts to a public declaration that a woman has spare time, is asserting her independence or needs an emotional outlet. But, I ask, if women who read are dangerous because the internal life they breathe into a text cannot be controlled, what about women who write? C’mon, sister, pen a potboiler and be damned. Packing the biggest punch, this publication details over 1,000 works of world architecture built since 2000. An extensive and comprehensive workout on the famous Russian artist’s colourful abstract art and life.The champion Japanese printmaker’s woodblock prints of nineteenth-century Tokyo make a big impact.Exhibitions that have made a lasting impression on art history from 1863 to 1959. Round two follows next year.Powerful images from all the big hitters, including Botticelli, Bosch, Michelangelo, Raphael and Titian.Out for the count. Architecture writer Jonathan Glancy details historical and mythological buildings that have been demolished or destroyed.Among the pull-out extras included in the pages of this publication are sketches by crowd-pleasing performers Monet, Degas, Pissarro and Renoir.Four Corners’ latest artist/author combination puts James Pyman’s pencil drawings in the ring with Bram Stoker’s classic text. Artist Adam Dant’s witty comic-strip observations on the annoyances of everyday life floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee. | | | | | | | | |

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