Monday, January 23, 2012

Awesome Art Books

The Art Museum is a huge book, filled with art from all time periods and all over the world. The artwork is featured in very large images on pages about the size of a standard (in today's terms) newspaper.

Jennifer and I both enjoy a nicely published book. For Christmas I gave her the most exquisite book we’ve ever owned, aptly entitled The Art Museum. Instead of chapters, the newspaper-sized thick book is organized by “rooms”. It covers art as would any world-class museum, beginning with sections on ancient pottery, engravings, carvings, and sculpture from all over the world.

The over-large format of the book and the splendidly published photographs taken from works of art from all time periods and places affords the reader a high degree of visual clarity so that you can appreciate many subtleties of the works as if you in an actual museum viewing these objects from different angles. Most of the images are of such clarity it is as if you can actually touch whatever art work you are appreciating on a given page.

In all there are over 450 “rooms” arranged in 25 “galleries” (Ancient Egypt, Central Asia, Medieval Europe, Islamic Art, Africa, etc.). The book contains over 3,000 works of art to enjoy. To be honest, I haven’t had time to look through even most of the book. I have skimmed it and skipped around here and there. Like an actual museum, it is far too much to take in all at once. It is a reference work to enjoy and discover new things over time.

The Art Museum is a feast for the art lover's eye and mind. It begins with ancient art and moves comprehensively throughout the history of art worldwide. These pages deal with findings from The Caves of a Thousand Buddhas in China.

My personal interest in art, particularly painting, begins around the time of Johannes Vermeer, who is featured in this two-page spread. The painting on the left page is his famour View of Delft that I have blogged about before.

The first exhibition of impressionistic painting took place in Paris in 1874. A wonderful sampling of the exhibition has been gathered and collected in The Art Museum. A special treat for me.

Of course some of Pablo Picasso's works are featured.

As is the work of Jackson Pollock.

The Art Museum also features a great deal of contemporary art. These pages feature "installation art" from around the years 2002-2003. The dark space in the upper left is by a Japanese artist filling a small dark room with 150 LED lights and carefully arranging them with mirrors to create a gallactic effect.

The book is fully indexed by art type and by artist and includes a section of maps of the world for each of the time periods and galleries presented as well as a comprehensive glossary of terms used throughout its text. The descriptions of individual art pieces are brief but informative, usually containing five or six sentences of facts about a given work.

As I mentioned before, Jennifer’s parents gave me
a splendid book on Pierre-Auguste Renoir, my favorite painter, for Christmas. I did take time to look at it thoroughly and read large portions of the biographical text in the book. Once again, unlike some art books in our collection, this one has very detailed, well published photographs of the paintings. You can often see the individual brush strokes and the colors are as bright and vibrant as the original works.

After Christmas, I usually take a portion of my annual bonus and devote it to my own frivolous attentions. I ordered two other art books, one on
Claude Monet and a special publication on the collected research of Stanley Kubrick for his Napoleon movie, “The Greatest Movie Never Made.” Both of these are sheer aesthetic joys of publication.

It was only after they arrived, however, that I realized that the publisher for the Renoir, Monet, and Kubrick books is the same –
Taschen in Kolin, Germany. A quick look at their website will reveal that they take publishing very seriously, producing high-quality books on a wide range of (mostly artistic) subjects and (except for a few limited editions) at accessible prices.

The Monet book is part of their 25th anniversary series, as is the book on Renoir I got for Christmas. It contains a great biographical narrative and many photographs of Monet, often while he is painting. The Kubrick book is an affordable replica of
a limited edition that came out three years ago and now sells for thousands of dollars. A small work of art in and of itself.

The Renoir book on top, featuring one of his most famous works, which I saw in Boston back in 2009. On bottom is the Monet book filled with his numerous, wonderful paintings.

Like The Art Museum, the Kubrick book is solidly produced. The gold embossed green leather cover and binding is genuine and richly detailed. Inside are 1100 pages that represent the several individual books of the collected limited edition that were nested inside the same binding only hollowed out to serve as a casing for the other books.

In my edition, all the books are published on oversized lightly gray printed pages. The different sizes of the different books originally published can then be appreciated and you can read their contents exactly as they were originally printed and bound individually. Most pages present two of the other books simultaneously.

Here the publisher chose the size of the gray pages to be enough to run the pages of one book along the lower two-thirds of the page. In the upper third of the page runs a smaller book, published separately from the larger book in the original limited editions. It is very cleverly presented and still retains much of its grandeur even if it isn’t the glorious limited edition itself.

A section of the Kubrick book showing how two books are represented on the same page. On top is a smaller book of various photographs he took of models in all sorts of poses and all sorts of authentic Napoleonic uniforms and costumes. The lower two-thirds is a seperate book of personal correspondences regarding the never-made film.

The book contains the original complete-draft script, hundreds of photographs, original correspondences, details on costumes, locations scouting, and hundreds of individual notes. Yet, the book still contains only a fraction of the total mass of Kubrick’s research.

It comes with a key card that gives you “exclusive access to a searchable/downloadable online research database of Kubrick’s picture file of nearly 17,000 Napoleonic images.” Obviously, this opens up opportunities to discover new things in the future, as I will probably never see all there is left behind from Kubrick’s research, when I periodically take a dip through the years in to this incredible collection of photographs mostly shot by Kubrick himself.

I am thankful and look forward to enjoying all these books off and on for the rest of my life. They are satisfying references in all their diverse ways. The fact that three of them are by
Taschen led me to discover this quality book publisher whose online catalog I will view regularly. So many interesting choices can be found there.

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