Five Eclectic Art Books to Enjoy or Give as Gifts

By Carole Reedy

Contrary to Oscar Wilde’s assertion that “art is useless,” we believe art in its many forms is what makes life worth living, adding dimension to our often dull daily routine. Said more eloquently by Picasso, “The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.” In anticipation of Christmas gift buying, this month we offer a selection of books that take art to a new level.

LES DINERS DE GALA, by Salvador Dali

This is a recently reprinted 1973 cookbook with 136 recipes and illustrated by Salvador Dali. Dali himself warns you about his book, saying “If you are a disciple of one of these calorie-counters who turns the joys of eating into a form of punishment, close this book at once.” Therefore, read at your own risk. This dual-purpose book, a handbook for cooking and also a coffee-table book, includes 136 recipes, has 12 chapters peppered with reflections from Dali. The recipes are old-school dishes, with specialties from the best French chefs at Michelin-starred Paris restaurants. The publisher, TASCHEN, calls the book a work of art, a practical recipe guide, and a multi-sensual experience. Enjoy!

THE ANDY WARHOL DIARIES, edited by Pat Hackett

Andy Warhol: “Making money is an art, and working is an art, and good business is the best art.”   Warhol is one of the most-talked about artists of the 20th century. Be it for his art or his life, he has a cache of fans of all ages. This biography is the perfect gift for celebrity-gossip lovers. The Guardian said the diaries “make today’s celebrity Twitter offerings look lame indeed.” There isn’t much discussion about art here unless it’s about the profit. Warhol claims “I really only have two collectors, Saatchi and Newhouse. I guess I’m not just…a good painter.” I doubt the latter is true, but it makes for a good read. He doesn’t hide his self-absorption or hypochondria.

KEEPING AN EYE OPEN: ESSAYS ON ART by Julian Barnes

This book is a collection of articles by Barnes that have appeared in various publications over the years. Most of us are familiar with the author’s novels, which cover a range of subjects and styles. Recently his novel The Noise of Time won praise from critics and readers alike for its peek into the agony lived by composer Dmitri Shostakovich during the reign of Stalin. The author tells us what to expect in this newest contribution to his literary collection, which is “intended to address the reader who enjoys art in the same way that I do, and isn’t a professional and isn’t an academic and doesn’t have a theory to promote.” The essay subjects are mostly French artists, but cover a variety of periods.

VIAJES INESPERADOS: EL ARTE Y LA VIDA DE REMEDIOS VARO by Janet A. Kaplan

For fans of surrealism and especially of Remedios Varo, this book is a must. I have it on my coffee table for easy reference or just to linger over the photos of the ironic, often humorous, mysterious world depicted in her works of art. Each time I view them, I see something different. A contemporary of Leonora Carrington, Varo unfortunately did not enjoy many years of adoration because she died suddenly at the age of 53 (Carrington lived into her 90s). Varo’s life itself is a work of art and the text of her story is intertwined among the work that brought her much recognition. Like Carrington, she led a life full of change and challenge, starting in Spain, her birthplace, and ending in Mexico City. The Museum of Modern Art in Mexico City often shows her art as well as that of many of the surrealists who left Europe during and after WWII and ended up in Mexico.

MEXICO D.F. ENTONCES Y AHORA (THEN AND NOW), text by David Lida

A marvelous conversation piece for any coffee table, David Lida, who is well-known for his observations of the seamier parts of the city, has compiled black-and-white photos from the past and juxtaposed them with the same photos taken in color in present time. Each subject takes two pages: on the left-hand side the old photo and on the right-hand side the recent color photo of the same subject, with a brief text in both Spanish and English. Many photos center around Centro Histórico, though they also branch out to the colonias that have spread across the city over time. In the introduction, the author writes, “Any representation of a place as huge, complicated, chaotic and contradictory as Mexico City will necessarily be a simplification of its entirety. In truth, a thousand books about Mexico City could come out, and their readers would only comprehend it in parts. Here is one of them.”   It is a gem! You will want to visit all the sites after viewing and reading about them in this book, clearly a labor of love for the megalopolis.

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