Best of Art & Culture

 Best Books of 2006





1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die edited by Robert Dimery (Universe)
This book made me wonder if I know music as well as I think I do. Of the 1001 albums covered here, I own about 20. Is that shameful? I don't know. One thing I do know is that this book is as essential as the music it celebrates. In short essays by some of the world's best music critics, this book is divided into decades, from the 1950s to the 2000s, with scores and scores of albums covered in pithy, right-to-the-point reviews. Also included are covers, artist photos and track listings (with the best tracks indicated). As comprehensive as it all is, though I had to wonder why the editors left out one of this century's greatest: Streisand. Love her or hate her, she was and is a musical force to be reckoned with, and it is certainly necessary to have included her here. The fact that she's not is a serious blemish on what would otherwise be just about perfect. -- Tony Buchsbaum

1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die edited by Peter Boxall (Universe)
I've read 60 of them, which seems pretty pathetic, but I'm happy with that number. I'm also jazzed that some of my favorites are here. This, a collection of insightful reviews by notable book critics, is a wonderful compendium of all that’s beautiful about the written word. You'll find fiction and non, arranged by year of original publication, starting with Aesop's Fables, published in 620 BCE. While many authors are represented many times, some are mentioned just once. Some -- inexplicably -- not at all (I ask you, Mr. Boxall, where’s Pat Conroy? Where’s Ayn Rand? Where's The Bible?). Included are author portraits, cover art, quotations from the books and author interviews, even stills from some of the films based on these books. If you’re into the written word -- and I know you are -- this is a book you've just got to see to believe. -- Tony Buchsbaum

Andrew Wyeth: Memory & Magic
by Anne Classen Knutson (Rizzoli)

Andrew Wyeth is an American icon, a contemporary painter who is unique because while his work seems old -- and is certainly classic -- he himself is still alive and painting. His has been an extraordinary career. This past year, a collection of his work toured museums, and this book is, essentially, the show’s catalog. The best of the best are here, but there are also cogent, insightful essays about the man, his life and his work. Included are several of the famous Helga Paintings, which feature a neighbor of Wyeth’s. To me, the key to his work is its iconography, which is somewhere between bleak and pure Americana. He has a way with fabric, painting it with as much realism as a photograph. I suggest that he’s not painting the curtain, say, but the invisible currents of air that cause it to wave and billow. Both starkly realist and suggestively impressionist, Wyeth is an original, and his work -- especially the paintings gathered here -- are classics of American artistic literature, as much so as the best of Hemingway or Faulkner. Open this book and you’ll lose yourself ... happily. -- Tony Buchsbaum

Cinema by the Bay by Sheerly Avni (George Lucas Books)
Hollywood, as is often said, is less about geography than it is about a profession. If Hollywood is simply an industry, then it can be practiced anywhere -- New York, Bombay, Austin, wherever. That was the thinking behind such filmmakers as director Francis Ford Coppola and producer Saul Zaentz when they chose San Francisco as their own personal home base. Thirty years on, the Bay Area is a filmmaking Mecca, especially for those who denounce Hollywood’s zany insanity as distracting and far-removed from what filmmaking is all about. This wonderful book assembles the studios, filmmakers and films that have come from the Bay Area. Consider some of them: American Zoetrope, Lucasfilm and Pixar. George Lucas, Coppola, Zaentz, Philip Kaufman, Chris Columbus, Michael Ritchie and Wayne Wang. The Godfather, American Graffiti, The Conversation, Star Wars, Toy Story, The Black Stallion, Apocalypse Now, Lost in Translation, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Amadeus, The English Patient, Willow, Finding Nemo, Shrek. These are not small films. These are films that have literally shaped -- even reshaped -- “Hollywood.” This book is startling in its subtle argument, brilliant in its illustration that while Hollywood is generally about business, the Bay Area prides itself on a separateness that allows it to be all about show. -- Tony Buchsbaum

The Complete Peanuts, 1959-1960 by Charles M. Schulz (Fantagraphics)
For more than 20 years I have longed for a complete reprinting of every single Peanuts strip. Two years ago Fantagraphics started doing just that, at a rate of four years’ worth of strips per year -- and we’re now getting to the part of Charles Schulz’s career I've been waiting for. It’s at this point that Schulz nails the subtleties of the relationships between the strip’s core characters, and his skills as a draughtsman and cartoonist blend perfectly to create a style that is at once simple and nuanced. (All of this is summed up perfectly in one panel, which finds Linus quietly crying behind his house after Lucy’s repeated assertion that she never wanted a brother and wishes he had never been born. With about 40 pen strokes, Schulz captures the same existential torment he’d been mining for gags for a week.) Amazingly, Schulz sustained this level of brilliance for a good ten years, which means that as pleasurable as this book is, there’s much more to come. -- Emru Townsend

Cuba by Korda by Christophe Loviny and Alessandra Silvestri-Lévy, Photographs by Alberto Korda (Ocean Press)

There is an image of Che Geuvara that everyone has seen. It’s been printed on T-shirts and posters, reproduced time and again in books and magazines and newspapers. Even if his face means nothing to you, you’ve seen this image. He is standing, a white background behind him, a beret on his head and revolution in his eyes. He looks beautiful and, in retrospect, he looks doomed. The photo was taken by Alberto Korda, born Alberto Diaz Gutierrez in Havana in 1928. Korda, who died in 1999, started out as a fashion photographer, later becoming the chief photographic archivist of the Cuban revolution. None of his other work is as well-known, or as iconic, as that shot of Guevara, but much of it is just as powerful and all of it is just as skilled. Cuba by Korda offers up a retrospective of the photographers work and includes his early fashion photography as well as the proof sheet from which that famous Guevara shot was taken. Cuba by Korda is an extraordinary work, offering a glimpse into an unimaginable time in Cuban history and showcasing the work of a photographer who is well worth remembering. -- Aaron Blanton

The Horse: 30,000 Years of the Horse in Art by Tamsin Pickeral (Merrell)
The Horse is a sensational book. In fact, it's difficult to imagine that there could be a work on this topic that would be better. It has that something extra that takes the book from being merely pretty and interesting and turns it into something extraordinary. That something extra can be summed up mostly simply by two words: Tamsin Pickeral. Pickeral is a writer who specializes in both horses and art. Most of the time those two interests don't overlap in her projects. In 2005 she produced two books: Turner, Whistler, Monet and Charles Rennie Mackintosh. In the near future, she'll see the publication of The Horse Owner's Bible. Clearly, the two 2005 titles required expertise in various aspects of the art world. And no one need attempt writing anything called The Horse Owner's Bible without a great deal of knowledge about horses. These twinned areas of expertise are beautifully blended -- and readily seen -- in The Horse. It's feasible that an author could have produced a book on this theme with a great deal of knowledge in one area and not the other, but it wouldn't have been this book: it wouldn't have had that extraordinary something extra. -- Aaron Blanton

Horus Vol. 1 by Johane Matte (Rufftoon)
First, a disclaimer: Horus creator Johane Matte is a friend of mine. Second, a confession: When I finally sat down to read the first volume of her self-published mini-comic, I was so taken by it that I immediately read it again from cover to cover. Combining her love of Egyptology and French/Belgian graphic novels (_bandes dessinées_ or _BD_) along with her training in animation and cartooning, Matte's creation skilfully blends humour, adventure and drama while sneaking in a little education about ancient Egypt along the way. Quite simply, this is one of the best comics I have read in years. -- Emru Townsend

Lissa Hunter: Histories Real & Imagined
by Abby Johnston (Upala Press)
Before laying my hands on this startling book, I’d never heard of Lissa Hunter. Now I can't imagine not knowing her work. I look at it, and I think: totems. Faux religious artifacts. Hunter likes to make things. Technically she sculpt them. Objects. Boxes of smooth stones or what look to be intricately carved acorns. Other kinds of containers, such as the one that looks like a wall of leaves, containing a small woven bowl. Or the collection of objects -- bowls, small gathered envelopes, a wooden box -- that rest on a patinaed wooden shelf. Her work evokes the title here: Histories: Real & Imagined. Are these found objects? Are they created? It would seem beside the point, for her work is the kind of stuff that tells its own tale every time you look at it. They’re at once a collection of objects important to one person, or one family, and a projection of story told in just about every way except words. Fantastic. -- Tony Buchsbaum

The Pentagram Papers
edited by Delphine Hirasuna (Chronicle Books)
When now-world-famous design firm Pentagram was founded in 1972, it quickly made a name for itself as creators of startling, logical design in industries across the spectrum of commercial endeavor: signage, architecture, products, identity, you name it. The firm’s partners saw a way to exploit and even learn about topics they cared about and create or sponsor deluxe booklets that dove deeper. The booklets were printed and distributed in very limited number. The best of their spreads and words have been collected in this book. The topics? Well, they ranged far and wide, from crop circles, to Cuban cigar bands to weird mailboxes in Australia to funky hotel/motel signage on the New Jersey shore to kimono designs. Truly, the Pentagram Papers are the kinds of things its owners wanted to keep, and the booklets themselves became a treasure. Included here is an actual copy of the 36th Paper, on African marks, a form of pictogrammatic communication. The book is a stunning collection, and it’ll have to do until you can afford to haunt auction houses for some (or a set) of the originals. -- Tony Buchsbaum

Performing Architecture: Opera Houses, Theatres and Concert Halls for the Twenty-First Century by Michael Hammond (Merrell)
Performing Architecture by Michael Hammond took my breath away. Like 21st century cathedrals, the structures Hammond chronicles here rise up in Torrevieja, Spain; in Troy, New York; in Beijing; Dublin, Oslo and Hong Kong, taking so many different forms that one wonders that they all, essentially, come from the very same place: the desire -- no, need -- to create a structure where people will go for an evening's entertainment. One important building, of course, sets the tone for those that would follow. "The Sydney Opera House, completed in 1973 and arguably the most recognizable building in the world, set a global precedent." Even if Hammond had not mentioned that famous Australian building, some of the structures profiled in Performing Architecture would bring it to mind. Not in form as much as in spirit: grand cathedral-like spaces intended to lift the heart as well as please the senses. Hammond profiles 51 projects in the pages of Performing Architecture, from the Shanghai Grand Theatre designed by Arte Jean-Marie Charpentier, completed in 1998, to London's Music Box, designed by Foreign Office Architects and whose build date is not included. Several included projects have yet to go beyond the planning stages and some are currently under construction. Interestingly, the profiles of the yet-to-be-built projects are every bit as fascinating as those that have already been completed. More: together, they create the whole. The already completed projects showing where design on this scale and for this type of project has most recently been, the to-be-built ones showing where it's going. -- Aaron Blanton

The Rejection Collection edited by Matthew Diffee (Simon Spotlight Entertainment)

Everyone is familiar with The New Yorker’s cartoons. But did you know that for every one that makes the magazine, there are many that do not? Several dozen of those are collected here, provided by the artists who created them. These are often not for the faint of heart: some of them are crude, rude, insulting, sexually challenging and morally questionable. But they’re a riot. Take the second one, which happens to have been drawn by the book’s editor: two pigeons are on a New York ledge, chatting. One says to the other: “I’d say my biggest influence is probably Pollock.” Or another, from Mort Gerberg: two dogs are in bed, and one says to the other: “No, no -- it was great. It’s just that sometimes I’d like to try it missionary style.” These are gems, each and every one. The book also includes tongue-in-cheek, illustrated Q&As with each artist, as well as a foreword by Robert Mankoff, the cartoon editor of The New Yorker. These are not authorized by the magazine, but they were created for its pages, and the fact that he’s here is just a testament to how funny and, in their own way, culturally spot-on they are. -- Tony Buchsbaum

Stylepedia: A Guide to Graphic Design Mannerisms, Quirks, and Conceits by Steven Heller and Louise Fili (Chronicle Books)
What do Fascism, skateboards and junk mail have in common? Read Stylepedia and you’ll find out that whether for good or bad, they all have at one time or another used the services of a designer. Authors Heller and Fili barely skim the surface of the design world but at a slight six and a half by nine inches and 336 pages manage to cover a fair amount of ground by hitting the highlights of some well known and not so well known subjects. An excellent reference guide for both the neophyte and established designer. -- David Middleton

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Best Books of 2006