6 Art Books to Cure the Summer Reading Slump

If you’re struggling to do anything beyond basking in whichever air-conditioned spaces or cooling centers you can find this summer, let alone picking up a heavy text, know that you are not alone. Our editors and contributors have a short, sweet list of captivating books to nudge you out of a reading slump this month, or to keep in your back pocket for the future. Our picks span photography of artists’ lofts in Manhattan, engaging essays by scholar Nell Irvin Painter blending the historical and the personal, and even a how-to manual for aspiring comic artists. Enjoy, and stay cool! —Lakshmi Rivera Amin, Associate Editor

Louis Carlos Bernal: Monografía

Louis Carlos Bernal captured synchronous waves of vulnerability and resistance in his stirring pictures of Mexican-American communities across the Southwest United States and beyond. Accompanying a traveling exhibition at the University of Arizona’s Center for Creative Photography, this book is the first major monograph of the late trailblazing Chicano photographer. Whether he was portraying families in intimate domestic settings or chronicling the living conditions of California farmworkers, Bernal found a way to center his subjects’ individuality while affirming his own values — giving rise to what curator Elizabeth Ferrer describes in her standout essay for the publication as “a Chicanx imaginary.” —Valentina Di Liscia

Buy on Bookshop | Aperture, June 2024

Loft Law: The Last of New York City’s Original Artist Lofts by Joshua Charow

Loft Law book cover copy

Back when the streets of Soho weren’t a backdrop for influencers and blue-chip galleries weren’t jockeying for real estate in Tribeca, New York City’s lofts served as the living spaces and studios of artists who paid present-day pennies for the towering ceilings and vast windows of these former factories and warehouses. Countless were eventually pushed or priced out as landlords sought higher rates for the commercially zoned spaces. When Joshua Charow came across a map of buildings protected under the “Loft Law,” passed in 1982 to safeguard creative people from eviction, he felt compelled to meet and photograph the tenants still living in the mythical “artist lofts.” Step into the homes of experimental filmmaker Ken Jacobs, painter Kimiko Fujimura, and many more through this very special book, which is not quite a portal to the past but a living archive of an enduring phenomenon. —VD

Buy on Bookshop | Damiani Books, April 2024

The Last Safe Abortion by Carmen Winant

Last safe abortion book cover 1

Among the standouts of this year’s Whitney Biennial is Carmen Winant’s collage of 2,500 prints, “The Last Safe Abortion” (2023). On such a scale, though, it’s hard to take in the gravity and importance of the work, let alone the individuals in the images. A recent book of the project resolves that issue and proves to be not only informative but also engrossing. While a text by the artist offers helpful background, the book is really about the thousands of photographs of abortion care workers, patients, and advocates taken by Winant and others, and drawn from archives. The publication provides the time and space to see the people in the pictures, ponder their lives and circumstances, and feel a sense of connection that’s scarce in a white-cube museum. It gives the photographs’ subjects the respect they deserve. —Natalie Haddad

Buy the Book | Mack Books, April 2024

Just Keep Talking: A Life in Essays by Nell Irvin Painter

Nell Irvin Painter book cover

Historian Nell Irvin Painter’s essay collection opens with two self-portraits in the frontmatter: one a collage, the other a skeletal drawing that she calls “a kind of memento mori warning against excessive self-regard (odd for someone who draws scores of self-portraits).” It’s a treat to read her razor-sharp essays culled from decades of reporting and writing, with her own lithographs, sketches, collages, and paintings dotting the texts along the way. Her premier scholarship on the American South and whiteness feature heavily in I Just Keep Talking, alongside other essays on life and art. Painter reflects on Alma Thomas and the process of aging, navigating art school while writing a book, lack of recognition for Black women artists, and more, together composing an illuminating portrait of her multifaceted lifelong pursuits. —LA

Buy on Bookshop | Doubleday Books, April 2024

The Book of Printed Fabrics: From the 16th Century Until Today by Aziza Gril-Mariotte

book of printed fabrics copy

When printed fabrics first arrived in Europe from India in the late 16th century, the lightweight, brightly colored materials were soon found across clothing, furniture, wall hangings, and a number of household textiles. Over the past 500 years, printed fabrics have made an enormous mark on not only Western fashion but also its industry, technology, and culture. This is especially true in France, where printed fabrics caused such a stir that they were banned in the mid-17th century, only to later flourish through renowned manufacturers in Normandy and Alsace, and later in the boutiques of Paris. Art historian Aziza Gril-Mariotte’s two-volume The Book of Printed Fabrics: From the 16th Century Until Today tells the story of this pivotal material through nearly 900 printed fabric samples from the collection of the Musée de l’Impression sur Étoffes, from woodblock to digital printing methods with natural and chemical dyes. These diverse and beautifully reproduced designs are a feast for the eyes, and their wide-ranging history is food for thought. —Lauren Moya Ford

Buy on Bookshop | Taschen, April 2024

Creating Copra by Michel Fiffe

Creating Copra

Released in 2012, the superhero comic Copra by creator Michel Fiffe is both a pastiche to 1980s hero comics and a formally unique book with unusual design elements. Fiffe’s most recent self-published book, Creating Copra, draws on his 12 years of experience self-publishing in a range of forms and goes into the details of how he approaches those formal elements, from acknowledging standards and expectations to breaking down his choices to adhere or subvert them.

Though influenced by the industry of instructional guides and comic back pages, what separates Creating Copra from other “how-to” books and guides for comic artists is Fiffe’s ability to weave his personal story into his instruction. In 64 pages, this book captures an arc that highlights the emotional roller coaster of art making and selling, and beautifully frames how he navigates the complex relationship between himself and his audience. —CM Campbell

Buy the Book | February 2024

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