5 Best Art Books for 2019. My Inspirational Reading List

Roma Piotrowska 7 February 2019 min Read

Every year, I create a new reading list that includes novels, non-fiction, and art books. Today, I am sharing with you my 2019 reading list of books related to art. Less is more- so I have included only 5 titles- making it more manageable. Fingers crossed that I will add more thought-provoking titles to the list throughout the year. Almost all of them relate to women artists or women curators. I hope to gain inspiration from these extraordinary, powerful women throughout 2019.

1. The Secret Book of Frida Kahlo by F. G. Haghenbeck

Last summer, I went to see Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up at the V&A, an exhibition that presented a remarkable collection of personal artifacts and clothing belonging to the iconic Mexican artist. They were  locked away in the artist’s bathroom for 50 years after her death. In fact, this exhibition was an exhibition of firsts as this was the first time the collection left Mexico. Through the objects, which include Kahlo’s prosthetic legs, plaster corsets, paintings, photographs, cosmetics, and clothes, I have learned so much about the life and struggles that Kahlo endured. When I left the exhibition, I stepped into a massive shop filled with a large selection of products inspired by the artifacts in the exhibition. It was hard to resist buying everything, but luckily I ended walking away with at least one book: The Secret Book of Frida Kahlo. The book is a fictional account of Kahlo’s life written by an acclaimed Mexican novelist, F. G. Haghenbeck, after several notebooks were discovered in the bathroom. Haghenbeck imagines that she received one of the notebooks as a gift from her lover. She called it “The Hierba Santa Book” (The Sacred Herbs Book) and filled it with memories, ideas, and recipes.

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2. Berlin Depression. Diary by Anda Rottenberg

During my recent visit to Poland, I came across this autobiographical account of Anda Rottenberg’s year-long stay in Berlin. As one of the most renowned Polish art curators, Rottenberg’s book immediately captured my interest, in addition to the fact that she is also an accomplished art historian, art critic, writer, and former director of the Zachęta National Gallery of Art in Warsaw. This book is a record of the author’s year-long stay in Berlin. It includes insightful notes from books, intimate memories of family and friends, honest comments about exhibitions, and art. Not only does this book inform the reader of Rottenberg’s time in Berlin but also features her bleak account of Poland, her stories of participating in street protests, and her commitment to protecting the environment. Told through the pages of her diary that was written in her apartment in the Berlin district of Wannsee, Rottenberg presents herself as a keen observer, an active participant in socio-political life, and a humble recipient of works of art and literature. Part-retrospective and part-informative of the times,  she recalls the past and analyzes the present.

**note: This diary has not yet been translated to English, and I am not sure if or when it will be.**

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3. The Aerodrome by Rex Warner

As the only fiction title and oldest book on the list, The Aerodrome is a sci-fi, dystopian novel set in futuristic England. A war ensues throughout the novel that is not based off the war contemporary of the time (World War II). Instead, the war is in England and is a conflict between order and chaos. This action-packed sci-fi novel is known to be a favorite of one of Britain’s famous, late art curators: Michael Stanley. A former curator at Ikon Gallery in Birmingham, England, the late Stanley’s curatorial contributions will be compiled in an exhibition at Ikon this upcoming summer. The show is said to be centered around Rex Warner’s novel and will include many of the artists he worked with, such as Marcel Broodthaers, Abraham Cruzvillegas, Lonnie Holley, Aleksandra Mir, and Susan Philipsz.

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4. Art Sex Music by Cosey Fanni Tutti

Cosey Fanni Tutti’s memoir has been recommended to me by a friend who really enjoys Tutti’s music. Not only is  the artist is not an influential entertainer but also a musician and writer. Tutti is highly acclaimed for her time in two avant-garde groups: Throbbing Gristle and Chris & Cosey. She became famous thanks to her ‘Prostitution’ project, which consisted of various appearances in sex magazines and adult films. The project resulted in an exhibition about the porn and sex industry that on view in London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts  in 1976. Art Sex Music is meant to be a fascinating memoir of another inspirational woman who sought to break the stereotypical image of women as always being tasteful and modest in their actions.

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5. Barbara Hepworth: Writings and Conversations

Another one of my travels to the city of St. Ives in Cornwall, England, also led me to another art book to include in this list: Barbara Hepworth: Writings and Conversations from the Barbara Hepworth Museum. Filled with various pieces of Hepworth’s art, the museum truly evokes a transcendental aura to its spectators through the presence of a small, elegant fountain in the museum’s courtyard. The transcendental experience that the museum provides even extends beyond the walls of the museum through its proximity to the sea and rolling hills. Hepworth lived and worked there from 1949 until her death in 1975. In fact, many of the sculptures in the museum are still located in the exact positions in which the artist herself placed them. Barbara Hepworth: Writings and Conversations includes a significant number of unpublished texts, which include essays, lectures, speeches, interviews,  conversations, and radio and television broadcasts. It gives a wonderful insight into the artist’s life, her working practices, her sources of inspiration, her intellectual interests, and her engagement with contemporary politics and society.

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What is on your 2019 art books reading list?

For more noteworthy art reads, check out Best Books for Art Lovers!

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