Spring books: US. Decorative arts to the fore

Photography, Asian art, the art of antiquity, Old Masters, and historiography are also among the topics covered


Once one has made the obligatory disclaimers of not having enough space in which to do justice to all the forthcoming books and there being far too many titles to mention them all, one can nevertheless pick out a few that stand out from their peers and these are here recommended for the attention of the readers of The Art Newspaper.

The North American publishing houses are bringing out a number of books on the decorative arts, ranging from furniture, glass, metalwork, ceramics, and histories of domestic interior decoration and taste. Harry N. Abrams is publishing a book of essays, Charlotte Perriand: an art of living, which looks at the 20th-century furniture designer who most famously collaborated with Le Corbusier for whom she created the tubular steel chairs which have become her trade-mark. The New York publisher is also reissuing, on the occasion of the glassmaker’s centenary, a much enlarged and revised edition Steuben glass by Mary Jean Madigan and E. Marie McKee, the bible for this thoroughly American product. Scholars of metalwork will be grateful to Getty Publications for the publication of a facsimile edition of the Statuts et privilèges des marchands orfèvres joyaillers, the 18th-century codification of the French laws governing silversmithing, edited by Paul Micio, which reveals many of the details of silver manufacture and marketing that made Paris renowned throughout Europe for its silver. Less exalted than silver, pottery, too, has its own mystique and the master of studio pottery was Bernard Leach, the subject of a life-and-works treatment by Emmanuel Cooper from Yale University Press. This New England academic press, the best publisher bar none of art-historical books, is straddling the Atlantic with two books on interior decoration: James Ayres’s Domestic interiors: the British tradition, 1500-1850 which will compare and contrast interestingly with Thomas Andrew Denenberg’s Wallace Nutting and the invention of Old America, about the man who became the foremost authority on early American furniture and established the colonial-revival aesthetic and ideology.

One of the means Nutting exploited to promote his ideas was photography, a field of publishing that always has a high yield, this spring being no exception. Two unusual titles catch the eye: America’s children from W.W. Norton, and Women in pants from Abrams, the former a collection that illustrates the changing depictions of the under-12s in a rapidly changing society from the mid-19th century to the 1930s, seen through the lenses of Lewis Hine, Jacob Riis and a number of anonymous photographers; the latter, the title of which may either be innocent of or teasingly playing on British usage, catalogues photographs of women in trousers between the 1850s and 1920s, an attempt to register the various inflections of women in the trouser role: dress reformers, farmers, miners, cowgirls, sportswomen, soldiers, experimenters in gender identity and funsters. In the category of female social renegade, the photographer Tina Modotti, the companion of Edward Weston (who is being feted this season by the British publishers, Merrell; see p.31) is the subject of a biography from Yale.

The broad category of Asian art includes diverse new offerings of interest ranging from the Art Institute of Chicago’s Himalayas: an aesthetic adventure by Pratapaditya Pal and Isamy Noguchi and modern Japanese ceramics by Louise Allison Cort and Bert Winther-Tamaki, through Abram’s guide to early Buddhist Korean and Japanese art, Transmitting the forms of divinity, to Yale’s two exhaustive surveys, A history of Chinese architecture and The formation of Chinese civilisations, each by teams of Chinese and Western scholars.

As well as with the East, Western art has had a perennial fascination with the primitive, and the late Ernst Gombrich’s final theme is taken up in a book from the University of California Press, Primitivism and 20th-century art, a compilation of texts documenting the encounter of Western artists and the arts of Africa, Oceania and North America.

Classic Modern Art is also a rich seam in the publishers’ mine with notable strikes of paydirt this season, such as Clement Greenberg: late writings from the University of Minnesota Press, nicely complementing Bram Dijkstra's American Expressionism from Abrams; Picasso and the invention of Cubism, a philosophical and linguistic analysis of the artist and the movement he launched, from Yale, which also publishes Robert Rauschenberg, representing the later stages of Modernism.

The beginnings of Western art in antiquity are explored in what promises to be a fascinating study, Archaic korai by Katerina Karakasi from Getty Publications, which seeks to explain the statue type by examining, from literary and epigraphic evidence, the locations in which they stood, thus assessing their role in cult practices. From Yale comes Jonathan Scott’s survey of the British taste for the antique between the 17th and the 19th centuries in The pleasures of Antiquity, which describes in detail the collectors, the mechanics of the trade, the house galleries and the architects who created them, and how the collections were dispersed as tastes changed.

Even before they were very old, the so-called Old Masters, along with Renaissance works of art, were among the most sought-after items for collecting. Among the more promising titles concerning Renaissance and baroque art, one would have to single out for special mention Eliot Rowland’s detailed and masterly study, Masaccio, concerning the artist’s Pisa altarpiece, also from Getty Publications, and Van Dyck, the complete catalogue of his painting from the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art and Yale. Yale is also responsible for two books that hold out the promise of great delight and interest by two stars in the Renaissance sky:Words for pictures by Michael Baxandall and Raphael in Early Modern sources by John Shearman.

There are fewer books published on medieval art than on art of the Early Modern period, but this spring sees the advent of two ground-breaking works, Gothic art in Ireland, 1169-1550 by Colum Hourihane, and from Princeton, Debra Higgs Strickland’s Saracens, demons and Jews, a study of the designated enemies of Christendom and their visual representation.

Finally, American publishers are unveiling a number of historical and historiographical titles among which one should note Minnesota’s publication of Donald Preziosi’s 2001 Slade lectures on the nature of the museum, MIT Press’s history, Black Mountain College, Yale’s story of The A.W. Mellon lectures, and the University of Chicago Press’s brace, Art history after Modernism by Hans Belting, and Alison Pearlman’s Unpackaging art of the 1980s.