The art world’s Christmas reading

Artists, collectors, critics, museum directors and auction house executives pick their holiday books


Cai Guo Qiang, Artist, New York

I’m not sure what books I will be reading for Christmas, but I will definitely be flipping through the Chinese newspapers that are distributed in New York, such as the World Journal. I will have some time to read them from beginning to the end. For me, a stack of newspapers is like a book. It will be refreshing to read about things that are not immediately related to me.

Robert Gober, Artist, New York

I am currently reading Veronica, the new novel by Mary Gaitskill. Hardbitten and scary.

o Mary Gaitskill, Veronica, (Pantheon Books) ISBN 0375421459

Robert Indiana, Artist, New York

I’m definitely not reading Proust. I’m trying to read Korean Vogue as best as I can, but it’s not easy to wade through. There’s an article about me with one of the nicest portraits taken in a long time.

Ben Langlands and Nicky Bell, Artists, London

We will be reading Anthology of concrete poetry (1967) edited by Emmett Williams.

o Emmett Williams, Anthology of concrete poetry (Something Else Press) ISBN 0870100304

Grayson Perry, Artist, London

I’m a slow reader so shall probably still be reading Edge of the Orison by Iain Sinclair and I thoroughly recommend The rebel sell by Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter. My next purchase will probably be Alan Bennett’s new collection and maybe a history of anatomical drawing if I can find one. I shall be giggling on the loo at The book of Shrigley.

o Iain Sinclair, Edge of the orison (Hamish Hamilton) ISBN 0241142180

o Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter, The rebel sell: how Counter Culture became Consumer Culture (Capstone Publishing) ISBN 1841126543

o David Shrigley, Mel Gooding and Julian Rothenstein, The book of Shrigley (Redstone Press) ISBN 1870003241 (Chronicle Books) ISBN 0811851222

Eli Broad, Collector and Philanthropist, Los Angeles

I’ll be reading The march by E.L. Doctorow. I have a keen interest in history, and the book describes, in human rather than military, terms the effect of Sherman's march on the South for all people, from aristocrats to slaves.

o E.L. Doctorow, The march (Random House) ISBN 0375506713

Lisa Dennison, Director, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York

I’ll be reading Deyan Sudjic’s The edifice complex. Sudjic is always intriguing, combining sharp prose with a great depth of knowledge. The edifice complex, his take on the relationship of wealth and power to architecture is sure to be fascinating: his recent New York Times op-ed piece comparing Nelson Rockefeller’s grandiose and faintly ridiculous rebuilding of Albany’s civic centre to George Pataki’s unsuccessful efforts to come up with the vision—or political muscle—to rebuild Ground Zero whetted my appetite for this book.

o Deyan Sudjic, The edifice complex: how the rich and powerful shape the world (Penguin Press) ISBN 1594200688

Chrissie Iles, Curator, Contemporary art, Whitney Museum, New York; co-curator Whitney Biennial 2006

I will be reading Erotikon edited by Shadi Bartsch and Thomas Bartscherer, a heavy-hitting reader on Eros, which has accompanied me on my Biennial road trips from Los Angeles to Berlin and Lithuania, and has been very important for my curatorial thinking.

o Shadi Bartsch and Thomas Bartscherer, Erotikon (University of Chicago Press) ISBN 0226038386

Mark Jones, Director, The Victoria and Albert Museum, London

I shall be reading The chains of Heaven by Philip Marsden, a wonderful record of a walk across northern Ethiopia through an extraordinarily rugged physical and human landscape.

o Philip Marsden, The chains of Heaven: an Ethiopian romance (HarperCollins) ISBN 0007173474

John Leighton, Director. the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam; from march 2006, Director General the National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh

I am more likely to be packing books than reading them this Christmas, but if there is any spare time, I will probably tackle my stockpile of recent exhibition catalogues. Somewhere near the top is the catalogue of the Metropolitan’s current exhibition “Prague: the crown of Bohemia, 1347-1437”. An imaginary trip to the land of Wenceslas seems appropriate for the season. With 384 pages this book is neither concise nor especially portable, but if it comes anywhere close to evoking the diversity and richness of the breathtaking show that it accompanies, than it will surely make for compelling reading.

o Barbara Drake Boehm and Jiri Fajt (eds), Prague: the crown of Bohemia, 1347-1437 (The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Yale University Press) ISBN 030011138X

Ann Philbin, Director, UCLA Hammer Museum, Los Angeles

I always need a combination of good fiction and non-fiction so I’ll be reading Zadie Smith’s On beauty and Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely loud and incredibly close—I’m a big fan of both writers. Also a novel by new young writer, Indecision by Benjamin Kunkel. The non-fiction will be a book that I have been meaning to read for a couple of years: War is a force that gives us meaning by Chris Hedges—just to scare myself to death.

o Zadie Smith, On beauty (Hamish Hamilton) ISBN 0241142938

o Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely loud and incredibly close (Penguin Books) ISBN 0141012692

o Benjamin Kunkel, Indecision (Random House) ISBN 1400063450

o Chris Hedges, War is a force that gives us meaning (Anchor Books) ISBN 1400034639

Ned Rifkin, Undersecretary for art, Smithsonian Institution Washington, DC

I will be reading a biography of Marcel Proust by Edmund White, Falling off the map by Pico Iyer, The tipping point by Malcolm Gladwell, and volumes of poetry by Edward Hirsch and Pablo Neruda. I will also try to catch up on art books and catalogues that have recently come my way and if there is any additional time, I have a biography of Martin Luther awaiting and I am still hoping to read Bowling alone by Robert Putnam. I have a strong bias for non-fiction and especially biographies.

o Edmund White, Marcel Proust (Penguin Books) ISBN 0670880574

o Pico Iyer, Falling off the map: some lonely places of the world (Haynes Publications) ISBN 0517137615

o Malcolm Gladwell, The tipping point: how little things can make a big difference (Little, Brown and Company) ISBN 0316316962

o Robert Putnam, Bowling alone: the collapse and revival of the American community (Simon & Schuster) ISBN 0743219031

Charles Saumarez Smith, Director, The National Gallery, london

I am looking forward to reading Susan Foister’s magnum opus, Holbein and England, which is the result of more than 20 years of research and will help to inform her exhibition at the Tate Gallery next autumn.

o Susan Foister, Holbein and England (Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art and Yale University Press) ISBN 0300102801

Robert Storr, Professor of modern art Institute of Fine Arts New York university; curator of the 2007 Venice Biennale

Top of the pile: Middlemarch, a present from a painter/art handler/friend on the team that installed Elizabeth Murray’s show at MoMA, and Tête-à-tête (about the affairs of Sartre and de Beauvoir) which was a gift from another friend who knows a thing or two about the incestuousness of intellectual coteries. I am still looking for a good, gritty whodunnit.

o George Eliot, Middlemarch

o Hazel Rowley, Tête-à-tête: Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre (Chatto & Windus) ISBN 0701175067

Philippe Vergne, Deputy Director, the Walker art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota

I am very interested in the way Rancière bridges an analysis of emancipatory politics and the belief in the emancipatory potential of art. He wrote a few things that still resonate with me: “Man is only completely human when he plays” and “A new life needs a new art; the new life does not need art.” Food for thought.

o Jacques Rancière, Chronique des temps consensuels (Seuil) ISBN 2020820730

Julián Zugazagoitia, director El Museo del Barrio, New York

I will be reading Gerardo Kleinburg’s No honrarás a tu padre. This is the first novel and a major work by a Mexican author. The book is fascinating and describes the narrator’s struggles with his identity, his status as an illegitimate child, and his quest to find and be recognised by his Jewish father. The circular and baroque narrative, set in upper-middle-class Mexico City, is all the more interesting when we realise that, through the novel, the author liberates himself by transforming his own self-portrait into fiction.

o Gerardo Kleinburg, No honrarás a tu padre (Mondadori) ISBN 9685957967

A.C. Grayling, philosopher and writer, Department of Philosophy Birkbeck College, University of London

My Christmas reading will include David Lewis-Williams The mind in the cave, his account of rock paintings in the caves of Lascaux, Chauvet, Altamira and elsewhere, and what they can tell us about the growth of the human mind; the second volume of John Addington Symonds’s Renaissance in Italy, on humanism and the revival of learning, somewhat out of date (it was published in 1923), but full of fascinating asides lost to more recent scholarship; Michio Kaku’s Parallel worlds, a noted scientist’s examination, for the general reader, of imaginative new theories in cosmology; and Amartya Sen’s collection of essays on Indian culture and history, The argumentative Indian.

o David Lewis-Williams, The mind in the cave (Thames & Hudson) ISBN 0500284652

o John Addington Symonds, Renaissance in Italy (University Press of the Pacific) ISBN 1410203655

o Michio Kaku, Parallel worlds: the science of alternative universes and our future in the cosmos (Penguin Books) ISBN 0141014636

o Amartya Sen, The argumentative Indian: writings on Indian history, culture and identity (Penguin Books) ISBN 0713996870

Jerry Saltz, art critic, The Village Voice, New York

As the shitstorm builds, my reading seems to have taken a turn for the dark. Holy terror by Terry Eagleton—a short, dense, lucid musing on how ignorance, arrogance, passion, and alienation are mixing and creating a rationale to kill others as well as oneself—is a great post 9/11 meditation on where we are now. I’m also dipping in and out of The Devil and the Jews by Joshua Trachtenberg, which deals with the origins of anti-Semitism in the Medieval conception of the world, and Jacob Katz’s From prejudice to destruction, which tracks anti-Semitism from 1700 as it mutated into the nascent nightmare of the Holocaust in 1933.

o Terry Eagleton, Holy terror (Oxford University Press) ISBN 0199287171

o Joshua Trachtenberg, The Devil and the Jews (Jewish Publication Society) ISBN 0827602278

o Jacob Katz, From prejudice to destruction (Harvard University Press) ISBN 0674325079

Brian Sewell, art critic, The Evening Standard, London

All my life I have swung between love and loathing for Winckelmann. Perhaps Potts will resolve the dilemma.

o Alex Potts, Flesh and the ideal: Winckelmann and the origins of art history (Yale University Press) ISBN 0300087365

Marina Warner, art historian and writer, Professor of Literature at Essex University; author of Phantasmagoria

Claudia Swan’s book about the weird and wonderful little-known artist Jacques de Gheyn II, Art, science, and witchcraft in early Modern Holland explores his imagination with acute perception into the way picturing doesn’t just represent existing ideas but engenders new ones, especially when it comes to belief in magic and the devil.

o Claudia Swan, Art, science, and witchcraft in early Modern Holland (Cambridge University Press) ISBN 0521826748

Dermot Chichester. co-chairman Christie’s, London

George Court-auld has just sent me his wonderfully non-PC Pocket book of patriots which succeeds his very successful Pocket book of patriotism. I shall then ensure that my children read it to make up for the appalling lack of teaching of history in our schools. I look forward to seeing The Regency country house by John Martin Robinson, just published by Country Life. I have just found (on for rare and out of print books) John McCavitt’s biography of my ancestor, Sir Arthur Chichester, Lord Deputy of Ireland 1605-16. This is of great interest to me, but probably of absolutely no interest to anyone else! Then, I shall borrow the latest Harry Potter from my eight-year-old son, George.

o George Courtauld, Pocket book of patriots: 100 British heroes (Ebury Press) ISBN 0091909015

o John Martin Robinson, The Regency country house (Aurum Press Ltd) ISBN 1854130537

o John McCavitt, Sir Arthur Chichester, Lord Deputy of Ireland, 1605-16 (The Institute of Irish Studies) ISBN 0853892190

Robert Copley deputy chairman, Christie’s International, London

I have asked Father Christmas for Alan Bennett’s Untold stories, which, if successful in my request, I plan to read over New Year in the Oman desert—the perfect contrast!

o Alan Bennett, Untold stories (Faber & Faber) ISBN 0571228305

Philippe Garner, International Head, 20th-century Design, Christie’s, London

Top of the pile is Bob Dylan’s Chronicles volume one; Frederick Taylor’s Dresden Tuesday, 13 February 1945, about the blanket bombing of Dresden, and Dominic Sandbrook’s Never had it so good: a history of Britain from Suez to the Beatles. I am an avid reader of works relating to the times that my parents lived through which were the backdrop to my formative decades. And I’m hoping Father Christmas is aware of the recently published Scrapbook of Bob Dylan’s early years.

o Bob Dylan, Chronicles volume one (Simon & Schuster) ISBN 0743501616

o Frederick Taylor, Dresden, Tuesday, 13 February 1945 (Bloomsbury) ISBN 0747570841

o Dominic Sandbrook, Never had it so good: a history of Britain from Suez to the Beatles (Abacus) ISBN 0349115303

o Bob Dylan, The Bob Dylan scrapbook: an American journey, 1956-66 (Simon & Schuster) ISBN 0743228286

Jonathan Horwich International Head British Art, Christie’s, London

I hope I will be reading the new Bill Granger book if some kind person buys it for me. I will be starting John McGahern’s memoir of his childhood in Ireland, growing up in the 1940s. I find reading at Christmas more problematic as you are mostly indoors; you can easily be found reading which may not be regarded as entering into the spirit of the season, whereas in summer you can sneak off into the garden.

o John McGahern, Memoir (Faber & Faber) ISBN 0571228100

Serena Sutcliffe Head Sotheby's International Wine Department London

I shall be in Prague, re-reading Ian Gibson’s superb biography of Lorca whom I love for his poetry, plays and philosophy—who else could have said that the only hope for happiness lies in “living one’s instinctual life to the full”?

o Ian Gibson, Federico Garcia Lorca: a life (Faber & Faber) ISBN 0571142249

James Lingwood, co-director Artangel, London

I hope to be reading Geoff Dyer’s The ongoing moment. I love Dyer’s sideways takes on the state of things and look forward to what he can bring to the photograph. I shall also be reading Colm Toibin’s The Blackwater Lightship. Toibin’s brilliant The master offered huge pleasures, so now I’m working my way backwards through his books. Finally, there is Duncan Fletcher’s book on The Ashes Series for warm summer memories.

o Geoff Dyer, The ongoing moment (Little, Brown) ISBN 0316730254

o Colm Toibin, The Blackwater Lightship (Picador) ISBN 0330396331

o Duncan Fletcher, Ashes regained: the coach's story (Simon & Schuster) ISBN 0743285999

Robin Woodhead, Chief Executive Sotheby's Europe

There are many books I'd like to read over Christmas, but three in particular are top of my list. The sea by John Banville [winner of the 2005 Booker Prize], currently one of my favourite writers, is a meditation on identity and remembrance, in typically stylish, but always sparingly beautiful prose. The second, a work about Andre Kertesz by Greenough, Gurbo and Kennel, will perhaps shed new light on a photographer whom I consider to be one of the finest of the 20th century. The third book, Mr China by Tim Clissold, is a hilarious account of an expensive foreign foray into the Middle Kingdom, an insightful take on how people have always been besotted—and blinded—by commercial fantasy in China. If there’s time, I’ll always return to my old favourite, George Eliot.

o John Banville, The sea (Picador) ISBN 0330483285

o Sarah Greenough, Robert Gurbo, and Sarah Kennel, Andre Kertesz: the eternal amateur (Princeton University Press) ISBN 0691121141

o Tim Clissold, Mr China (Constable and Robinson) ISBN 1841197882

Henry Wyndham, Chairman Sotheby's Europe

I intend to read the new biography of Siegfried Sassoon, written by my cousin Max Egremont, a brilliant writer.

o Max Egremont, Siegfried Sassoon: a life (Picador) ISBN 0330375261 n