What is the art world reading during the coronavirus lockdown?

Curators and directors tell us about their new favourite books as The Art Newspaper launches its Book Club

Bookworm? A detail of A Saint (Mark?) Reading (around 1470) by Bartolomeo Vivarini

Bookworm? A detail of A Saint (Mark?) Reading (around 1470) by Bartolomeo Vivarini

During these difficult times, many are seeking refuge in cultural pursuits from favourite paintings to top streaming television shows. But we want to get back to basics and find out which art books people are devouring during the coronavirus lockdown. We have asked art professionals worldwide to give their book recommendations, from exhibition catalogues and monographs, to historical books and art-themed novels.

This round-up heralds the launch of The Art Newspaper Book Club: there will be a Book of the Month as well as weekly interviews, art world recommendations, extracts and picture stories from the latest art publications.

The Book of the Month slot will launch this week with Warhol by Blake Gopnik and we will be doing an Instagram Live interview on 29 April at 8pm BST/3pm EST. Specialists, readers and subscribers are invited to feedback across all of our social media platforms. Please let us know what you think!

Sally Tallant Photo: Hugo-Glendinning

Sally Tallant, executive director, Queens Museum, New York

- José Leonilson: Empty Man (2018) edited by Karen Marta and Gabriela Rangel “This is such a beautiful and well-conceived book.”

- The Power Broker, Robert Moses and the Fall of New York (2016) by Robert CaroIn relation to the 1964 World's Fair.”

- A House with a Date Palm Will Never Starve: Cooking with Date Syrup (2019) by Michael Rakowitz and Friends “This book is full of useful recipes.”

- Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy (2005) edited by Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel

- The A to Z of Conflict (2019) by Abdul Halik Azeez et al. “The sheer ambition of this trilingual artist's book in English, Sinhala and Tamil is amazing; it presents work by ten artists and unfolds the complexity of conflicts and civil war in Sri Lanka.”

“I am also reading poetry if that counts?”:

- Citizen: An American Lyric (2014) by Claudia Rankine

- Autobiography of Red (1998) by Anne Carson

Tanya Barson, chief curator, Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona

“The last art book I bought was Cecilia Vicuña: Seehearing the Enlightened Failure from her recent retrospective at the Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, which was curated by Miguel López. It has contributions from Lucy Lippard, Dawn Ades, and Julia Bryan Wilson as well as selected writings by the artist herself. I’m also using this time to dip into Okwui Enwezor’s huge Postwar: Art Between the Pacific and the Atlantic (2016), with a multitude of contributors, which is not at all portable so this is the ideal time to read it! Alongside those, I am also turning to non-art specific books particularly Rebecca Solnit's Wanderlust: A History of Walking. While everything by Solnit is great, as we aren’t allowed out for exercise here in Spain and I miss walking the most, it enables a vicarious enjoyment.”

Hans-Ulrich Obrist © Photo: Brigitte Lacombe

Hans-Ulrich Obrist, artistic director, Serpentine Galleries, London

- Jennifer Packer: Tenderheaded (2018) by Solveig Øvstebø and Jennifer Packer

“A great publication that, among other texts, includes a conversation with Jennifer [Packer] and Kerry James Marshall. The book includes reproductions of Packers’ extraordinary portraits, interior scenes and also some of her flower still lifes. Packer is one of the great painters of our time and I can’t stop looking at this book. The paintings are about the complexity of our relationships. In Jennifer’s own words: ‘I think about images that resist, that attempt to retain their secrets or maintain their composure, that put you to work.’ This book is a source and an inspiration as we are working on a show of Jennifer for the Serpentine for autumn.”

- The Architecture of Trees Hardcover (2019) by Cesare Leonardi and Franca Stagi

“During the lockdown I go on a walk every day in Kensington Gardens. I started a series with animal interviews asking them about their unrealised projects and became aware how true Etel Adnan’s sentence is: that a day without seeing a tree is a wasted day. Or in Etel’s own words ‘The tree came back to life, stopped crying’. At home I often look at Cesare Leonardi and Franca Stagi’s The Architecture of Trees; [it is] one of my favourite books. This book, which was first published in 1982, includes 400 magical drawings of 211 tree species drawn in 1 to 100 [scale] and includes tables of seasonal variations of the colours. It took the authors 20 years to accomplish this magnum opus and it was out of print for many years until Cartier translated it into English for the first time this year.”

- Koo Jeong A: ajeongkoo (2017) by Edouard Glissant et al. and Koo Jeong A: R (2006) by Koo Jeong A

“Almost like a ritual I look every morning at my partner Koo Jeong A's magical drawing book R, which was published by Swiss Re in 2006 [and] includes 1001 intricate one line pen drawings. It’s like an enigmatic diary of wandering souls. It’s an infinite book and one can every day discover new things in a very non-linear way. The book is long out of print but recently Heni published a new artist book of Koo Jeong A called Nomos Alpha that features a selection of R printed on very thin paper.”

- Felix Feneon: Aesthete and Anarchist in Fin-De-Siecle Paris (1988) by Joan Ungersma Halperin

- Künstlerhaus Stuttgart 1978-2018 (2018) edited by Hannelore Paflik-Huber with contribution by Liam Gillick

- Claudia Andujar: The Yanomami Struggle (2020) by Claudia Andujar et al.

- Cahiers d'Art: Arthur Jafa (2018) edited by Staffan Ahrenberg et al.

- Judy Chicago: New Views (2019) by Judi Chicago et al.

- Gerhard Richter: Das Denken ist Beim malen Das malen (2019) by Armin Zweite

- Conversations with Darius Khondji (2018) by Jordan Mintzer

- Cerith Wyn Evans. “….the Illuminating Gas” (2019) by Éric Alliez et al.

Catherine Wood, senior curator of international art (performance), Tate, London

“I am going back to Cosmin Costinas and Ana Janevski’s Is the Living Body the Last Thing Left Alive? an amazing book made from a conference they did about performance. And the Afterall book on Agnes Martin’s Night Sea [by Suzanne Hudson].?. And a great book about South African performance art by Jay Pather and Catherine Boulle called Acts of Transgression.

Alexie Glass-Kantor Alexie Glass-Kantor; photo: Zan Wimberley

Alexie Glass-Kantor, executive director, Artspace, Sydney

“I’m finding my solace in writers such as Rachel Cusk, Rebecca Solnit, Christos Tsiolkas and Rainer Maria Rilke.”

Alex Gartenfeld, artistic director, Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami

“The catalogue for [In Europe everything appears to be more serious than in the USA] has wonderful reproductions of their Michel Majerus show. Also, this summer ICA Miami's catalogue for Ettore Sottsass is published. It is an ambitious contribution to the understanding of the radical designer.”