10 recently published arts books, worthy of a read

Arts publications worthy of your time. ArtsHub shares what's top of reading lists for November.
read. Image is a pile of five books in front of a window onto a garden.

As the end of the year approaches, and Christmas lists start to loom as a pesky “must do”, we take a look at some of the arts books that have been recently published.

Publishing circles and reading reviews tend to focus largely on fiction and yet, as a practising visual artists, to have your career documented via a publication or included within a themed publication on the state of making, is an important career tool that is often overlooked.

ArtsHub takes a look at some recently published art and arts-related books:

1. Ceramics: An Atlas of Forms

Ceramics: An Atlas of Forms. Image: Supplied.

Edited by curator and ceramicist Glenn Barkley, Ceramics: An Atlas of Forms is described as chronicling ‘the who, what, where and why of ceramics through more than 110 objects’. Approaching the topic as a global cultural study, Barkley steps readers through a chronological history of ceramics ‘from an Egyptian ceremonial jar made over 5000 years ago to works by 20th century luminaries Lucie Rie and Bernard Leach, as well as First Nations artists from Australia and entirely unknown makers’. It is a cracker read and a delight as a simple page-flicker. A great reference book for anyone who has a passion for ceramics.
Publisher: Thames & Hudson Australia, July 2023
ISBN: 9781760761523
Price: $79.99

2. Tarnanthi: Festival of Contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art 2023

Landing on my desk recently, is the publication for the next edition of the ongoing Festival of Contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art, Tarnanthi. These have become important documents over recent years, charting a kind of slow connection of conversations with artists built over a number of years. While the exhibition at the Art Gallery of South Australia is the launching pad for this publication, the book itself is timeless. It is authored by Nici Cumpston, whose opening essay co-written with Lisa Slade, says it all: ‘Deep culture, wide vision.’ A stunning and respectful publication about First Nations culture.
Publisher: Thames and Hudson, Australia
ISBN: 978-1-921668-60-9
Price: $55

3. Late

Late. Image is black and white author's headshot on left – clean shaven man with short hair and dark jacket. On the right is a pink book cover with a pencil outline drawing of a face.
‘Through choosing to write through the persona of Zelda, he gives voice to a version of Monroe that is both self-reflexive and incredibly camp.’ Photo: Supplied.

Reviewing for ArtsHub, Ellie Fisher described Michael Fitzgerald’s third book – a speculative “what if?” novel inspired by Marilyn Monroe – thus: ‘Densely intertextual in its scope, populated with literary and cultural references, Late is both witty and melancholic.’ Set in Sydney in the 1980s, Fitzgerald looks out through the eyes of Zelda Zonk, an American actress with a reputation for forever being late. Late speculates upon this simple premise: what would have happened if she had faked her own death in 1962 and gone to live in Australia?
Publisher: Transit Lounge, October 2023
ISBN: 9781923023024
Price: $33
Read the review

4. Ken Whisson Painting and Drawing

Ken Whisson: Painting & Drawing. Image: Supplied.

Celebrated in his lifetime with the 2012 retrospective exhibition, Ken Whisson: As If, presented at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, and then Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne, this new publication, Ken Whisson: Painting & Drawing by Quentin Sprague is surprisingly the first comprehensive study of his career in monograph form. It is richly illustrated with over 300 images, and includes a swag of interviews and research that covers Whisson’s early decades in Melbourne, his long residence in the Italian city of Perugia and his return to Australia in 2014. ‘The picture that emerges is of an artist driven by the vagaries of memory and an enduring belief in creative intuition,’ writes the publisher. It is a stunning, overdue, chronicle of one of Australia’s greats.
Publisher: Miegunyah Press, October 2023
ISBN: 9780522880090
Price: $120

5. Vincent Namatjira

Vincent Namatjira. Image: Supplied.

Self-titled, and accompanying the new major survey exhibition of Vincent Namatjira’s work at the Art Gallery of South Australia (AGSA), Vincent Namatjira and Bruce Johnson McLean’s Vincent Namatjira the publication is a refreshing look at contemporary life through the lens of Aboriginal artist. ‘From the first page of this monograph, Vincent takes us on a journey through his artwork, contextualising his iconic series on Indigenous soldiers, Indigenous leaders, power and the Royal Family, giving us an insight into his world view,’ writes the publisher. The book includes essays by Lisa Slade, Nici Cumpston and Gloria Strzelecki from AGSA, by Bruce Johnson McLean from the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) and by Vincent’s great friends and artistic collaborators Ben Quilty and Tony Albert but, most importantly, it is Vincent’s voice as much as his artwork that resonates in high definition on the page. He starts off, ‘Welcome to the past, present and future. I stand side by side with my great-grandfather, who I never met – two painters from the centre of this country, standing up and making our voices heard. I believe in the power of art, the power of the paintbrush. I know that art can change lives. It changed mine and I hope that art can change the world too.’ This is an art library must.
Published: Thames & Hudson, October 2023
ISBN: 9781760763978
Price: $90

Read: How we can get Australians to read more

6. Vincent and Sien

Photo: Supplied.

‘Forget your textbook knowledge of Vincent van Gogh, it’s almost irrelevant whether you know or appreciate the work of the Dutch painter to enjoy Silvia Kwon’s art historic fiction, Vincent & Sien,’ wrote ArtsHub’s Celina Lei of this piece of fun art-inspired fiction. The book focuses on Clasina (aka Sien) Hoornik, the only known lasting love interest of the famed artist and a frequent model of van Gogh’s drawings during his time in The Hague from 1882-83. Right from the start, Kwon’s intention is clearly to highlight Sien’s perspective and avoid a glorified narrative of van Gogh. Perfect summer reading for any lover of the artist’s work … or just love itself.
Macmillan Australia, July 2023

7. Art Monsters: Unruly Bodies in Feminist Art

In recent years, there has been a spate of publications attempting to balance the gender scales. Described as, ‘A dazzlingly original reassessment of women’s stories, bodies and art – and how we think about them,’ Lauren Elkin’s book has been getting four- and five-star reviews globally. Queer bodies, sick bodies, racialised bodies, female bodies… what is their language, what are the materials we need to transcribe it? The publisher’s website says: ‘Writing in the tradition of Susan Sontag, Hélène Cixous and Maggie Nelson, Elkin demonstrates her power as a cultural critic, weaving daring links between disparate artists and writers – from Julia Margaret Cameron’s photography to Kara Walker’s silhouettes, Vanessa Bell’s portraits to Eva Hesse’s rope sculptures, Carolee Schneemann’s body art to Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s trilingual masterpiece DICTEE – and shows that their work offers a potent celebration of beauty and excess, sentiment and touch, the personal and the political.’
Publisher: Vintage Digital, July 2023
ISBN: 1784742937
Price: $55, also available on Kindle

8. The Modern

The Modern. Twofold image shows young woman with long brown hair on the left and a book cover of a woman in a gallery on the right.
”The Modern’ is at turns droll and vulnerable.’ Photo: Leah Jing McIntosh.

Set in and around New York’s Museum of Modern Art, this debut by Anna Kate Blair explores, not just art, but sexuality, job precarity and creativity, wrote ArtsHub reviewer Erin Stewart. She added: ‘Privilege and precarity are increasingly intertwining in the lives of young professionals. People with reams of qualifications aren’t guaranteed secure employment. And so it is for Sophia, the protagonist of Anna Kate Blair’s The Modern… This book rings true of the experience of having your lofty work derailed by the uncertainties of adulthood and being part of an impermanent workforce.’ Relatable and readable.
Publisher: Thames & Hudson Australia, July 2023
ISBN: 9781760763251
Price: $34.99
Read the review

9. Variations – A More Diverse Picture of Contemporary Art

“Variation” is a term that embraces difference, and is core to the excitement and uniqueness of art practice. This book gives much-deserved attention to the work of artists with exceptional and varied lived experiences – including neurodiversity, diverse mental health, incarceration, and refugee, migrant and Muslim backgrounds – to transform how we understand contemporary visual art. Co-authored by Tristen Harwood, Grace McQuilten and Anthony White, the book ensures that the artist’s voice is present throughout, with a mix of profiles and accounts to longer texts that delve into the deeper topics of social marginalisation and understanding of diverse art-making in Australia today.
Published: Monash UP, October 2023
ISBN: 9781922979223
Price: $70

10. Turrangka … in the shadows

James Tylor. Photo: supplied.

This publication follows a 10-year survey of the work of First Nations artist James Tylor and was published to coincide with the touring exhibition of the same title, curated by Leigh Robb. It is currently on show at the Centre for Contemporary Photography. The exhibition features essays by Tylor, Leigh Robb, Coby Edgar, Geoffrey Batchen and Caitlin Eyre, and I would describe it as a frank and genuine publication. It is beautifully photographed, and offers an insight into Tylor’s practice, which pulls together hand-made Kaurna cultural objects alongside unique daguerreotypes and his digital photographic works. As an artist, Tylor’s work has been getting a lot of interest in the last couple of years, and this publication is a stunning step in ensuring his practice is documented.

Published: UNSW Galleries, July 2023
ISBN: 978-0-6483351-5-3
Price: $25

Gina Fairley is ArtsHub's National Visual Arts Editor. For a decade she worked as a freelance writer and curator across Southeast Asia and was previously the Regional Contributing Editor for Hong Kong based magazines Asian Art News and World Sculpture News. Prior to writing she worked as an arts manager in America and Australia for 14 years, including the regional gallery, biennale and commercial sectors. She is based in Mittagong, regional NSW. Twitter: @ginafairley Instagram: fairleygina