One of the few benefits of living in relative isolation is the opportunity to spend time digging deeper into subjects than time would not normally allow for. Usually, the dictates of our fast-paced existence mean that most knowledge is consumed on the move, through snippets of text, image and video, all broadcast through our smartphone, where top-line messaging and sensational headlines reign supreme.
However, when it comes to in-depth, expert knowledge, we are often left dissatisfied, especially concerning the lives and works of artists. What’s more, with our galleries and museums closed, pages adorned with high-quality reproductions of art are the next best thing. What better time then, to truly get to know your heroes by reading a selection of newly published monographs, all of which offer expansive insights into every inch of their subject’s practice.
Embrace the Silly and Surreal
If you were in any doubt over Miranda July’s cross-disciplinary credentials, the words penned by everyone from Riot Grrrl icon Carrie Brownstein to über-curator Hans Ulrich Obrist in this monograph should serve as proof. The artist-actor-director-writer has never shied away from the weird and wonderful. She has created absurd sculptures “activated” by people climbing on or inserting their limbs into them, as well as a narrative dominated by a woman accidentally internet-dating a child in the 2005 film Me and You and Everyone We Know. This book examines everything from her early punk fanzines to her most left-field performances, with revealing commentary from famed faces, collaborators and assistants alike. (Prestel, £39.99)
Surround Yourself with Big-Headed Girls
Yoshimoto Nara’s distinctly playful-yet-sinister graphic style is just as at home in national museums as it is on album covers. The prolific Japanese artist shot to fame in the early 2000s as part of the “superflat” movement, which marries elements of western pop culture with references to folkloric tales, Shinto beliefs and manga. This monograph, published to coincide with a major solo exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, charts his first influences as a child growing up in an isolated northern town, to the development of his distinct “big-headed girls”, and a new politically charged direction, following the 2011 earthquake and nuclear disaster that affected his home region. (Phaidon, £79.95)
Take a Crash-Course in Groundbreaking Cinema
This catalogue, published alongside a major Tate Modern survey, focuses on the last two decades of Steve McQueen’s practice, from his epic feature film 12 Years A Slave to his most recent project, which chronicled the lives of British school children. With such an extensive oeuvre, quantifying the Turner Prize-and Oscar-winning artist’s influence is all the more complex. However, this book offers extensive essays on his position within various subjects such as black and queer cinema, and British identity politics. Expect extensive visual material too, in the form of film stills, photographs and installation shots, proving that the medium is just as important as the message. (Tate Publishing, £25)
Recalibrate Your Gaze
Although Paul Mpagi Sepuya has created long created artist-books as part of his practice, this is his first widely available volume. The photographer challenges the mythology of the gaze by deconstructing his subjective black, male, queer narrative, pulling away the veneer of traditional portraiture by showing us glimpses of his studio setup, and utilizing mirrors and collage to create incisive, fragmented imagery. This book includes an interview with Wassan Al-Khudhairi, curator of Mpagi Sepuya’s major exhibition at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, and further expert contributions that contextualize his innovation within the field of photography. (Aperture and Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, £30)
Revel in Formidable, Futuristic Architecture
There’s no denying that Zaha Hadid was a force to be reckoned with. The British-Iranian architect changed what a statement building could be, replacing phallocentric monoliths with curvaceous, organic structures that alluded to everything from a fluttering curtain to an enormous vulva. Taschen’s The Complete Zaha Hadid is an up-to-date compendium chronicling her work from 1979 up to her untimely death in 2016, as well as ongoing projects in progress at her studio. What’s more, it is packed full of gestural paintings and drawings that worked as concept art for her audacious and at times inconceivable designs, as well as evidence of other forms of enterprise including jewellery, accessories and some seriously sci-fi furniture. (Taschen, £50)