Now that the end of the fiscal year has come and gone, we’re able to clearly identify those titles that have proved most popular to our readers over the last 12 months. So what has everybody been reading? Did you somehow miss them on your own ‘must get’ radar? Are there any surprises here, and do you want to find out more? If so, and in no particular order, here’s a summary of last year’s Top 10 bestsellers, right across our whole list of books – that’s over 4000 titles:
First published in 1987, Michael Schmidt’s Waffenruhe (Ceasefire) was reprinted in 2018 and often features on people’s Most Influential Photography Books of All Time. Here his black and white city-scape images of a still-then-divided-Berlin are laden with atmospheric details and a mood-inducing feel. The result is a very subjective and highly expressive take on life in Berlin, just before the wall came down.
Metahaven are an Amsterdam-based artists’ collective/studio (including filmmakers, designers and more) who have recently shifted more into the world of the moving image. Founded by Vinca Kruk and Daniel van der Velden, their body of work can be described as sprawling and is not only embedded in visual and art historical culture, but is also linked in to today’s many sociopolitical challenges. It is more than obvious by its style that Metahaven themselves designed this book, Psyop: An Anthology, as it takes a fresh look at what they do and have done. It successfully gets across the versatility of their practice as well as shouts out their messages, clearly illustrating their hugely compelling contemporary voices.
Color Library was set up by ECAL/University of Art and Design Lausanne in 2014 to offer a database of distinct colour profiles for graphic artists, designers, painters and printers who needed a very workable colour management solution. At first it was just an experiment, but it quickly extended to become an online tool for making students and professionals much more aware of colour theory – a big field in contemporary design research. This highly collectible book all about the development of Color Library and its research is aimed at all those creatives who are interested in this graphic design project. It is probably one of the most talked about resources created in this field over the last few years.
American artist and cinematographer Arthur Jafa challenges and questions prevailing cultural assumptions about identity and race. Since the 1990s the artist has been collecting and working from the same set of source books where he seeks to trace and map unwritten histories and narratives relating to black life. This 848-page book is a huge resource on Jafa’s work, and includes lots of visual materials, essays, short stories and poetry that have all influenced and informed his artistic practice. Also included alongside this material are over 30 contributor essays from the likes of art critic Dave Hickey, gender theorist Judith Butler and British artist John Akomfrah. Arthur Jafa: A Series of Utterly Improbable, Yet Extraordinary Renditions was also an exhibition at Serpentine Gallery, London and at the Julia Stoschek Collection, Berlin in 2017 and 2018.
In the early 1970s British social documentary photographer Martin Parr studied at Manchester Polytechnic, and he started going out in to the local community to take his eye-opening and always revealing photos of people and their places. He has returned to the city many times in the intervening years, to create images that really stand out. Starting early on with his black and white images of patients at Prestwich Mental Hospital in 1972 and those of local Yates’ Wine Lodges in the early 1980s, the book (and accompanying exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery until 22 April) follows him moving on to his now only-ever-taken-in-colour shots. His photographs of hairdressers, markets, mosques, cafes, and supermarkets, to name but a few, never disappoint. They somehow manage to give you a real feeling for the people of that time, their true character and they capture his subjects in such an intimate way. Due to its popularity, this very special book, Return to Manchester: Martin Parr has just been reprinted. It gives such a great portrait of Manchester as a city and of its people now and over the last 40+ years.
How the photographic image – both its production and distribution – has transformed and developed over time is Walead Beshty’s broad subject in his recently published, incredibly interesting title, Picture Industry: A Provisional History of the Technical Image, 1844-2018. Here he suggests that the debates and questions often surrounding the topic of representation and its developing technology can never really be separated from the social history of the media – that they are always somehow inter-linked. He also ties all this in to the complicated relationship between the photographic image and the body/viewer. This book of the exhibition (LUMA, Arles, Oct 2018 – Jan 2019) also acts as an anthology of historical and theoretical texts and includes several key art works and publications. Think VERY comprehensive here!
This year and last, award-winning design critic and author Alice Rawsthorn has been travelling the globe promoting her very successful title, Design as an Attitude – and very popular it is too! It mainly asks the question: How is design responding in an age of intense economic, political and ecological instability? Many different aspects of contemporary design are included here, such as how it can be used to interpret new technologies, how it tackles environmental crisis, or refugee migration – and how it can really help us humans as we face today’s challenges. What solutions has design got up its sleeve? Also included are stories about new designer-adventurers. If you are interested in design and what it has the potential to do, and is achieving, then you just have to read this title.
Portrait of the Artist: Käthe Kollwitz was published back in 2017 when Ikon Gallery held an exhibition of her work (13 September – 26 November 2017) and it is still a very popular seller on our list. Known for her drawing, printmaking and sculpture and the emotional powers they evoked, she very much had a vision that centred on women and the working class – unusual at this time of the two World Wars, when men dominated the art world. Included here are several of her self-portraits and portraits of women with the themes of grief, war and remembrance all coming through. Kollwitz championed women and the women’s experience, and she believed that art was a real force for good in society.
Now in its umpteenth reprint, Grayson Perry: The Vanity of Small Differences highlights Perry’s extremely colourful six-tapestry series that has very successfully toured both nationally and internationally to much critical acclaim. With their accessible telling of today’s stories of taste, aspiration, identity and class these artworks show the emotional investment we make when choosing the things we live with, wear, eat, read or drive. Commentary on each tapestry plus essays by Suzanne Moore and Perry himself make this an essential companion to one of the key contemporary set of artworks created in the last few years.
Rhythm and Colour is a beautiful and extensively researched book all about the lives of three, nearly forgotten, avant-garde dancers: Hélène Vanel (1898–1989), Loïs Hutton (1893–1972), and Margaret Morris (1891–1980). Using material from their newly discovered memoirs, letters, photographs, journals and contemporary critique, author and Art Historian Richard Emerson opens up their worlds to us, and spreads out to the circles in which they moved and created and socialised. All three founded their own theatres in Chelsea, Paris and the French Riviera that attracted the likes of Scott Fitzgerald, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Picasso, Dali, Duchamp and James Joyce. This is an inspiring read, and it illustrates just how the details surrounding the lives of these women are such a rich seam of intrigue and creative artistry.
So that’s our current annual Top 10. We hope that the titles that we have highlighted here give you some reading inspiration and ideas – but if not, we have plenty more up our sleeves! Browse our full list of over 4,000 titles to find your own best reads, if you dare! New titles are added weekly.
Image taken from the inside of Color Library: Research into Color Reproduction and Printing, JRP Editions/ECAL, Lausanne 2018