From a catalog that sheds new light on black models of mid-19th-century French painting to a collection of mid-1980s art criticism by the novelist and playwright Gary Indiana, the best art books of the past year provided a balm for turbulent times. Below, the New York Times’s art critics choose some of their favorites.
The histories of art are always in motion if you look hard enough. This year it didn’t take much looking to see waves being made by several books and catalogs that delved deeper into familiar areas or pioneered new ones, adding some euphoria to our blighted moment.
Hairy Who? 1966-1969, edited by Thea Liberty Nichols, Mark Pascale and Ann Goldstein (Yale University Press). With its quizzical title, this substantial catalog, like its exhibition (through Jan. 6) at the Art Institute of Chicago, sorts out who was and was not Hairy Who, those six subversive Chicago artists who exhibited together under its rubric for four short years mostly at the Hyde Park Art Center. Led by Karl Wirsum and Jim Nutt, they wreaked havoc with various norms of art, society and gallery presentation. As their ranks expanded to include Roger Brown, Christina Ramberg and Ed Paschke, their cohort became known as the Chicago Imagists and the rest is finally, after an unconscionable delay, beginning to be history.
– Roberta Smith