THE BEST EXHIBITION CATALOGS do more than document their gallery counterparts. They provide critical context, visual reference, an opportunity for innovative design that reflects the work, and a format in which the exhibition can live beyond its presentation dates. This year, there were a number of remarkable exhibitions featuring Black artists and the coinciding catalogs were among the best art books of 2014. A scholarly examination of Black British artists, several monographs and photographer LaToys Ruby Frazier’s first book, made the cut, too. (Titles listed in order of publication date.)

 

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“Ellen Gallagher: Don’t Axe Me,” Edited by Gary Carrion-Murayari with a foreword by Lisa Phillips (New Museum, 122 pages). | Published Jan. 31, 2014

 
1. “Ellen Gallagher: Don’t Axe Me”

Dividing her time between Rotterdam, The Netherlands, and New York, Ellen Gallagher maintains a multidisciplinary practice spanning painting, drawing, collage, sculpture and video. Last winter, the New Museum in New York mounted “Don’t Axe Me,” an exhibition that brought together two decades of her work. Exploring notions of history, migration, identity and language, she often invokes the symbolism of the ocean and culturally rich imagery from Ebony magazine and other period publications. Surveying her entire oeuvre, the exhibition presented new paintings and recent projects in the form of moving image projections with her frequent collaborator and life partner Edgar Cleijne. Beginning with the die-cut cover, this catalog brilliantly translates the exhibition experience to print. Intensely colored images present the layered, “tendril-like formations” of her new paintings in amazing detail. Dramatic and emotional, the vivid images bleed off the edges of the pages. The entire catalog is practically void of white space. Meanwhile, the volume’s sole essay by Gary Carrion-Murayari, who curated the exhibition, is printed on mauve pink pages. A separate booklet inserted at the back of the catalog features works produced between 1993 and 2009 in 33 color plates. (There is plenty of white space here.)

 

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“Isaac Julien: Riot,” By Giuliana Bruno, Paul Gilroy, Stuart Hall, and bell hook with Isaac Julien, et al. (Museum of Modern Art, New York, 248 pages). | Published Feb. 28, 2014

 
2. “Isaac Julien: Riot”

The inside cover flap of this book, where the summary description usually appears, states simply: “‘Riot’ is an autobiography of Isaac Julien.” The rest of the space is devoted to bios of the volume’s many contributors, including Giuliana Bruno, Paul Gilroy, Mark Nash, bell hooks, Laura Mulvey and Stuart Hall. Indeed, “Riot” encapsulates the entire career of the British-born artist and filmmaker. A visual and narrative feast, it was published in conjunction with the Fall/Winter 2014 presentation of “Ten Thousand Waves” (2010), a 55-minute immersive film installation projected onto nine double-sided screens at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Julien’s intellectual, political and cultural barometers are considered and his many film such as “Territories” (1984), “Looking for Langston” (1989), “Frantz Fanon: Black Skin White Mask” (1996), and “Derek” (2008), are revisited and given context. The title references the 1981 riots in East London. The racially diverse, economically and socially motivated protests, along with the AIDS epidemic and the art world’s globalization and eventual embrace of filmmakers (initially Julien was a painter), greatly influenced his practice. Incredibly personal and revealing, Julien mined his archive in order to reflect on his life and work and the world around him for the book, an exercise that may inspire an exhibition. “In a way that project was like a retrospective, but in the form of a printed publication,” he told Ocula.

 

“In a way that project was like a retrospective, but in the form of a printed publication.” — Isaac Julien, Ocula

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“Kerry James Marshall: Painting and Other Stuff,” Edited by Navi Haq, with Dieter Roelstraete and Okwui Enwezor (Ludion, 192 pages) | Published April 30, 2014

 
3. “Kerry James Marshall: Painting and Other Stuff”

Kerry James Marshall proudly seeks to redress the absence of Black people in the art historical canon, primarily through the lens of the African American experience. Given this, it is ironic, or perhaps telling, that the first full-throttled consideration of his practice was mounted in Europe. “Kerry James Marshall: Painting and Other Stuff” was on view in Antwerp, Madrid, Copenhagen and Barcelona this year and last, featuring work from 1970-2013. Showcasing the modern mastery of his paintings, while also presenting the “other stuff” which has drawn less attention over the years—drawings, woodcuts, collage, sculpture, photography and video—the exhibition demonstrated the depth, breadth and intellectual rigor of Marshall’s Chicago-based practice. The catalog is a worthy complement, ensuring the rest of the world has an opportunity to experience a version of the four-decade survey. The catalog opens with an insightful interview with Marshall conducted by Dieter Roelstraete and closes with essays by Navi Haq, who curated the exhibition, and Okwui Enwezor. In between, the volume is brimming with vivid, full-color plates and installation images. “Untitled” (1998/2007), a 12-panel work depicting two groups of Black men in a domestic setting casually engaging one another in conversation, graces the front cover and extends around to the back. An atypical image capturing a common occurrence, the catalog is literally wrapped in a metaphor for Marshall’s oeuvre. Relatively small in scale (about 8 x 10 inches), it’s sizable in terms of impact.

 

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“Charles Gaines: Gridwork 1974-1989,” Edited by Naima J. Keith, with a foreword by Thelma Golden and contributions by Courtney J. Martin, et al. (The Studio Museum in Harlem, 168 pages). | Published Aug. 31, 2014

 
4. “Charles Gaines: Gridwork 1974-1989,”

Visually intriguing, the work of Charles Gaines can be hard to decipher theoretically and conceptually. A post-minimalist who emerged during the Black arts movement of the 1970s, his investigations of series and systems, cognition and language stood askew against the radical and representational gestures of his counterparts. Gaines, who lives and works in Los Angeles, makes photographs, drawings and works on paper plotted out on grids. Seventy five early examples were featured this summer and fall in “Charles Gaines: Gridwork 1974-1989” at The Studio Museum in Harlem. In the exhibition catalog, Gaines talks with Courtney J. Martin and says for decades the museum failed to consider his work. “I don’t know why the Studio Museum was uninterested in my work,” Gaines says, “but I knew it was important to me for them to be interested, because I wanted my work to be embraced by the black community.” The exhibition made up for lost time. Through imagery, writings by curator Naima J. Keith, Ellen Tani, Anne Ellegood and Howard Singerman, documentation, a selected chronology and a roundtable discussion moderated by Bennett Simpson, the catalog is a thorough primer, successfully contextualizing and explaining Gaines’s practice and the cerebral works he turns out.

A post-minimalist who emerged during the Black arts movement of the 1970s, Charles Gaines’s investigations of series and systems, cognition and language stood askew against the radical and representational gestures of his counterparts.

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“Nick Cave: Epitome,” By Andrew Bolton, Elvira Dyangani Ose and Nato Thompson with Nick Cave (Prestel USA, 288 pages) | Published Sept. 22, 2014

 
5. “Nick Cave: Epitome”

Chicago-based Nick Cave has captured the vibrance and energy of his practice between the covers of this volume. Visually impressive in terms of imagery and scale, “Epitome” possesses the same presence, color and movement found in his live performances and the animation on his website (soundsuitshop.com). The most comprehensive survey of his multidisciplinary practice to date, the book features Cave’s mesmerizing Soundsuits, public installations, performances and newer sculptural assemblages presented earlier this year at Jack Shainman Gallery’s Chelsea and Kinderhook, N.Y., locations. His material-rich works are composed of vintage finds and second-hand gems. It is amazing what he can do with thousands of beads and buttons, a supply of feathers, twigs and synthetic hair, or a collection of racially charged found objects. Captivating, full-color images documenting it all, are splashed across spreads and produced in up-close detail on countless pages, alongside installation images and video stills. Tucked in between, Cave’s oeuvre is considered critically in essays by Creative Time Curator Nato Thompson and international curator Elvira Dyangani Ose, and an engaging conversation between the artist and Costume Institute Curator Andrew Bolton.

 

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“LaToya Ruby Frazier: The Notion of Family,” by LaToya Ruby Frazier, with Dennis C. Dickerson, Laura Wexler and Dawoud Bey (Aperture Foundation, 156 pages) | Published Sept. 30, 2014

 
6. “LaToya Ruby Frazier: The Notion of Family”

Born and raised in Braddock, Pa., an industrial outpost of Pittsburgh, photographer LaToya Ruby Frazier found her voice documenting the parallel decline of her family and her hometown, where steel mills have employed generations. Both political and personal, “The Notion of Family” is her first book. A dozen years in the making, it’s defined by black-and-white images she made between 2002 and 2013—some candid, many staged. Presented here on full pages, the interior domestic shots and exterior images of a once thriving community, visualize her family’s narrative. Frazier contributes brief captions throughout—frank, factual and introspective commentary, reflecting on special family moments, their health struggles and a laundry list of chemicals emitted by U.S. Steel over the years. The triumphs and tribulations of Frazier, her mother and grandmother, speak volumes about society at-large and similar fates of Americans across the country enduring hardships wrought by the transformation of the U.S. economy. The volume concludes with brief essays by Dennis C. Dickerson (“Black Braddock and Its History”) and Laura Wexler (“A Notion of Photography”), and a conversation between Frazier and fellow photographer Dawoud Bey.

 

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“Black Artists in British Art: A History Since the 1950s,” By Eddie Chambers (I. B. Tauris, 288 pages) | Published Oct. 2, 2014

 
7. “Black Artists in British Art: A History Since the 1950s”

British-born Eddie Chambers is an artist, curator and professor of art history at the University of Texas at Austin who specializes in art of the African diaspora. He earned his Ph.D. in London and has curated exhibitions in Britain. His important new book “Black Artists in British Art” surveys more than a half century of contributions, bringing welcome attention to the likes of Ronald Moody, Aubrey Williams and Frank Bowling and contemporary figures such as Sonia Boyce, Sokari Douglas Camp, Steve McQueen, Chris Ofili, Yinka Shonibare and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye. Among other topics, chapters focus on artists of African, South Asian and Caribbean origin; the significance of the 1970s; the rise and fall of The Black-Art Gallery; and women artists. Rigorously researched, drawing on rarely accessed archive material, the book presents insightful theories, developments and scholarship that “avoids treating and discussing black artists as isolated practitioners, wholly separate and disconnected from their counterparts.” There are few images included in the volume and those that are present are black-and-white. It’s the one drawback of this groundbreaking, readable book, which would have benefitted greatly from full-color examples of the art, artists and issues discussed throughout.

Rigorously researched, drawing on rarely accessed archive material, “Black Artists in British Art” presents insightful theories, developments and scholarship that avoids treating and discussing black artists as isolated practitioners, wholly separate and disconnected from their counterparts.”

 

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“Chris Ofili: Night and Day,” Edited by Massimiliano Gioni with Gary Carrion-Murayari and Margot Norton (Skira Rizzoli, 240 pages) | Published Oct. 28, 2014

 
8. “Chris Ofili: Night and Day”

“Night and Day,” British-born Chris Ofili’s first solo American museum exhibition, is emblematic of his practice—ironic, dramatic, folkloric and culturally attuned. Most significantly, it presents three gallery floors of amazing paintings that demonstrate his comfort with subjects and concepts both high and low and his deft ability to push his work in new directions. The accompanying catalog is similarly satisfying, showcasing Ofili’s most important bodies of work over the past two decades, including his Afromuse watercolor portraits, Afro Margin drawings and layered glittery 1990s paintings with cheeky cultural references. Newer canvases produced since he relocated to Trinidad in 2005 are featured too, his blue paintings and “Metamorphoses” series inspired by Ovid’s poem, among them. An impressive line up pens essays: artist Glenn Ligon, Minna Moore Ede, Matthew Ryder and Yale’s Robert Storr; Fellow British artist Lynette Yiadom-Boakye contributes a poem; and Alicia Ritson offers a thorough date-stamped recounting of the 1999 fall out surrounding Ofili’s elephant dung-embellished “Holy Virgin Mary” painting at the Brooklyn Museum. The insightful texts balance page-after-page of beautiful images of individual works, and detail and installation views, along with a few large-scale 2014 paintings shown in process in Ofili’s studio.

 

image of the black in western art V pt. 2

“The Image of the Black in Western Art, Volume V: The Twentieth Century, Part 2: The Rise of Black Artists,” Edited by David Bindman and Henry Louis Gates Jr. et al. (Belknap Press, 368 pages) | Published Oct. 31, 2014

 
9. “The Image of the Black in Western Art, Volume V: The Twentieth Century, Part 2

An ambitious project initiated by Harvard University in 2010, “The Image of the Black in Western Art” assiduously documents artistic depictions of African-descended people, from the earliest known examples to the present. Based on an archive founded by French-American arts patron Dominique de Menil in the 1960s, the series begins with the pharaohs and continues through the fall of the Roman Empire and the early Christian era, to the Age of Discovery and the Age of Abolition. Volume V chronicles the 20th century. The last installment in the 10-volume series, this book is the first to focus on representations of Black people by Black artists (though not exclusively, as work by the likes of Carl Van Vechten and Weinold Reiss is also considered). Previous volumes concentrated on exploring images of Blacks as portrayed by others, when people of African descent had neither the means nor the agency to portray themselves. Scholarly essays by Adrienne L. Childs, Ruth Fine, Jacqueline Francis, Kobena Mercer, Richard J. Powell and Deborah Willis, contextualize this remarkable visual history. Mostly paintings and drawings are featured, along with some photography, mixed-media works and sculpture by artists active in the early, middle and late periods of the century, and many contemporary figures still working today such as Hurvin Anderson, Stan Douglas, Kori Newkirk, Lorna Simpson, Mickalene Thomas and Barkley L. Hendricks (whose “New Orleans Niggah,” 1973 covers the volume).

The last installment in the 10-volume series “The Image of the Black in Western Art,” this book is the first to focus on representations of Black people by Black artists.

 

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“Prospect.3: Notes for Now,” By Franklin Sirmans, with contributions by Rita Gonzalez, Christine Y. Kim, Mary A. McCay, et al. (Prestel, 176 pages). | Published Nov. 11, 2014

 
10. “Prospect.3: Notes for Now”

International citywide art exhibitions celebrate art and artists with an overwhelmingly contemporary bent. The third installment of Prospect, the New Orleans triennial, follows suit with work by 58 artists on view at 18 venues and is further distinguished by three attributes: Franklin Sirmans serves as artistic director; He curates the show with a decidedly New Orleans lens that doesn’t lose sight of the global perspective; And most significantly, there are more Black artists represented at Prospect 3 (more than 20) than at any other American biennial-style gathering in recent memory, perhaps ever. The late artists Terry Adkins, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Alma Thomas are joined by Keith Calhoun, McArthur Binion, Ed Clark, Charles Gaines, Theaster Gates, Lonnie Holley, Hew Locke, Chandra McCormick, Tameka Norris, Ebony G. Patters, Garry Simmons, Tavares Strachan and Carrie Mae Weems, among many others. Brief bios of each of the participating artists and full-color examples of their work are included in the exhibition catalog. Sirmans, curator of contemporary art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, found his inspiration for the planning and direction of Prospect in several books. The selection includes “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe, Zadie Smith’s “White Teeth: A Novel,” and chiefly, “The Moviegoer” by Walker Percy, which Sirmans explains in detail in his catalog essay “Somewhere and not Anywhere.” Writings by Prospect Executive Director Brooke Davis Anderson, Rita Gonzalez, Christine Y. Kim and Mary A. McCay further delineate the themes and concepts of Prospect. There is nothing particularly innovative about the volume’s design and execution, but content-wise it achieves its goal, offering a comprehensive documentation of an important and historic artistic moment.

 

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“Lynette Yiadom-Boakye,” with contributions by Naomi Beckwith, Donatien Grau, Jennifer Higgie and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye (Prestel, 136 pages) | Published Nov. 24, 2014

 
11. “Lynette Yiadom-Boakye”

Originally scheduled to be published in May, this compelling volume celebrates, explores and documents Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s practice over the past decade. The British-born artist paints mysterious figures, a diverse cast of Black subjects plucked from her imagination. With wry looks and evasive gazes, they appear thoughtful and pre-occupied with fully formed interior lives. Using saturated moody hues, her canvases maintain a certain seriousness that is offset by refreshing decisions—a bright striped shirt worn by a young man who appears on several canvases; a bouquet of flowers to keep a lone figure company on more than one occasion; a pink sweater for the intensely focused man featured in “Jewel,” the painting on the cover of the book. Well worth the wait, works from 2003 to 2013 are gathered here in full-color plates, along with poetic prose by the artist, essays by Donatien Grau and Jennifer Higgie, and an interview conducted by Naomi Beckwith, who curated Yiadom-Boakye’s 2010 show at the Studio Museum in Harlem. CT