DESIGNATED BY THE UNITED NATIONS Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), World Book Day promotes reading, publishing and copyright. It’s a great excuse to learn more about five new art books. Recently published volumes pay tribute to women artists and explore the work of African American artists active in 1960s and 70s Los Angeles—the work of Betye Saar falls into both categories. Other great selections gather the voices of important poets inspired by the work of Romare Bearden and consider the work of Mississippi artist and blues legend James “Son Ford” Thomas.

 


“Betye Saar: Uneasy Dancer,” Edited by Mario Mainetti (Fondazione Prada, 320 pages). | Published Feb. 28, 2017

 
“Betye Saar: Uneasy Dancer,” Edited by Mario Mainetti

This volume was published to accompany Betye Saar‘s first-ever exhibition in Italy. “Uneasy Dancer” at the Prada Foundation (2016-17) presented more than 80 works produced over the last half century (1966-2016). Generously illustrated, the book includes images of installations, assemblages, collages and sculptures by the Los Angeles-based artist, along with contributions by Richard Powell, Deborah Willis, and Kellie Jones, among others.

 


“James ‘Son Ford’ Thomas: The Devil and His Blues,” by David Serlin, William Ferris, Thomas J. Lax, Kinshasha Holman Conwill, Velma Allen, Jonathan Berger, and James Thomas (Karma, 152 pages). | Published Feb. 28, 2017

 
“James ‘Son Ford’ Thomas: The Devil and His Blues,” by David Serlin, William Ferris, Thomas J. Lax, etal.

The largest-ever and first major institutional solo exhibition devoted to James “Son Ford” Thomas (1926-1993), a self-taught Mississippi artist and blues musician, was on view at New York University’s 80WSE Gallery in 2015. The show featured more than 100 of his small sculptures—tiny occupied coffins, fish and birds, skulls and busts with real teeth and hair—coarse depictions rich with character. Documenting the amazing presentation, this fully illustrated catalog features images of individual works and installation shots, along with writings by William Ferris, Thomas Lax, Kinshasha Holman Conwill, and Jonathan Berger, among others.

 


“Broad Strokes: 15 Women Who Made Art and Made History (in That Order),” by Bridget Quinn, with illustrations by Lisa Congdon (Chronicle Books, 192 pages). | Published March 7, 2017

 
“Broad Strokes: 15 Women Who Made Art and Made History (in That Order),” by Bridget Quinn

When the author entered college in the late 1980s, hefty art history tomes documenting hundreds of artists featured only a handful of women and all the information she could uncover about Lee Krasner was found in books about the artist’s husband Jackson Pollock. The dearth of attention on women artists motivated her to write this volume which examines 15 important women artists, including two African Americans—sculptor Edmonia Lewis (1844-1907) and contemporary artist Kara Walker.

 


“South of Pico: African American Artists in Los Angeles in the 1960s and 1970s,” by Kellie Jones (Duke University Press, 416 pages). | Published April 7, 2017

 
“South of Pico: African American Artists in Los Angeles in the 1960s and 1970s” by Kellie Jones

Expanding on her scholarship for “Now Dig This!: Art and Black Los Angeles, 1960-1980,” art historian Kellie Jones focuses on black Los Angeles in the 1960s and 70s when artists such as Betye Saar, David Hammons, Charles White, Noah Purifoy, and Senga Nengudi “created a vibrant, productive, and engaged activist arts scene in the face of structural racism.”

 


“Bearden’s Odyssey: Poets Respond to the Art of Romare Bearden,” Edited by Kwame Dawes and Matthew Shenoda (Triquarterly, !60 pages). | Published April 15, 2017

 
“Bearden’s Odyssey: Poets Respond to the Art of Romare Bearden,” Edited by Kwame Dawes and Matthew Shenoda

In 1977, Romare Bearden produced 20 collages based on episodes of Homer’s “The Odyssey.” Inspired by the Greek epic poem, the artist’s “Odysseus” series explores themes central to the African American experience——mourning, wandering and questing for home. This collection features 35 of the world’s most powerful poetic voices—Chris Abani, Rita Dove, Nikki Giovanni, Yusef Komunyakaa—responding to the Bearden’s series and includes a foreword by Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott and illustrations of the artist’s works. CT