Johnson Publishing Library Archive at Rebuild Foundation, Chicago (April 23, 2016). | Photo by Victoria L. Valentine


TODAY IS WORLD BOOK DAY, what are you reading? An exhibition catalog or critical text perhaps? Designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), World Book and Copyright Day celebrates and promotes books, reading, and publishing annually on April 23.

A bit of promotion wouldn’t hurt. According to the Pew Research Center, about 24 percent of Americans report they have not read a book in whole or part in the past year. Conversely, of course, that means three-fourths did, which is encouraging.

College graduates, people with high incomes, and older Americans were more likely to have read a book, whether in print, electronic or audio form in the past year.

Who hasn’t read a book? Tendencies are fairly even between men (25 percent) and women (22 percent), and also among urban (24 percent), suburban (21 percent), and rural (26 percent) dwellers. Twenty-four percent of blacks have not read a book lately, compared with 20 percent of whites and 38 percent of hispanics. Overall, college graduates were most likely to have read a book, with only 7 percent reporting they had not cracked a cover in 12 months.

Overall, college graduates were most likely to have read a book, with only 7 percent reporting they had not cracked a cover in 12 months.

Pew’s survey research didn’t distinguish artists, art professionals, or art collectors, but given the demographics cited, odds are art world figures have read at least one book in the past year. Books play an invaluable role in understanding art through in-depth examinations of artists and their work, giving historic context and critical analysis, and often first-person perspective from artists through interviews and writings.

Exhibition catalogs, in particular, serve an invaluable purpose. Few have the opportunity to travel around the country to view all of the important and compelling museum exhibitions featuring work by African American artists. While there is no substitute for seeing art in person, exhibition catalogs are the next best thing. The volumes offer a visual experience through illustrations and installation images of the featured works and a reading experience through critical essays providing insights about the artist and their work. Even if you’ve seen the exhibition, a good catalog is hard to resist to savor the experience and dig deeper.


“Howardena Pindell: What Remains To Be Seen,” edited by Naomi Beckwith and Valerie Cassel Oliver, with contributions by Grace Deveney, Charles Gaines, Lowery Stokes Sims (Prestel, 276 pages). | Published March 1, 2018


LOOKING TO ACQUIRE a new book, but not sure what to read next? A selection of recently published volumes document must-see exhibitions:

“Howardena Pindell: What Remains to be Seen” is highly recommended. The new catalog coincides with the multidisciplinary artist’s first major survey. Currently on view at MCA Chicago through May 20, the exhibition spans Pindell’s five-decade career, “featuring early figurative paintings, pure abstraction and conceptual works, and personal and political art that emerged in the aftermath of a life-threatening car accident in 1979. The exhibition traces themes and visual experiments that run throughout Pindell’s work up to the present.”

She has worked across photography, film, and dance, but is best known for her experimental approach to painting, the medium in which she was trained, stretching its bounds and assumptions through conceptual and abstract works. Some of her most recognized paintings are composed of countless layers of painted dots formed using a hole punch.

The catalog is its own triumph. Edited by Naomi Beckwith and Valerie Cassel Oliver, the exhibition’s co-curators, the volume documents both the survey and Pindell’s substantial practice. Beckwith and Cassel contribute essays, along with curator Lowery Stokes Sims, artist Charles Gaines, and others. The editors also convene a roundtable with artists Lorna Simpson, Marilyn Minter, and Molly Zuckerman-Hartung. Pindell’s multifaceted career as an artist, curator, educator and activist serves as a “springboard” for their reflections on their own lives and work.

A section called the Howardena Pindell Papers includes a selection of the artist’s writings about her work and the world. A chronology featuring moments described as Life Events, Cultural Events, and World Events, interspersed with “Pindell’s Words,” is right up front on page 31, rather than hidden in the back of the volume as is customary.


“Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas,” Edited by Catharina Manchanda, with contributions by Jacqueline Francis and Lowery Stokes Sims (Yale University Press, 96 pages). | Published March 6, 2018


Several other new volumes have been published to coincide with current or recent exhibitions. “Figuring History: Robert Colescott, Kerry James Marshall, Mickalene Thomas” accompanies the exhibition presented by the Seattle Art Museum, where it is on view through May 13. The show brings together three figurative painters, spanning three generations, to consider who has a voice, who authors and figures prominently in history.

Released in February, “Theaster Gates: Black Archives” complements an exhibition the Chicago-based artist presented in 2016 at Kunsthaus Bregenz in Austria. New sculptures, film, and tar works were featured and for the first time he showed examples from his collection of “Negrophilia,” historic artifacts often depicting African Americans in a racist and stereotypical manner. “Mark Bradford: Pickett’s Charge” was also just published. It documents Bradford’s largest work to date, stretching more than 400 feet across eight canvases. The installation at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum is his first solo show in Washington, D.C.

“Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power” documents the exhibition of the same name organized by the Tate Modern in London. Recently debuting stateside, featuring more than 170 works made between 1963-1983 by dozens of black artists, the exhibition closed today at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark., and will travel to the Brooklyn Museum.


“Mark Bradford: Pickett’s Charge,” with contributions by Stéphane Aquin and Evelyn Hankins (Yale University Press, 96 pages). | Published Feb. 27, 2018


Following the publication of “We Wanted a Revolution: Black Radical Women, 1965–85: A Sourcebook,” which “focused on re-presenting key voices of the period by gathering a remarkable array of historical documents,” a second volume has been released to further amplify the exhibition. Published last month, “New Perspectives” features essays by Aruna D’Souza, Uri McMillan, Kellie Jones, and Lisa Jones, that put the artists, history, and works in context.

A few much-anticipated volumes are coming soon. These include “Joyce J. Scott: Harriet Tubman and Other Truths,” the monograph of the Baltimore-based artist is the most comprehensive publication about her work to date complements her exhibition that was on view through April 1 at Ground for Sculpture in Hamilton, N.J. “Adrian Piper: A Synthesis of Intuitions 1965–2016,” is a 350-page catalog documenting her career-spanning exhibition which just opened to rave reviews at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. “Adrian Piper: A Reader,” featuring critical essays about the artist’s work by emerging and established scholars, will also be published.

A thorough examination of his practice, “Charles White: A Retrospective,” accompanies the White’s long-awaited survey which will be on view this summer at the Art Institute of Chicago, before traveling to MoMA in New York, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. CT


“Theaster Gates: Black Archive,” Edited by Thomas D. Trummer, with text by Romi Crawford (Kunsthaus Bregenz, 160 pages). | Published Feb. 27, 2018


“Joyce J. Scott: Harriet Tubman and Other Truths,” Edited by Coby Green-Rifkin, with texts by Gary Garrido Schneider, Lowery Stokes Sims, Patterson Sims, and Seph Rodney, wth contributions by Joyce J. Scott (Grounds for Sculpture, 192 pages). | Expected April 24, 2018 (Available now at Grounds for Sculpture)


“Adrian Piper: A Synthesis of Intuitions 1965–2016,” Edited by Christophe Cherix, Cornelia Butler, and David Platzker, with contributions by Christophe Cherix, Cornelia Butler, David Platzker, and Adrian Piper, along with Tessa Ferreyros (Museum of Modern Art, 352 pages). | Expected May 22, 2018


“Charles White: A Retrospective,” Edited by Sarah Kelly Oehler and Esther Adler, with contributions by Kerry James Marshall, Ilene Susan Fort, Kellie Jones, Mark Pascale, and Deborah Willis (Art Institute of Chicago, 248 pages). | Expected June 5, 2018


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