Holiday art gifts: 8 contemporary art, art history and artisan books for the ‘Asian art lover’

A book can seem like an easy option for a Christmas present, but which to choose from the vast category of Asian art? And does your creative and bookish friend have them all already?

Luckily, stunning and insightful books on the subject of Asian art are being published all the time. Below in no particular order, Art Radar has handpicked a selection from the last couple of years, covering a range of geographies, art practices and media.

'The Chinese Art Book' published September 2013. Image courtesy Phaidon

‘The Chinese Art Book’ published in September 2013. Image courtesy Phaidon.

1. The Chinese Art Book | Jeffrey Moser, Katie Hill, Keith Pratt (eds)

This interdisciplinary book presents examples of painting, calligraphy, ceramics and bronzes, contemporary installations, photography and performance art. The brave and compelling approach the editors have taken is to juxtapose on each double page spread two works produced often centuries apart from 5,000 years of Chinese history. This not only prompts the reader to make connections across time and media, but also impresses on us the awesome range and depth of Chinese creative endeavours.

'Drawing the City' first published 2013. Image courtesy Tara Books

‘Drawing from the City’ first published 2013. Image courtesy Tara Books.

2. Drawing from the City | Tejubehan

Drawing from the City, first published in 2013, is an autobiographical tale, illustrated by the author, Tejubehan, who shares her rich inner world. It is published by Tara Books, an independent publisher based in Chennai, India whose USP is producing picture books for adults and children. In an interview with We Love This Book the writer said:

Lots of people have asked me about the picture with women falling from the sky. […] when I was working on the book I saw a programme on television about Sunita Williams (the Indian astronaut). After that I thought about how the daughters of India had even reached space.

It is possible to read this as a work of feminist literature, as the author documents how she has lived her life both subject to and challenging the gender norms of India in recent history. No longer available directly from the publisher, Drawing from the City can still be purchased from online retailers.

'Liu Ye Catalogue Raisonné 1991-2015' first published 2015. Image courtesy Hatje Cantz

‘Liu Ye Catalogue Raisonné 1991-2015’ first published in 2015. Image courtesy Hatje Cantz.

3. Liu Ye Catalogue Raisonné 1991-2015 | Christoph Noe (ed) with texts by Paul Moorhouse, Philip Tinari and Zhu Zhu

This is the first comprehensive look at the output of Chinese contemporary artist Liu Ye. Liu was influenced by the work of his father, a children’s book illustrator, in creating his innocent looking but sometimes unsettling scenarios, populated often by young female characters. The publisher lists some of the artist’s inspirations as “Old Masters, Piet Mondrian, and Dick Bruna’s Miffy” and using this cocktail of references, Liu Ye has created a striking visual language and paintings filled with drama.

'Art Place Japan The Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale and the Vision to Reconnect Art and Nature ' first published March 2013. Image courtesy Princeton Architectural Press

‘Art Place Japan The Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale and the Vision to Reconnect Art and Nature’ first published in March 2013. Image courtesy Princeton Architectural Press.

4. Art Place Japan: The Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale and the Vision to Reconnect Art and Nature | Fram Kitigawa (ed)

Information about the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale in print has previously been hard to access for English readers. The first of edition of the festival, which takes place in Niigata prefecture, Japan was held in the year 2000. It was then, as now, delivered under the auspices of director Fram Kitigawa. Hundreds of landscape artists, sculptors and architects have participated with the intention of, as the publisher describes, “rediscovering relationships between nature, art, and humanity, forging collaborations between global artists and local communities, and connecting people to each other and the land.” This catalogue documents the festival since its inception and provides full colour images of 800 works. It also offers travel information.

'Imperfect Chronology: Arab Art from the Modern to the Contemporary Works from the Barjeel Art Foundation' first published 2015. Image courtesy Whitechapel Gallery

‘Imperfect Chronology: Arab Art from the Modern to the Contemporary Works from the Barjeel Art Foundation’ first published in 2015. Image courtesy Whitechapel Gallery.

5. Imperfect Chronology: Arab Art from the Modern to the Contemporary: Works from the Barjeel Art Foundation | Omar Kholeif (ed)

From 8 September 2015 to 8 January 2017 Whitechapel Gallery, London will display selected works from the Barjeel Art Foundation Collection as part of its ongoing project to bring previously rarely seen collections of art to the public. In this case it is the personal collection of Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi that is being brought to wider attention, in a series of four exhibitions that trace the development of modern and contemporary Arab art. This catalogue includes images of artwork from Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine and beyond by artists such as Etel Adnan, Lawrence Abu Hamdan and Kamal Boullata.

'Unscrolled: Reframing tradition in contemporary Chinese art' first published 2015. Image courtesy Black Dog Publishing

‘Unscrolled: Reframing tradition in contemporary Chinese art’ first published 2015. Image courtesy Black Dog Publishing.

6. Unscrolled: Reframing tradition in contemporary Chinese art | Diana Freundl and Carol Yinghua Lu (eds)

Unscrolled, first published February 2015, asks the question of why contemporary Chinese artists in all sorts of media continually look to the past for inspiration. As the publisher elaborates, the original exhibition at Vancouver Art Gallery and this catalogue explore

[…] anxieties around national identity in a globalizing art world, providing an opportunity to reflect on how cultural traditions have shaped earlier generations of Chinese contemporary artists, as well as the liberties that emerging artists now claim to transform and integrate in their own practices.

The book contains critical reflections on the topic by Zheng Shengtian and Thomas J Berghuis, interviews with Wu Hung and Hou Hanru, and focuses on the work of Xu Bing, Liu Jianhua, Sun Xun, Zhang Enli, MadeIn Company and others.

'Worldly Affiliations: Artistic Practice, National Identity, and Modernism in India, 1930-1990' first published June 2015. Image courtesy University of California Press

‘Worldly Affiliations: Artistic Practice, National Identity, and Modernism in India, 1930-1990’ first published in June 2015. Image courtesy University of California Press.

7. Worldly Affiliations: Artistic Practice, National Identity, and Modernism in India, 1930–1990 | Sonal Khullar 

The most academic book in this selection, Worldly Affiliations, first published in June 2013, is part of an international project to map global modernisms and reject the idea that every artistic output links back to (Western) centres of art production in a hierarchical fashion. It focuses on four Indian artists: Amrita Sher-Gil, Maqbool Fida Husain, K. G. Subramanyan and Bhupen Khakhar, and features many illustrations of their work. The publisher explains that Sonal Khullar draws on new research to discuss

the shifting terms of Indian artists’ engagement with the West – an urgent yet fraught project in the wake of British colonialism – and to a lesser extent with African and Latin American cultural movements such as Négritude and Mexican muralism… in a lucid and engaging style.

'Korean Art: the Power of Now' first published  2014. Image courtesy Thames and Hudson

‘Korean Art: the Power of Now’ first published in 2014. Image courtesy Thames and Hudson.

8. Korean Art: The Power of Now | Hossein Amirsadeghi and Marcelle Joseph (eds)

First published in 2014, Korean Art is an attempt to represent an art scene growing in “vibrancy” and impact. This book includes over 680 colour illustrations and contributions by Youngna Kim, John Rajchman, Marcelle Joseph and Sook-Kyung Lee – who is at the time of writing research curator at the Tate Research Centre: Asia Pacific. It profiles the art institutions, curators, established and up-and-coming artists that form the art ecology, making it a great introduction to the topic or a useful resource for the already initiated.

Linda Pittwood

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Related topics: book reviews, lists, Chinese contemporary art, Indian art, land art, conceptual art

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