The Brooklyn Rail

DEC 21-JAN 22

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DEC 21-JAN 22 Issue
Art Books

20 Best Art Books of 2021

This month, our editors and writers have selected their favorite art books of 2021, featuring interviews, anthologies, photography, critical writings, and more, from authors and artists such as Gillian Laub, Robert Storr, Sky Hopinka, and Édouard Glissant, among others.

Philip Taaffe

(Rafael Jablonka, Verlag der Buchhandlung, Walter König, Köln, 2020)

In the pantheon of great artists as prodigious alchemists in regard to how they materialize their material matters say Jackson Pollock with his deployment of house paint and drip, Helen Frankenthaler with acrylic and stain, Eva Hesse with latex and fiberglass, Jasper Johns with wax and stencil, Richard Serra with lead and rolled Cor-Ten steel, just to name a few, Philip Taaffe, with his invention of print and mixed media, rightly takes his place with impressive assertiveness. In this latest volume Philip Taaffe, adding to the ever-expanding literature on Taaffe’s whole oeuvre, published as an occasion to share with the artist’s admirers, namely the collection of artist’s most singular and unique collector Rafael Jablonka.

Over the course of three decades, Jablonka has amassed Taaffe’s most significant works of 35 years (dating from 1983 to 2018), we’re readily reminded how singularly and significantly unique a contribution Jablonka and Taaffe have both made as collector and artist to our visual culture. With an authoritative introduction by Enrique Juncosa along with insightful and sensitive texts on individual works by Kay Heymer and Charles Stein, and the artist’s pleasurable-reading biography by Natalia Leniec, this book has reconfirmed how Taaffe has been a dry and magical sponge absorbing anything or everything that falls upon his alert sensitivity and inclusive vision, from social/political conceptual art of Hans Haacke to the healing power of Joseph Beuys’s social sculpture, from experimental films by Maya Deren, Joseph Cornell, Stan Brakhage, Jonas Mekas, Harry Smith, among others, to the equally experimental writings of William S. Burroughs; from the world’s architectures and their architectural motives to the worlds of living organism; from cabinets of curiosities to Aby Warburg’s Mnemosyne Atlas, etc., etc. As Taaffe said of his work, “It’s a personal artistic interaction with the history of images and a way of creating an intimate pictorial reality that can be shared with the world.” This volume can take us to as close to Taaffe’s evolution as an artist with full and uplifting pleasure for the holidays indeed. –Phong H. Bui

Aisha Sabatini Sloan’s Borealis

(Coffee House Press, 2021)

NEA award-winning author, Aisha Sabatini Sloan’s (co-author of Captioning the Archives with her father, seminal photographer Lester Sloan) latest book, Borealis, was one of my favorite books this year. It is a brilliantly crafted book-length essay detailing the author’s isolating experience in Alaska as a Black queer writer reflecting on past love affairs. The book reads like a diary of meandering observations and traumas all against the backdrop of Lorna Simpson’s candescent “Ice Series” and actual glaciers. While this is not a traditional art book—a genre whose existence aims to shirk constructs of tradition—I consider this an art book in the way it holds art as a guide for looking at oneself. Think Moyra Davey’s curious associations in Index Cards with the subtle tone of disquiet, calling forth Valeria Luiselli’s Sidewalks. It is an exquisite, spare, and fascinating journey of a book. –Erica Cardwell

David Horvitz’s Nostalgia

(Gato Negro Ediciones, 2021)

Imageless except for the charming black cat of the publisher’s imprint, David Horvitz’s Nostalgia (Gato Negro Ediciones, 2021) is a wily, if sincere, wink at the genre of photo books. Riso-printed in black-and-white, each of the publication’s 316 pages contains a sentence-long description—complete with filename, date, and timestamp—of a photo chosen from the artist’s 2019 installation of the same name. Imagined as a series of 15,756 projected photos, the principle of the 2019 work is that each photo is deleted after it has been shown; the work itself has a life and, ultimately, a death. Nonetheless, Horvitz has chosen to eternalize a select few of these images in his newest book, not in their visual original, but as a textual equivalent. In a genre of artist books known for fantastic imagery, be it lush color prints or high-contrast black-and-whites, Horvitz’s imageless variation on the theme is a little slapstick. But this gesture evokes the titular emotion—perhaps even more successfully than photographs would—absenting Horvitz’s own visual archive in order to invite the reader’s imagined response. Once gone, this book will be the only remaining trace of born-digital images that have been deliberately forgotten or let go. –Nicole Kaack

Taryn Simon’s The Color of a Flea’s Eye: The Picture Collection

(Cahiers d'Art, 2020)

Taryn Simon’s catalogue, The Color of a Flea’s Eye, grew out of her time spent researching and studying the New York Public Library’s Picture Collection. Established in 1915, the collection now resides at the main branch of the library on 42nd Street, in open shelves organized by subject, each filled with clippings and images culled by its curators and the public. Much like Simon’s other research-based photography projects, her investigation into this public archive takes the form of photographs and reproductions of ephemera on view at the library and the hardcover catalogue. The book opens with an alphabetically sequenced series of photos of selected contents from these subject files, under headings ranging from mosquito, handshaking, Israel, Palestine, and pain. In each of Simon’s photos the pictures are fanned out on top of each other, often obscuring what the images actually show, highlighting their status as image objects rather than the traditional role of the photograph as signifier. As Joshua Chuang, NYPL curator, writes in the opening essay, Simon “un-nostalgically illuminates a history of the utility of physical images at a time when they have been drained of much of their original utility.” The book likewise reproduces images of various documents and ephemera from the collection—image folders, ledgers, and correspondence from writers and artists who have requested to consult the collection over the years, including Joseph Cornell, Walker Evans, and Dorothea Lange. The book becomes, more than anything, about how images are used, digested, sorted, consumed by the public—itself another purposefully physical object (10 by 13.25 inches and over 450 pages). Over time, it will be marked by use and wear—as it should be. –Megan N. Liberty

Letters as Films

Curated by Garbiñe Ortega (La Fabrica/Punto De Vista 2021)

Letters as Films (La Fabrica/Punto De Vista 2021), curated by Garbiñe Ortega, former artistic director of Punto de Vista International Documentary Film Festival, is a hodge-podge of letters, manuscripts, stills, drawings, and other materials produced by contemporary filmmakers, most of the experimental or avant-garde ilk, (including Chick Strand, Jim Jarmusch, Harun Farocki, Jonas Mekas, Robert Smithson, and more) resulting in a delightfully chaotic archive of creative thought and interpersonal correspondence. Subjects range from carefree to serious, from the 1960s to 2020. In August of 1982, Stan Brakhage assures Carolee Schneemann that despite what she may have heard, he is not a chauvinist (though Norman Mailer is “fair ground for chauvinistic attack”), and then offers her a teaching job. In September 2013 over email, Richard Linklater offers his tenderness to a young filmmaker dealing with negative critical feedback, frankly admitting that he “still [hasn’t] figured out reviews.” On the 21st of April, 1966, Jonas Mekas pines anxiously to Brakhage: “I am still thinking. God, why do I make so many mistakes! Because I am thinking?” What drove Mekas to these thoughts, or why he chose to share them with Brakhage remains unclear. Letters As Films spins private thoughts into an intimate group portrait of the everyday. –Lily Majteles

Gillian Laub’s Family Matters

(Aperture, 2021)

The best photos startle you with the palpability of human psychology—a rousing feeling akin to surfacing from a swim in a freezing cold lake. The hairs on my body were bristling with such a reaction as I looked through Family Matters, photographer and filmmaker Gillian Laub’s collection of photos and stories chronicling the inner workings of her colossal extended family. Published to coincide with an exhibition of the same name at the International Center for Photography, Family Matters moves through two decades, during which Laub grappled with the space between privilege afforded and privilege distained, older generations versus younger generations, and the divergence in perspectives and values that come with such disparities. Wry and humorous with her camera angles, Laub captures the long red fingernails, Burberry speedos, and sun-weathered skin of the family members who embarrass her, as well as the MAGA hats, Fox News broadcasts, and Trumpian chatspeak embraced by those who frustrate her. In an intensely intimate photo book that offers nothing short of petrifying voyeurism, the artist demonstrates what it means to live with the knottiness of the biological family: the aunts, the siblings, the cousins with whom you share a deep connection, and make you want “both to hug them and to hide from them.” –Alana Pockros

Will Harris’s You can call me Nana

(Overlapse, 2021)

This affecting book chronicles Will Harris’s close relationship with his grandmother, Evelyn Beckett, through an elegant combination of mementos, handwritten notes, and photographs, including fold-out and removable elements that suffuse the project with a sense of tangible connection. As Harris grappled with Beckett’s progressive dementia and, later, her death at age 92, he created this book, along with audio compositions accessible via an accompanying QR code, as “a way to grieve while she was slipping away from me; my attempt to put the pieces together to make sense of it all.” You can call me Nana unfolds in a poetic, non-linear fashion related to its themes of memory, home, and familial legacies, mingling material from Beckett’s past and present between blue marbled endpapers. Visually restrained but brimming with attention and care, Harris’s book conveys an evocative portrait of a woman who was deeply loved. –Jennie Waldow

Sanford Schwartz’s On Edward Hicks

(Lucia | Marquand 2021)

Who knew that Edward Hicks, author of sixty-some Peaceable Kingdoms, was a master of appropriation, pastiche and transhuman identity? Back in the day, hardly anyone knew the celebrated (and impossibly contentious) Quaker speaker also painted. Outside the Meeting, he gladly dispensed with words. Turning himself inside out, the animals did the talking. Hicks never saw his resplendently louche leopards in Bucks County, PA, but then a surprisingly big chunk of his iconography was supplied by deft cut-and-pastes from printed matter.

Sanford Schwartz has more than mastered the literature and wears it lightly, though On Edward Hicks is a story of everything. Here’s antebellum America itching for a fight with itself, with one public figure hooked between community and conscience, hoarding a few delicious hours alone, for pictures. Wet brush licking in whiskers, horns, glaring eyes, tossing clouds, quivering leaves … and making peace, for the moment.

Just 152 pages, copiously illustrated. –Brandt Junceau

Romy Golan’s Flashback, Eclipse: The Political Imaginary of Italian Art in the 1960s

(Zone Books, 2021)

The book I was most excited for this year is Romy Golan’s Flashback, Eclipse: The Political Imaginary of Italian Art in the 1960s. Golan traces contemporary art’s developments and events while Italy experienced rapid economic change and regained its footing after defeat in war: what is contemporary in a country whose modernism aligned itself with fascism? Stemming from an intuition that Michelangelo Pistoletto’s mirror paintings are not merely flat Pop experiments, but involve themselves and their viewers in the narratives that surround them, Golan uses archival imagery and the journalistic coverage of installations and performances to uncover histories that may have been hidden for non-Italians or for those not wholly versed in Italian postwar art. Though she writes of art in Venice and Rome, her book also takes us outside of those centers to cities like Como and Torino, so evocative of the period and place that I pictured myself reading it while sipping a bicerin on the Piazza della Consolata. –Amanda Gluibizzi

Louis Kahn: The Importance of a Drawing

Edited by Michael Merrill (Lars Müller Publishers, 2021)

In the editor’s preface, Michael Merrill, who dedicated over five years to this remarkable project, asserts that “Louis Kahn used drawings to see, to see more, to find out, to play, to daydream, to share, to conjecture, to collaborate, to assert, to explain, to seduce, and to delight.” In the extensive material contained within this extraordinary book, we see in depth and intimacy how Louis Kahn began drawing in order to discover, and then communicate, what he wanted to build. Thorough archival research together with hundreds of previously unpublished drawings and essays by leading figures in the field of architecture make this beautifully designed book an essential addition not only to scholarship on this seminal architect and his creative process, but also to the discourse on representation and architecture—on how buildings are actually conceived, developed and eventually realized. –David Rhodes

Shannon J. Finnegan and Bojana Coklyat’s Alt Text as Poetry Workbook

Charming, productive, and immensely generous, Bojana Coklyat and Shannon Finnegan’s Alt-Text as Poetry advocates for digital accessibility in the arts through the use of alt-text: written descriptions typically embedded alongside images in a website’s HTML, produced for those who are blind, have low vision, or otherwise make use of screen readers. Published in late 2020—a welcomed squeeze into this 2021 list—Coklyat and Finnegan’s project exists as a printed workbook, along with a website that includes the workbook’s contents fully available in multiple formats, for a suggested donation. In introducing their disability-led, arts-focused framing of alt-text, Coklyat and Finnegan explain how other compliance-minded strategies for access often work to meet bare-minimum requirements, producing “reluctant, perfunctory” texts that don’t take the medium’s “tremendous expressive potential” into account. Instead, Alt-Text as Poetry considers the creative possibilities offered by this mode of image description—all, importantly, without sacrificing its commitments to accessibility. Published with support from Eyebeam and the Disability Visibility Project, Alt-Text as Poetry includes a range of writing exercises—designed to be completed by readers in pairs—along with recommendations for hosting alt-text workshops in larger groups.

Alongside these resources, Alt-Text as Poetry offers up some provocative questions about the relationships between image description and art criticism—what each practice can potentially learn from the other; where their boundaries can blur. As practicing artists themselves, Coklyat and Finnegan are keenly focused on the complex and ambiguous relationships between image and text: acknowledging that there is no perfect translation between sensory experiences, but an infinite range of possibilities, challenges, and potential pleasures. Both a practical guide and a careful reflection on the malleability of language, Alt-Text as Poetry encourages artists and arts organizations (and all of us, really) to approach digital accessibility with curiosity and playfulness. –Daniella Sanader

Doris Derby’s A Civil Rights Journey

With an essay by Constance Slaughter-Harvey (Mack, 2021)

A Civil Rights Journey offers a glimpse into the staggering body of work that Bronx-born documentary photographer Doris Derby produced while active in the Civil Rights Movement. The thoughtfully selected images included in the book were taken by Derby between 1967 and 1972, a period of time that was critical not only for her own development as an activist, educator, and photographer, but also for the movement itself and American society more broadly. Derby began her work in the South in 1963, when she was recruited to join the teaching staff of an adult education program co-organized by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, of which she was a member.

The images reproduced in A Civil Rights Journey bear witness to the herculean efforts of Black organizers, politicians, teachers, farmers, fishermen, students, and artists who advocated for and defended their communities at a time when Jim Crow laws acted as an official shield for exploitation, denied access to education, health care, jobs, and voting, and state-sanctioned violence. One activist strategy used throughout this time was the creation of models for self-reliance across all aspects of Black life, from school to work to art and media. Derby’s position as an organizer and educator granted her access to the intimate exchanges that would occur at home, church, funerals, and on the street, in addition to the dynamism of political rallies, protests, and voting drives. This access and her work with Southern Media, Inc., an independent documentary photography and film-making organization, seemed to shape the way she approached her practice as an insider who understood her camera as an additional tool of her activism and pedagogy rather than an outsider obligated to objectivity.

The book’s black and white photographs are organized as vignettes detailing the various settings that she encountered and worked in, from large-scale political rallies to Black-owned businesses to impoverished rural communities. Lengthy captions for select images identify local community members, some of the leading figures of this time, such as a young Reverend Al Sharpton who looks on as Muhammad Ali speaks to youth in Jackson, Mississippi in 1968, and the events that defined this period, like the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. The book’s images and captions offer a firsthand account of the advancements and setbacks of the movement from an incisive photographer on the frontlines. –Maymanah Farhat

Poetics of the Press: Interviews with Poets, Printers, & Publishers

Edited by Kyle Schlesinger (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2021)

​​Poetics of the Press: Interviews with Poets, Printers, & Publishers (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2021) was one of my top art books this year. Not because it was particularly flashy or gripping—it’s a niche academic book with very few bells and whistles—but because it accomplished a specific and pointed goal: providing a deep dive into the history, evolution, and status of independent creative publishing from 1945 onward, after letterpress printing became “commercially obsolete.” The interviewer and editor Kyle Schlesinger is deeply versed on the subject and asks the kind of targeted questions that elicit thorough and honest responses.

Schlesinger’s interviews with poets, printers, and publishers aren’t watered down for an audience; reading them feels like overhearing a conversation between experts discussing their craft. If you’re interested in the nuts and bolts of small presses, their players and processes, then this book is for you. A few themes recur: the push and pull between traditional methods and new technology, the distinction between the terms “art book,” “book arts,” “book works,” “fine press editions,” etc., the delicately calibrated relationship between material form and conceptual content, and the perennial problem of financing creative work.

In a satisfying meta-move, it also features an interview with two members from the book’s own publisher, Ugly Duckling Presse. A collection this dense is best imbibed in bite-sized sections, one interview at a time. I sincerely hope this tome finds an enthusiastic audience to educate and inspire around the future of creating, publishing, and distributing books. –Kate Silzer

Robert Storr’s Writings on Art 2006-2021

(Heni Publishing, 2021)

Storr’s essays gently nudge us to be our better selves. As editor Francesca Pietropaolo points out in her introduction, Storr is “complicit” with the reader and doesn’t alienate with any authoritative hierarchy, either with jargon or dismissive tone, except maybe with Damien Hirst, but there’s an exception to every rule. Even further to that point, the author admits a certain vulnerability which makes the 51 essays even more readable: “Most of these essays address art with which I have had problems, the sorting out of which is the true subject of my writing” he confides to us in his introduction. This is the second volume, the first having covered Storr’s essays 1980–2005. The language is beautiful: Rosalind Krauss inhabits a “citadel” of art history, and a lively description of Kim Jones’s Mudman is deftly aligned with Hobbes’s philosophy—this isn’t writing trying to be smart, but it will make you smarter. There’s a nice rhythm between short columns and thought pieces addressing singular projects, such as Hirschorn’s Gramsci Monument, and longer explorations of artist’s oeuvres, such as the essay Storr wrote for Kerry James Marshall’s Look See at David Zwirner in 2015. There are pieces on Louise Bourgeois, Paul Thek, Kara Walker, and R. Crumb, but if forced to choose favorites, mine were a piece on Seydou Keïta published in English for the first time, and a lighthearted essay on John Waters which begins with Storr casting himself cheekily as the “straight” man that is needed by every comedian, and in this case, by Waters as well: a perfect positioning of the critic as both foil and rube. –William Corwin

Gi (Ginny) Huo’s all i wanted was to get into heaven

(Small Editions, 2021)

Encased in a shimmering, acrylic, pearlescent blue box, all i wanted was to get into heaven by Gi (Ginny) Huo embodies the complex process of spiritual rerouting. While the tome-like case seems like a precious object, once it’s opened it becomes a space of play, exploration, and discovery. The book unfolds as a first-person narrative of Huo’s experience growing up as a member of the Mormon church in Utah. It follows her subsequent departure from the religion in her adult life, a moment of personal reckoning and rupture that Huo grapples with as both an artist and an educator. As a site of soft encounters, imagery of delicate clouds and glittery pages act as go-betweens, as portals into the past and present—real and imagined spaces, personal and collective histories. They are interwoven with testimonials, confessions, archival images, family portraits, and poetry. The pages of the book are bound directly onto the pearlescent case that houses it, making it at once delicate and immovable in a metallic sea of blue pigment; an inconspicuous music box rests at the head of the book to play a hymn of comfort recorded by Huo for the reader. Through fragmented vignettes, she reveals to us her teachings under the church, but also identifies the underlying porousness of these doctrines, conveying how belief systems operate on the unknowable, on the stigma of refusing the refutable. As she navigates interconnected landscapes of faith, patriarchy, and postcolonial legacies of assimilation, she invites those of us who have likewise questioned their own belief systems and inherited values. Drawing upon her own spiritual journey, she creates a safe and much-needed space for error and unknowing from which new forms of community, belonging, and value can emerge. –Re’al Christian

Sky Hopinka’s Perfidia

(Wendy’s Subway and CCS Bard, 2020)

Sky Hopinka’s Perfidia is a poem divided by images into 16 cantos, a companion in both form and content to his films—focused as they are on image (a passion for long takes) and voiceover (often the filmmaker’s own voice and words). Published alongside a 2020 exhibition of Hopinka’s work at CCS Bard, the text in Perfidia is adapted from his films and people familiar with his work will recognize passages and images from Lore (2019) and maɬni–towards the ocean, towards the shore (2020).

Perfidia is a book of winter, dealing in cold and wet imagery, oscillating between physical dislocation from friends/family (“some thousand of miles away”) and remembered affection (“your hair shone brightly on those afternoons”). Hopinka writes in the aural register of ancient lore; while reading I found myself sounding the words out, in part to see if I could remember where they appeared (if at all) in maɬni. It’s an intimate read, and one that brings to mind the purpose of stories told only in winter: “something warm/To come to give reason to the cool the cold.” –JC

Godzilla: Asian American Arts Network 1990–2001

Edited by Howie Chen (Primary Information, 2021)

With over 500 pages of archival materials, this anthology documents the origins and activities of the New York-based Godzilla collective, founded in 1990 by Ken Chu, Bing Lee, and Margo Machida with the stated goal of providing a forum for mutual support and exchange among Asian American artists. Editor Howie Chen has compiled scans of the group’s newsletters and meeting notes, critical essays, open letters, catalogue texts, and other correspondences to build a picture of a decade of dialogue, resistance, and exchange. Early activity centered on institutional representation, with a focus on the lack of Asian American artists in the 1991 Whitney Biennial, and scandals surrounding Franklin Furnace’s exhibition of takeout menus and an NEA grant to Mel Chin. Flipping through the book’s xerox-aesthetic pages provides a view into the humble roots of community organizing—potlucks, fundraising asks—as well as a galvanizing account of Godzilla’s struggles and successes. That the group’s often fiery letters led to open dialogues with the same institutions they critiqued speaks to the fundamentally constructive nature of their program. The anthology ends with Godzilla members’ withdrawal from the Museum of Chinese in America’s planned 2020 retrospective Godzilla vs. The Art World:1990-2001 in light of the museum’s confused messaging on the construction of a new jail in Chinatown and its own recent city funding. That postscript embodies the consistent spirit found in this book’s pages; reading through them is a reminder that community building is itself a form of resistance. –Louis Block

Marcel Duchamp

Text by Robert Lebel, translated by George Heard Hamilton (Hauser & Wirth, 2021)

Marcel Duchamp—the first comprehensive monograph and catalogue raisonné dedicated to the artist—became a referential tome following its 1959 release in both French and English. Duchamp (aged 72 at the time) was closely involved: he himself clipped the double-exposure portrait splayed on the dust jacket, and oversaw both layout and content (designing endpapers and frontispieces, proofreading, translating one of his own lectures, validating the reproductions of his works). Art historian and critic Robert Lebel was a fitting collaborator for this book immersed in the macrocosm of the artist—whom he characterized as “blessed with an exuberant temperament, alternately pessimist and clown”—as he too was bilingual, and culturally equipped to unpack Duchamp’s hard-to-translate, multilayered zingers (which he described as “verbal ready-mades in which meanings overlap and interpenetrate”).

The 2021 facsimile, published by Hauser & Wirth, replicates everything from Duchamp’s earliest turn-of-the-20th century oil paintings to his iconic mustachioed Mona Lisa; an essay by André Breton to a 1904 sketch of the artist playing chess, his favorite pastime (“He used to take me to the tournaments he played in, usually held in smoke filled places where everybody drank a lot of coffee,” French author H.P. Roché recalled. “He needed a good chess game like a baby needs his bottle”). A supplement of contemporary texts contextualize the facsimile, including a contribution from Lebel’s son, Jean-Jacques, in which he notes that “the disrespect was mutual” between Duchamp and art world operators in his lifetime, and further that “one is struck by his persistent efforts to outwit and beat the system.” –Sarah Moroz

Lee Lai’s Stone Fruit

(Fantagraphics, 2021)

Lee Lai’s Stone Fruit begins with its starring characters, Ray, Bron, and Nessie, drawn as feral creatures. They have cat-like eyes, bare their zig-zagged fangs in wide grins, and run through the woods on stretchy, seemingly boneless, limbs. Playtime is over when Nessie’s mom, who is Ray’s sister, calls to check on them. By the time they take Nessie home, everyone has shapeshifted back to their indoor forms. When Ray and Bron are away from Nessie’s exuberant joy, their relationship strains from the unspoken distances between them. Eventually a depressed Bron moves back with her conservative family who don’t accept her queerness, and a bereft Ray tries to repair her relationship with her sister.

Throughout, Lai shades the emotional heaviness of this story in crisp opaque blacks set against painterly washes of gray and slate blue. Lai’s drawing style is fluid and watery, full of curves and waves that appear on faces: under the eye, the shadow of a cheek, wisps of flyaway hairs. The narrative moves seamlessly between Ray’s and Bron’s stories, between memory and present, and is punctuated with breaks in form: Ray’s drawings with Nessie appear as graphite on graph paper; a dream sequence unfolds in a densely brushstroked forest; scenes from a movie are a two-page spread of zoomed-in line work.

Like its title, Lai’s debut book is one of sharp contrasts: the sweetness of childhood and the bitter pit of adulthood. If Ray, Bron, and Nessie, can turn “feral and screamy” when they play and make believe in the natural landscape, then they run into the limitations of their defined identities and relationships when they’re back in the constructed cityscape. Stone Fruit lingers on the fragile silences between families, both chosen and not, and the vulnerability it takes to fix what’s been broken. –Karen Gu

The Archipelago Conversations

Édouard Glissant with Hans Ulrich Obrist (Isolarii, 2021)

The philosophical and poetic manner of critique that is solely Édouard Glissant’s shines in this extended, franken-conversation with perhaps the most graceful and practiced interlocutor of the contemporary moment, Hans Ulrich Obrist. The fact that the book literally fits in the palm of one’s hand is only made more remarkable by the depth of thought achieved on each small page. For me, Glissant’s trajectory of thought is a reminder of how the practice of art criticism allows for the continued development of a writer’s intuitive capabilities through specific and prolonged attention given first to the act of perception and second to the act of reflection. Glissant muses that if “creolization is mixing that produces something entirely unexpected, then that is also the role of utopia. Utopia gives you something new and unpredictable.” Art criticism is one such utopia. –Charles Schultz


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