We've known Chris Conti since he was a relative kid in charge of book buying at the Wexner Art Center in Ohio. Now the buyer for the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, he gives us an expert's view of the top ten art books on his shelf.
1. Luc Tuymans (SFMOMA/Wexner Center for the Arts/DAP, 2009)
It’s refreshing to see a show of just paintings. No installations (okay there’s one video), and it’s nice to see such a bummer of a show. If Luc Tuymans were a band he’d be signed to 4AD. Maybe it’s more somber and sinister and less navel-gazing than all that, with Tuymans’ combination of abstract yet mostly figurative/narrative painting. Or maybe it’s the economy, but after the spectacle of Koons and Warhol (at the MCA and Wexner respectively) an artist who meditates on terrorism, medical disease & foreboding political figures comes over like he’s keeping it real. The catalogue is refreshingly old-school and equally austere, with no crazy fonts or new design ideas. It goes one painting on the right and the description on the left!
2. Andrey Tarkovsky: Bright, Bright Day (White Space Gallery Ltd/The Tarkovsky Foundation, 2008)
I’m a sucker for the 70s muted and faded color of these polaroids. I love too that Tarkovsky is able to capture all the usual metaphysical qualities and space/time continuum of his films in this more straightforward 'personal as political' document of his family. So cinematic. With all the backlit nature scenes blowing out the lens, you keep waiting for one of his kids to levitate and disappear over the mountaintops. Dreamy!
3. RFK Funeral Train by Paul Fusco (Aperture 2008) / Sartorialist by Scott Schuman (Penguin, 2009)
These books are about people watching for me and what fashion says about the wearer. Fusco’s work is much more layered with meaning and body language and history and well… art really, but they both capture a specific time in history and an economic class. You can just as easily picture people 30 years on pointing out the subjects in The Sartorialist and laughing at how crazy they look.
4. Collected Fanzines of Harmony Korine (Drag City, 2008)
Silly, politically incorrect and quick, yet smart, detailed and filled with subculture references, this is the sort of crap I would lap up in the 90s when I was obsessed with Korine and Chloe Sevigny. Korine collaborated with Mark Gonzales on a bunch of the zines collected here. Both were sort of the golden chalice back in the day, hard to find and coveted but totally photocopied and throwaway. Now that there is a never-ending stream of this sort of stuff on the internet I sort of couldn’t be less interested.
5. Mojo Magazine/Continuum’s 33 1/3 series (Continuum, 2004–present)
I’m way more geeked out about music than books and I’m totally an Anglophile too. These are both guilty pleasures. The cover stories are always lame but Mojo reviews every worst-selling, minor re-release and since there’s nowhere to hear this music now, I have to read about it. Mojo hipped me to Television Personalities, APB, Jacques Dutronc, Archie Bronson, Part Chimp, Tom Vek, The Prefects and Bergen White, among others. David Barker’s series 33 1/3 looks at one influential album and fills a book full of story about it. Thankfully the ones I’ve read are less tech-heavy and place the album into a social context. And by social context I mean, who was the jerk in the band, who partied too hard and who slept with who!!! No surprises here really. I feel like the target audience for these books. I highly recommend the titles on Big Star, Joy Division, Sly and The Family Stone, Prince, The Beastie Boys and Wire. Avoid PJ Harvey’s Rid of Me, it contains short stories inspired by the songs on the album. OOOF!
6. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, by Haruki Murakami (Knopf, 2008)
I’ve only read two of his novels but this book about the role of exercise (and meditation?) in Murakami’s creative process really changed how I thought about input and output and creativity and daily life. Murakami did a double marathon. He’s totally crazy. He was running for almost 24 hours. He’s also an avid record collector. Who knew?
7. Ed Templeton: Deformer (Damiani, 2008)
Seemingly forever in the making, this book uses a scrapbook aesthetic for a subject matter that has nothing to do with traditional craft. There is a blur between documentary and fiction and art and a sweet, sublime life out of trauma. I’m definitely weary of skateboard art too but this seems equally indebted to Jim Goldberg and The Basketball Diaries while shouting the poetic truths of high school journal keepers.
8. Born Round by Frank Bruni (Penguin, 2009)
I’m always interested in any accounts of growing up in a huge, crazy Italian-American family in the 70s. Bruni eventually becomes the NY Times food critic and his obsession with food is really nuts. I’ve been cooking a ton and reading about cooking a ton and I’m trying to move our customers away from books about the "green movement" and get them on a foodie trend. I wanted to like this more than I did, somehow.
9. Luigi Ghirri : It’s Beautiful Here, Isn’t It… (Aperture, 2008)
The ladies at Aperture hipped me to this book at Art Chicago. I had never seen Ghirri’s work before. All they had to say was “people call him the Italian Eggleston” and I was sold. There is some Tina Barney in his work too. At least, I have a simultaneous repulsion/attraction happening with his work in the same way as Barney. So much of it is awful, 80s euro-pastel colors (maybe Eric Rohmer is more apt?) but with beautiful, disjointed compositions. I like not knowing if I ironically like this work.
10. Babies by Gyo Fujikawa (Grosset & Dunlap, 1963)
We have two kids under three in our house so we’ve been looking at kids’ books a lot. My mom reminded me of Babies by Fujikawa and I had a crazy mind meld/memory warp when I started rereading it to my daughter. I swear I remember it! Anyway she was one of the first illustrators to depict kids of all races in her illustrations. It reminds me of Sesame Street and Electric Company in its harmonious 70s vibe. I like that you can see the handwork in the drawings and that they don’t look like clean Japanimation or Nara or Hello Kitty or any of that. It’s slightly messy.
Chris Conti is the Print and Media Buyer at the bookstore of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago.