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)
Itís refreshing to see a show of just paintings. No installations (okay thereís one video), and itís nice to see such a bummer of a show. If Luc Tuymans were a band heíd be signed to 4AD. Maybe itís more somber and sinister and less navel-gazing than all that, with Tuymansí combination of abstract yet mostly figurative/narrative painting. Or maybe itís 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 heís 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)
Iím 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. Fuscoís work is much more layered with meaning and body language and history and wellÖ 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 couldnít be less interested.
5. Mojo Magazine/Continuumís 33 1/3 series (Continuum, 2004Ėpresent)
Iím way more geeked out about music than books and Iím 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 thereís 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 Barkerís series 33 1/3 looks at one influential album and fills a book full of story about it. Thankfully the ones Iíve 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 Harveyís 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)
Iíve only read two of his novels but this book about the role of exercise (and meditation?) in Murakamiís creative process really changed how I thought about input and output and creativity and daily life. Murakami did a double marathon. Heís totally crazy. He was running for almost 24 hours. Heís 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. Iím 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)
Iím 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. Iíve been cooking a ton and reading about cooking a ton and Iím 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 : Itís Beautiful Here, Isnít ItÖ (Aperture, 2008)
The ladies at Aperture hipped me to this book at Art Chicago. I had never seen Ghirriís work before. All they had to say was ďpeople call him the Italian EgglestonĒ 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 weíve been looking at kidsí 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 donít look like clean Japanimation or Nara or Hello Kitty or any of that. Itís slightly messy.
Chris Conti is the Print and Media Buyer at the bookstore of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago.