The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Masterpiece Paintings (Skira Rizzoli, $75) is simply a stunning addition to any art book collection. Compiled by Kathryn Calley Galitz, this tome features over 1,000 stunning, full color reproductions of 500 paintings from the collection, organized chronologically, beginning with an Iron Age jar from Iran and ending with a 2014 painting by American artist Kerry James Marshall. The book spans many cultures and deliberately places paintings from different regions side by side, allowing readers to view in one glance works that would likely never appear together in the same museum gallery. The resulting juxtapositions spark unexpected resonances and create connections that would otherwise go unnoticed. In addition to the striking pairings, enlarged details of selected works give readers the opportunity to appreciate the art up-close and personal. This book is sure to delight lovers of history, art, and culture alike.
As Walter Benjamin was “more than a literary critic,” John Berger is more than an art critic. The work collected in Landscapes (Verso, $26.95) dates from 1954 to 2015 and includes essays, memoirs, and poetry. It showcases Berger’s skills as storyteller and aphorist (“a drawing is an autobiographical record of one’s discovery of an event…a ‘finished’ work is an attempt to construct an event in itself”), and as a Marxist art historian. Defining “landscapes” in the broadest sense, these pieces evoke not only actual places—Ramallah, Finistère—but map the intellectual ground of figures including Roland Barthes, Rosa Luxemburg, and Gabriel García Márquez, as well as exploring the particular terrain of the European peasantry and the Soviet states. “The Moment of Cubism” is quintessential Berger, showing how Picasso and Braque “imagined the world transformed, but not the process of transformation,” and how this marked a shift from the Renaissance, when not the way something was depicted but the subject determined the picture’s expressive power. Berger is as attentive to what lies outside a frame as to the colors and lines within it, and his sincerest wish is that all “art should be an inspiration to life—not a consolation.”
While always returning to brushes, canvas, charcoal, and paper, David Hockney has been happy to try new technology—first in his cubist photos and fax-machine collages, now in his drawings on iPads. He has also explored (in Secret Knowledge) how artists in the past used lenses and mirrors to help translate three dimensions onto a flat surface. Now, in dialogue form, Hockney and art critic Martin Gayford explore A History of Pictures (Abrams, $45) “from the cave to the computer screen.” There are provocative discussions on mark making, the depictions of shadows (or their absence), “picturing time” in scrolls and frescos, and the camera “before and after 1839.” The reproductions are superb—and the juxtapositions of images are fresh and bold: Titian’s “Magdelene“ and Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca, whirlpools in Hiroshige and Disney’s Pinocchio, a Rembrandt sketch and a Chinese brush drawing. Hockney’s quotes are bouncy (“Caravaggio invented Hollywood lighting”), but it is the deep connections that he and Gayford make throughout visual history that makes this book come alive.