Most famous for her participation in The Upright Citizens Brigade, Saturday Night Live, and Parks and Recreation, Amy Poehler has become a leading force in the vanguard of funny, feminist-y, intelligent comediennes. In Yes Please (Day Street, $28.99) readers will recognize the humor and honesty for which her brand of comedy has become famous. What will surprise people new to her work is the heart-felt sincerity of her message. She describes her upbringing in lower-middle class Boston, speaking fondly of her parents and her brother. She relates instances of regret when a joke went too far. She talks about her friends with fierce devotion and unabashed adoration. Poehler’s wit and warmth are sure to delight.
If meeting 33 Artists in 3 Acts (W.W. Norton, $26.95) seems dizzying, relax. As introduced by Sarah Thornton, author of the acclaimed Seven Days in the Art World, each of these creators comes across as unique and fascinating. Thornton knows today’s art world intimately and discusses its politics and markets as informatively as she presents its leading figures, from Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst to Ai Weiwei and Zeng Fanzhi, Marina Abramovic and Andrea Fraser to the entire Dunham clan—paterfamilias Carroll, his wife Laurie Simmons, and their multi-talented daughter, Lena. In a format that effectively puts her subjects in dialogue with one another, Thornton starts each interview with the question: What is an artist? She elicits a wide array of responses: an artist may be “a myth,” a “product designer,” an “internal other,” a “particular instance of the possible”; all are “hard workers.” As is Thornton, whose rich descriptions of personalities, relationships, and works—paintings, installations, films, sculptures, and less easily categorizable creations, such as Abramovic’s “immaterial energy”—belie the short chapters in which she tours studios and galleries, auditoriums and auction houses.
“Striving to define photography as an art-form by a simple and direct presentation through purely photographic methods” exclusive of ideals derived from other fine arts, the seven members of Group f.64 (Bloomsbury, $35) proclaimed the future of photography in 1932. Much in this manifesto seems a given now, but when Adams, Weston, Imogen Cunningham, and others united in the name of the camera’s small aperture setting, what photography could and should do was hotly debated. In her combination history and group biography, Mary Street Alinder chronicles the mainly West Coast “pure photography” movement, revisiting exhibits and arguments as the form came into its own. Her book is as much a chronicle of the 1930s themselves as it is of photography, as she documents the rigors of the Great Depression. Dedicated to making beautiful pictures, the artists also confronted the suffering around them and, inspired foremost by Dorothea Lange, widened the scope of photography’s mission to include social engagement. A photographer herself, Alinder illuminates the technical side of her subject with details about cameras, lenses, exposure times, and paper. She has worked directly with several of the original Group f.64 members, and her portraits convey the wonderfully vivid figures behind the images.