One of things I love most about art is the fluidity of my perception of it: how it affects me can change depending on my mood, where and how I see it, and even with whom I see it. This is what I love about paging through The Art Book: New Edition (Phaidon, $59.95)—it puts art into new perspectives. Rather than listing the artists by period or genre, the book places them alphabetically. This makes for some interesting juxtapositions—a classic medieval work appears right next to a thoroughly modern sculpture, for instance. (For perhaps the ultimate juxtaposition, turn to pages 164-165.) Even familiar iconic pieces look new and different in this context; I can’t remember when an art book was this much fun. I suggest reading it with someone else, so that together you can be surprised by the serendipity of who turns up next to whom. It reminds you that art constantly amazes and can be seen in new and exciting ways.
As you turn the pages of A Curator’s Quest: Building the Collection of Painting and Sculpture of the Museum of Modern Art, 1967-1988 (Overlook, $100) and see one iconic work after another that William Rubin acquired for the museum, you realize that MoMA was definitely the house that Alfred H. Barr and Rubin built. William Rubin was an art history professor at Sarah Lawrence—and a collector with a loft full of works by Rothko, Pollock, de Kooning, and Kline—when he became the Chief Curator, then the Director, of the Department of Painting and Sculpture at MoMA. Besides the hundreds of works he helped acquire, he mounted great exhibitions like Picasso: A Retrospective and “Primitivism” in 20th-Century Art. Each of the book’s three sections could be a volume in itself: Rubin’s 150-page essay on his career (which takes you inside the world of trustees and collectors); over 300 pages of color reproductions of key acquisitions; and eight lectures on “The Pioneers of Modernism” (also with plenty of illustrations). Yes, it’s heavy, but perfect for this heavyweight personality—and for any art lover.