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18 Best Black Art Books of 2018

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The increased interest among some museums in mounting exhibitions featuring the work of African American artists has translated into a growing number of catalogs published to document them, which is wonderful. Many of those catalogs made Culture Type’s 2018 list of best illustrated art books, along with a few monographs, and a volume documenting a private collection.

The selected titles were chosen based on how they stood up as individual publications, not because they accompanied a “groundbreaking” exhibition or featured the work of an “important” artist. Each volume provides an absorbing experience and captures its subject in a thoughtful, informative, and accessible manner, often with an elevated design. As an added bonus, many include insights from other artists.

Black Art Books

1. Fired Up! Ready to Go!: Finding Beauty, Demanding Equity: An African American Life in Art. The Collections of Peggy Cooper Cafritz

THIS VOLUME IS A REAL TREASURE. Hundreds of contemporary artworks by artists of African descent are illustrated. Peggy Cooper Cafritz (1947-2018), the passionate and inveterate collector, purchased the works over two periods of time. (She lost her first art collection to a house fire in 2009, and soon began assembling another.)

“Fired Up! Ready to Go!: Finding Beauty, Demanding Equity: An African American Life in Art. The Collections of Peggy Cooper Cafritz,” by Peggy Cooper Cafritz, with contributions by Kerry James Marshall, Uri McMillan, Simone Leigh, Hank Willis Thomas, Jack Shainman, and Thelma Golden (Rizzoli Electa, 288 pages). | Published Feb. 20, 2018

2. Theaster Gates: How to Build a House Museum

CELEBRATING BLACKNESS through legacy sites, Theaster Gates mounted a grand immersive exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario that proposed “new ways of honoring and remembering Black experience and explore[d] the potential of these spaces through music, dance, video, sculpture and painting.” The 2016 exhibition was the largest presentation of Gates’s work to date.

“Theaster Gates: How to Build a House Museum,” Edited by Kitty Scott, with foreword by Stephan Jost, and contributions by Josh T. Franco, Greg Tate, and Mabel O. Wilson, et al. (Art Gallery of Ontario, 236 pages). | Published April 1, 2018

3. Joyce J. Scott: Harriet Tubman and Other Truths

BEAUTY, WIT AND TURMOIL co-exist in the imaginative beadwork of Baltimore artist Joyce J. Scott. Her figurative sculptures, wall hangings and jewelry address politics, racism, violence, and gender issues.

“Joyce J. Scott: Harriet Tubman and Other Truths,” Foreword by Gary Garrido Schneider, with contributions by Lowery Stokes Sims, Patterson Sims, Seph Rodney, and Joyce J. Scott, and coordination by Coby Green-Rifkin and Carolynn McCormack (Grounds for Sculpture, 192 pages). | Published April 24, 2018

4. Adrian Piper: A Synthesis of Intuitions 1965–2016

A PIONEERING CONCEPTUAL ARTIST, philosopher, and yoga devotee, Adrian Piper’s work challenges assumptions about race, identity, gender, and class. This volume documents her 50-year retrospective presenting some of the most profound and relevant work she’s produced over her career.

“Adrian Piper: A Synthesis of Intuitions 1965–2016,” by Adrian Piper, with editing and text by Christophe Cherix, Cornelia Butler, and David Platzker, with contribution from Tessa Ferreyros (Museum of Modern Art, New York, 352 pages). | Published May 22, 2018

5. Lorna Simpson Collages

WORKING WITH ADVERTISING IMAGES from vintage Ebony and Jet magazines, Lorna Simpson has created countless collages defined by imaginative hair treatments—crowns of glory made with strokes of watercolor and elaborate geological formations clipped from old textbooks.

“Lorna Simpson Collages,” by Lorna Simpson, with introduction by Elizabeth Alexander (Chronicle Books, 192 pages). | Published June 5, 2018

6. Charles White: A Retrospective

IN HIS OPENING ESSAY to this volume, Kerry James Marshall, a student of Charles White, speaks about a “physical sensation, a shiver induced by the mere sight of a thing,” a kind of religious experience, and “the ineffable dimension of art often labeled ‘sublime.’”

“Charles White: A Retrospective,” edited by Sarah Kelly Oehler and Esther Adler, with preface by Kerry James Marshall, and contributions by Ilene Susan Fort, Kellie Jones, Mark Pascale, and Deborah Willis (Art Institute of Chicago, 248 pages). | Published June 19, 2018

7. Zanele Muholi: Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness

HAIL THE DARK LIONESS indeed. More than 90 powerful and evocative images from Zanele Muholi’s ongoing self-portrait series are collected here, the South African photographer and visual activist’s first monograph. Muholi came to international attention for her documentary-style portraits of South African LGBTQ and gender-nonconfirming individuals.

“Zanele Muholi: Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness,” by Zanele Muholi, with text by more than a dozen additional contributors (Aperture, 212 pages). | Published Sept. 1, 2018

8. Dawoud Bey: Seeing Deeply

CHICAGO-BASED PHOTOGRAPHER Dawoud Bey received the MacArthur Foundation’s “genius” grant in 2017, providing confirmation of sorts that in his mid-60s his practice is singular, distinctive, and has “potential.” His latest book, a mammoth retrospective volume, makes clear that a genius vision has coursed through his work for more than 40 years.

“Dawoud Bey: Seeing Deeply,” By Dawoud Bey, with text by Deborah Willis, David Travis, Hilton Als, Jacqueline Terrassa, Rebecca Walker, Maurice Berger, and Leigh Raiford (University of Texas Press, 400 pages). | Sept. 18, 2018

9. Henry Taylor: The Only Portrait I Ever Painted of My Momma Was Stolen

OVERFLOWING WITH MORE THAN 200 IMAGES, this new monograph documents the practice of Henry Taylor, the Los Angeles artist known for his bluesy approach to abstract figuration. It’s a wonderful book and a genuinely good read.

“Henry Taylor,” with contributions by Charles Gaines, Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, Sarah Lewis, and Zadie Smith (Rizzoli Electa, 320 pages). | Published Oct. 9, 2018

10. I Too Sing America: The Harlem Renaissance at 100

MANY VOLUMES AND EXHIBITIONS have paid tribute the Harlem Renaissance, the period generally regarded as dating from 1918 to the stock market crash of 1929. Celebrating the centennial of the creative and intellectual flowering, “I Too Sing America” is a unique exploration of the subject that brings a journalist together with his hometown museum and the community where he grew up in Columbus, Ohio.

“I Too Sing America: The Harlem Renaissance at 100,” by Wil Haygood, with contributions by Carole Genshaft, Anastasia Kinigopoulo, Nannette V. Maciejunes, Drew Sawyer (Rizzoli Electa, 248 pages). | Published Oct. 9, 2018

11. Barbara Jones-Hogu: Resist, Relate, Unite

AN EXPERT PRINTMAKER who co-founded the Chicago artist collective AfriCOBRA in 1968, Barbara Jones-Hogu (1938-2017) produced political, pro-Black, color-charged images that combined figuration with dynamic graphic lettering. Two months after she died in November 2017, her first-ever solo museum exhibition opened at the DePaul Art Museum in Chicago.


“Barbara Jones-Hogu: Resist, Relate, Unite,” Foreword by Julie Rodrigues Widholm, with contributions by Faheem Majeed, Zoé Whitley, and Rebecca Zorach (DePaul Art Museum, 104 pages). | Published Oct. 15, 2018

12. Jason Moran

PIANIST AND COMPOSER Jason Moran’s unique practice bridges visual and performing arts. He’s worked with an impressive list of artists, including Stan Douglas, Theaster Gates, Joan Jonas, Glenn Ligon, Julie Mehretu, Adrian Piper, Lorna Simpson, and Kara Walker.

“Jason Moran,” Edited by Adrienne Edwards, with foreword by Olga Viso, with contributions by Philip Bither, Okwui Enwezor, Danielle Jackson, Alicia Hall Moran, George Lewis, Glenn Ligon, and Jason Moran (Walker Art Center, 272 pages). | Published by Oct. 23, 2018

13. Augusta Savage: Renaissance Woman

A HOMETOWN EXHIBITION is shining a long overdue light on the many contributions of Harlem Renaissance-era sculptor Augusta Savage (1892-1962). The pioneering artist/activist mentored two generations of artists—Charles Alston, Romare Bearden, Robert Blackburn, Selma Burke, Norman Lewis, Jacob Lawrence, Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence, and Ernest Crichlow, among them—and campaigned for equal treatment and opportunity for African Americans in the arts.

“Augusta Savage: Renaissance Woman,” by Jeffreen M. Hayes, with introduction by Howard Dodson, and contributions by Kirsten Pai Buick and Bridget R. Cooks (GILES, 156 pages). | Published Oct. 23, 2018

14. Mickalene Thomas: I Can’t See You Without Me

A SERIES OF MUSES have inspired Mickalene Thomas over the years, expanding her vision of black female beauty and influencing her powerful representations of the black female body. Her elaborate rhinestone embellished paintings and layered collages cast her subjects in eclectic surroundings that replicate her immersive installations.

“Mickalene Thomas: I Can’t See You Without Me,” by Mickalene Thomas, with foreword by Sherri Geldin, and text by Nicole R. Fleetwood, Michael Goodson, Beverly Guy-Sheftall, and Antwaun Sargent (Wexner Center for the Art, 128 pages). | Published Oct. 23, 2018

15. Hank Willis Thomas: All Things Being Equal

TEN YEARS AFTER the publication of his first monograph, “Pitch Blackness,” a new volume surveys the career of Hank Willis Thomas. Published in advance of his exhibition of the same name at the Portland Museum of Art in Oregon, “All Things Being Equal” features key bodies of work from 2002-2018 that display the artist’s dexterity with representation and interpretation of images and language.

“Hank Willis Thomas: All Things Being Equal,” by Hank Willis Thomas, with contributions by Sarah Elizabeth Lewis, Kellie Jones, Julia Dolan, and Sara Krajewski (Aperture, 256 pages). | Published Nov. 15, 2018

16. Sam Gilliam: The Music of Color: 1967–1973

LEAFING THROUGH THIS VOLUME, readers are met with a symphony of color. Page after page brings a rush of greens, yellows, pinks, blues, and purples, countless installation images of Sam Gilliam’s color-washed abstract canvases folded, draped and stretched, hanging from walls and ceilings and laying over a wood sawhorse.

“Sam Gilliam: The Music of Color: 1967–1973,” Edited by Jonathan Binstock and Josef Helfenstein, with contributions by Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Larne Gogarty, Rashid Johnson, and Rafael Squirru (Walther König, Köln, 192 pages). | Published Nov. 20, 2018

17. Gordon Parks: The New Tide: Early Work 1940–1950

INVARIABLY IDENTIFIED as the first African American staff photographer at Life magazine, Gordon Parks had a decade of experience when he was hired in February 1949. Those early years were incredibly fruitful and are explored in an exhibition at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and this accompanying catalog. A self-taught photographer, Parks’s work appeared in the St. Paul Recorder newspaper in 1939, providing a launch pad. In the 1940s, he trained his camera on life in Chicago, where he was connected with the South Side Community Art Center.

“Gordon Parks: The New Tide: Early Work 1940–1950,” Edited by Philip Brookman, with foreword by Earl Powell and Peter Kunhardt, introduction by Sarah Lewis, and contributions by Maurice Berger, Richard Powell, Deborah Willis, and photographer Gordon Parks (Steidl/Gordon Parks Foundation/National Gallery of Art, 304 pages). | Published Nov. 20, 2018

18. Purvis Young

ENCAPSULATING THE WORLD of Purvis Young (1943-2010), this volume presents full-color illustrations of more than 250 works by the prolific Miami-born artist who said he painted what he saw—around his neighborhood and in the world, the problems and some good things, too.

“Purvis Young,” Edited by Juan Valadez, with an introductioin by Mara Rubell, and contributions by César Trasobares, Barbara N. Young, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Rashid Johnson, and Franklin Sirmans (Rubell Museum, 364 pages). | Published December 2018


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