Imagine your ideal museum. Would it be Modern? Impressionists only? All sculpture, no sculpture? Whatever you desire, you will find it in The Art Museum (Phaidon, $200). Edited by Frederick Asher, this book is a truly breathtaking virtual museum with 992 pages containing 2,700 works of art. You can start at the beginning, dip into your favorite time period, or simply open to any page and be wowed. The museum is divided into color-coded galleries, rooms, corridors, and special exhibitions, which house painting, sculpture, works on paper, textiles, and more, all collected to tell the history of art. Clear, intelligent descriptions and notations make this book an essential piece in any art lover’s collection.
The earliest pictures in Picasso’s Drawings, 1890-1921 (Yale Univ., $60) were done by a nine-year-old boy. The thirty years this volume covers mark the artist’s formative years, showing him determined to master his craft, and the initial pieces lead to work reflecting Picasso’s absorption of the Old Masters, artists from whom he was willing to learn even as he experimented to improve his style and execution. As the book’s editors, Susan Grace Galassi and Mary McCully point out, Picasso was able to borrow from his predecessors, improve on them, and forge something entirely his own. That is why his work continues to amaze us.
Maira Kalman (The Elements of Style Illustrated) has created a new form: the visual essay (hand-painted and hand-lettered, with photographs and embroideries). Her follow-up to The Principles of Uncertainty, AND THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS (Penguin Press, $29.95), takes on American democracy itself—Kalman becomes a modern Tocqueville, an inquiring tourist and a philosopher traveling the country. The month-by-month chapters start in January 2009 with the Inauguration, and end in December with a meditation on George Washington at Mount Vernon. Painting artifacts and ephemera, interiors and people—a National Gallery museum guard, a Capitol tram operator—as she travels, Kalman observes, makes connections, and drifts into reveries. The book is especially a treat for Washingtonians: Kalman spent a lot of time in the Library of Congress, the Capitol, and the Supreme Court. There are detours to the Land of Lincoln, Monticello, Fort Campbell, even the edible schoolyard program in Berkeley. A wonderful book for students of American history—or for anyone; you will be delighted, and transformed.