The Best Books of 2022

The Best Art & Design Books of 2022

recommended by Romas Viesulas

Art shows were back in full force this year after several years of discontinuous viewing. Publishing kept pace, with many a new beautiful volume and rafts of revisionist art history to delve into. Here, Five Books art editor Romas Viesulas offers an overview of the best art and design books of 2022.

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Have you noticed trends among the art and design books of 2022?

Auction watchers will know that Modernist masterpieces grabbed the headlines this year, with exceptional sales in particular from the Paul Allen collection and David Solinger estate, featuring everyone from Van Gogh to Cézanne, Klimt to de Kooning. Prices realised at auction were nothing short of astonishing. Nonetheless, the art market for contemporary and Old Master works continues to run briskly. Art books have reflected this diverse array of interests.

Recently I spoke to painter and scholar Jane Jelley about Vermeer’s technique and the contemporary significance of Dutch Masters for Five Books. Next year, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam will host the largest Vermeer exhibition ever to be staged. Vermeer’s otherworldly image-making has been the subject of much analysis and speculation; in the recently published Vermeer and the Art of Love, the American art historian Aneta Georgievska-Shine argues that this otherworldliness extends to a quasi-spiritual treatment of one of the themes closest to the artist’s heart: love. This is not simply the romantic love of couples in thrall, but a love of one’s craft.

“Digital and analogue realms cross over with ever-greater regularity”

As repatriations of looted art from Western museums gather pace, the legacy of European colonialism comes under ever greater scrutiny. Archive of the World: Art and Imagination in Spanish America, 1500-1800 is a keystone new reference work from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art looking at the rich and complex artistic traditions of the Americas during Spain’s centuries-long rule of a region that was the nexus of extensive trade routes linking Europe, Asia, and Africa.

Neglected and overlooked women artists continue to expand and challenge a canon that has somehow systematically ignored them for centuries. The findings continue to delight and astound, and—like The Mirror and the Palette on the female self-portrait, which made my list of the best art books of 2021—there are several exceptional new art books that treat these rediscoveries with the attention they deserve. These books will doubtless introduce readers to many unfamiliar names.

Women Painting Women, edited by Andrea Karnes tracks the visual concerns of fifty female painters depicting their sisterfolk, and considering body politics and feminism in its myriad forms. Starting in the 1960s with African-American Faith Ringgold and her challenge to white male patriarchy, it extends to the present day with emerging artists like Apolonia Sokol and her politically charged portraiture. Great Women Painters (which might more simply be titled ‘Great Painters’) is even more ambitious, covering five centuries of painterly innovation by women. Published by Phaidon, with an introduction by Alison M Gingeras, it’s a central addition to any art reference library.

Sounds great. Any other personal highlights from the 2022 class of art books?

No survey of art world publications this year is complete without a look at street art and other visual vernacular. As this editor is a surfer too, it’s hard to resist Point Break: Raymond Pettibon, Surfers and Waves in this year’s list. ‘Surf it or paint it,’ is his motto. Pettibon’s surfers are shown confronting the immensity of the ocean alongside words by the artist, or taken from literature in his trademark interplay of word and image.

Another offbeat addition is Duke Riley: Tides and Transgressions, a monograph on the Brooklyn-based graphic/performance/tattoo artist and provocateur Duke Riley. For Riley, who lives and works by Manhattan’s many waterfronts, waterways are the conduit to understanding our interwoven history, geography, and ecology; this is a layered study of how politics and culture impact our relationship with water. It’s a recurring theme that is reflected in his tattoo work, scrimshaw, printmaking and performances. This book also revisits his high jinx antics with bathyspheres and waterborne gladiatorial combat. Whimsy of the highest order, with an undercurrent of protest.

And, speaking of protest, has there been a more vital time to protest than now? Taking Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ as a touchpoint, A Brief History of Protest Art by Aindrea Emelife traces eight decades of art as political statement, artists at the vanguard of overturning the often-repressive status quo. Human rights in their many forms find visual champions in artists speaking up to galvanise the public against injustice, inequality, and war, and more recently in support of LGBTQ+ rights, the Black Lives Matter movement and climate action. Art too speaks truth to power.

Digital and analogue realms cross over with ever-greater regularity—life imitates art, which imitates video games, it seems. Making Videogames: The Art of Creating Digital Worlds by Duncan Harris and Alex Wiltshire is a lavishly illustrated overview of interactive entertainment, arguing for the craft that is videogame design. Last month I interviewed Brian Attebery on the many uses of fantasy, the cultural DNA that is at the heart of human worldbuilding and visual storytelling. This book takes a similar view through the prism of the world’s most popular entertainment medium, including some of my favourite electronic pastimes.

How about architecture—do any of your 2022 art book recommendations cover the built environment?

Yves Saint Laurent Museum Marrakech is yet another gem from the publishing house Phaidon. Taking a single project from start to finish, this architectural book by Pierre Bergé and the architecture practice Studio KO tracks the museum from conception to launch, just after Bergé—Yves Saint Laurent’s partner and collaborator of many years—passed away. The Museum is dedicated to the work of the legendary French fashion designer, featuring Yves Saint Laurent’s vast collection of 5,000 items of clothing, 15,000 haute couture accessories as well thousands of sketches. The museum opened its doors in 2017, and now gets an artful overview including archival photographs, plans and sketches to accompany text by the likes of Catherine Deneuve and other members of their inner circle.

The Ruins of Detroit (2010) was a landmark project by French photography duo Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre, which alighted on a city of faded splendour before it vanished entirely. Detroit in its entirety has seemed to me like an island of abandonment for much of the recent past—to reference the ever-so-apt title of my colleague Cal Flyn’s excellent book on the culture of contemporary ruins. In Movie Theaters, they now return to capture the ruins of cinemas all across America. Those with an eye for architecture will find everything here: gothic to art nouveau, modernism to post-modernism, via the Byzantine and the Bauhaus. Last call for this late-nite screening of late capitalist splendour!

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This editor has long believed that the accomplishments of a civilisation, or at least a city, are best judged by the quality of its public spaces. Edwin Heathcote, the Financial Times architecture editor, would appear to agree if his new book On The Street: In Between Architecture is anything to go by. Street furniture can amount to a municipal signature, the public infrastructure that situates citizens in public space. This book spans London, New York, Paris and Budapest, but satellite editions extending to other cities would provide a fascinating architectural and anthropological survey of how we live collectively. Much architectural writing has focused on the ‘starchitect’ and their dazzling creations; I love that this book looks at the humble nuts and bolts that make cities more or less functional as living spaces.

And to what extent is the consumer mantra “reduce, reuse, recycle” infiltrating the mindset of those responsible for our built environment? Building for Change, edited by Dr. Ruth Lang, resents an optimistic survey, including waste repurposed as building material, the latest in modular design and spatial innovation in a beautifully illustrated argument for the virtues of working with what we’ve got. Constraints are creativity, and these can include not merely the history of a place but its very fabric, its blemishes and beauty marks. The powerful argument made here—with ample visual evidence, is that there is simply no excuse for demolition.

I love that, thanks. Let’s talk about the best 2022 photographic art books. Where should I start?

Photographers are the scribes that record and relate what might otherwise escape our fleeting, distracted glances. Here’s a selection of photography books published in 2022 that are keepers:

“Free as they want to be”: Artists Committed to Memory, edited by Cheryl Finley and Deborah Willis, considers photography’s role in tracing the legacy of slavery and its aftermath in Black America. Inspired by the words of James Baldwin, this collection of work by twenty photographers and others working in video, silkscreen, projection and mixed-media asks: What is freedom? What does it mean for you? Equal parts documentation and exploration, this eloquent journey in the struggle for racial justice and equality celebrates endurance and empowerment.

Judith Joy Ross finds the sublime in the commonplace in rural Pennsylvania and elsewhere, and holds it out for us to see in all of its simple wonder. Her portrait work conveys tremendous empathy for her subjects, ordinary folks at work or at play, from all walks of life. Her large format monochrome photography is quiet yet arresting, as this monograph survey of her life and career, Judith Joy Ross: Photographs 1978–2015, consistently shows.

Birding is a serious business. It is also supremely aesthetically charged, as ornithologist and photographer extraordinaire Tim Laman shows us in Bird Planet. Thirty years of tracking birds in the planet’s wildest corners have yielded these records of all the elements coming into alignment for the perfect shot. This hunter-gatherer’s non-lethal passion has yielded, amongst other amazing pictures, a photographic record of all known species of birds of paradise. It is an eloquent reminder of the urgency of protecting habitats the world over.

Wielding different tools, Saul Leiter might have been a painter. His photographs look like compositions in oil on canvas, capturing the ephemeral magic of New York streets and making even fashion photography appear ethereal. Some frames look like they could be stills from Blade Runner, all rain-dripped neon and colour somehow saturated and faded in their splendour. The Unseen Saul Leiter presents a real treat: 76 pristine unpublished slides from an archive 10,000 strong.

And finally: we at Five Books are partial to wordsmiths. How wonderful then it is to find a photo essay that seeks to do justice to writers in portraiture. The Writers: Portraits by Laura Wilson presents thirty-eight internationally acclaimed writers—Margaret Atwood, Rachel Cusk, Haruki Murakami, Gabriel García Márquez, Cormac McCarthy, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Annie Proulx, Zadie Smith and Colm Tóibín, to name a few— are presented so intimately that they may have invited us into their garden, drawing room or library.

This very partial list barely scrapes the surface of English-language publications in the visual arts and architecture this year. Which books caught your eye? What exhibitions or book launches are you looking forward to in 2023? We would love to hear from you.

December 5, 2022

Five Books aims to keep its book recommendations and interviews up to date. If you are the interviewee and would like to update your choice of books (or even just what you say about them) please email us at editor@fivebooks.com

Romas Viesulas

Romas Viesulas

Romas Viesulas is art and architecture editor at Five Books.

Romas Viesulas

Romas Viesulas

Romas Viesulas is art and architecture editor at Five Books.