Texas’ 12 Best Books of the Year: These Perfectly Arty Presents Challenge Your View of the Lone Star State

BY // 12.23.16

Got an art collector on your list?

We’ll, we’ve got your covered. Since the fall arrived and the new book releases hit the shelves, we’ve been compiling our list of best visual volumes with the single caveat — all must possess a connection to Texas.

What books made the list?

It’s hard not to be charmed, transported, informed, or moved by one of these dozen volumes.

First up, People Knitting: A Century of Photographs, is a modestly priced tome (Princeton Architectural Press, $16.95) perfect for gifting to a photo collector, history type, or a craft denizen, or really anyone with a quirky sense of humor and a curiosity about the past. The author, Barbara Levine, is an obsession photographic historian/image hoarder as well as an artist. She was most recently seen as co-curator of Cherryhurst House, Houston, and is its first artist in residence with partner/collaborator Paige Ramey. (The duo is known for raiding the photographic past via Project B.) Image shown above — photographed by J. Peterson, circa 1939, from the collection Shetland Museum and Archives, Scotland — typifies some of the visual treasures of People Knitting.

Our award for most outstanding Texas art book of the year goes to Susie Kalil for her opus on late Houston painter Dorothy Hood The Color of Being / El Color del Ser: Dorothy Hood, 1918 – 2000. Released by Texas A&M University Press ($45), the volume shows off Hood’s dazzling, operative canvas and delicate, surreal drawings, and melds scholarship and fresh insight with stunning imagery to secure Hood’s rightful place in American art history; The Color of Being coincides with a blockbuster show organized by the Art Museum of South Texas and serves as a catalog for the exhibition (which runs through January 8).

Also due for reappraisal in the canons of art history, internationally exhibited late Texas great Bert Long Jr.‘s long awaited volume is out, a project of the Houston Artists Fund ($34.95 hardcover, $19.95 paperback), released by University of Texas Press. Bert Long: The Artist’s Journey, penned by the brilliant iconoclast/art historian Thomas McEvilley, who personally knew the Rome Prize-winning talent, details Long’s journey from a child raised in Houston’s Fifth Ward to his turn as executive chef of the Hyatt Spindletop during 1970s boomtown Houston to his place as one of the most influential artists of his time and place.

While seekers of a more majestic book along the lines of the Hood magnum opus may be disappointed, this is the best Bert until a museum mounts a major show — and having the McEvilley text, along with some rare photos spanning Bert’s life, makes this a must for a fully understanding of this larger than life, almost mythic figure. (See a concise retrospective of Long’s expansive career, curated by Glassell School of Art’s Pete Gershon, who also served as the artist’s archivist (Deborah Colton Gallery, through January 28).

An offering from Texas A&M University Press, Robert Craig Bunch’s The Art of Found Objects: Interviews with Texas Artists ($50), culls an impressive array of talents, from the obscure and outsider (like Austin-based Vincent Hannemann, creator of the Cathedral of Junk) to the Whitney-exhibited Dario Robleto. More than 60 Texas visualists are highlighted, via in-depth interviews, allowing the artists’ voices to come in loud and clear. Bunch’s interest in all media, coupled with his reach across generations, as well as desire to mine more than the usual suspects, make this volume relevant now as well as a Mother Lode for tomorrow’s scholars and future collectors.

While many of the volumes on this list do not command attention for their size, Flatbed Press at 25, a boldly scaled volume on the first quarter century of Austin’s legendary press, does issue a bold declaration due to its hefty proportions, pomegranate-hued cover, and mammoth-page size. Authored by Flatbed Press cofounders Mark Lesly Smith and Katherine Brimberry, this new release by UT Press ($65), reveals the permutations of the print-makers’ art with generous imagery from our best and brightest who forayed into the inventive side of experimentation with lithography, aquatint, woodcut, photogravure, and more. Artists from James Surls and his former student Sharon Kopriva to Trenton Doyle Hancock, Liliana Porter, Peter Saul, Linda Ridgway, and the mighty Robert Rauschenberg are included in the roster. The book’s release coincides with a Flatbed holiday print show at Clarke & Associates (301 E. 11th St., Houston, through January 15).

Then Ellinger, Texas-based Herring Press is a contender for its two volumes perfect for gifting to a rancher type, or anyone that appreciates the great outdoors, the call of the land, and the traditions of the vanishing cowboy culture and the American West. the niche imprint wins kudos for both Mark Kohler: Going West — a handsome volume told via Kohler’s remarkable watercolors married with interviews with the cowboys he’s met and observed ($60) — and Fish & Other Stories as My Pen Remembers Them, A Journal by Jack Unruh, which reproduces to scale pages from the artist’s hunting and fishing journals ($75).

All profits from Unruh’s book fund a scholarship the late artist established at Washington University in St. Louis, his alma mater, which set him on his path as one of America’s best loved illustrators.

Then a trio of Texas exhibitions with important catalogs also make our list: Mark Flood: Gratest Hits (CAMH, $39.995) from the artist’s Contemporary Arts Museum Houston retrospective this spring; As Essential as Dreams: Self-Taught Art from the Collection of Stephanie and John Smither (Yale University Press, $45), from The Menil Collection‘s outsider exhibition that opened this summer; and Telling Tales: Contemporary Narrative Photography (McNay Art Museum, $25) the volume that accompanies the McNay Art Museum photo show includes Texas-based cinematic duo Teresa Hubbard / Alexander Birchler, as well as the odd realities of Nan Goldin, Julie Blackmon, Gregory Crewdson, Tina Barney, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, and the underknown Mitch Epstein, among the 16 artist inclusions (through January 15).

A six-years-in-the-works volume also just arrived on our desk — In the Eyes of Our Children: Houston, An American City (the Pozos Art Project, Inc., $45). Directed by photo legend Geoff Winningham and his wife, artist Janice Freeman, the book features the lenses and print-making prowess of 132 school kids who participated in the nonprofit The Pozos Art Project; revealed are the diversity and cultural dynamism of the neighborhoods, parks and gardens, stadiums, and shopping malls that define the fourth largest, and always morphing, city in America.

Catch the ensuing exhibition at Rice Media Center, Rice University, March 7 – 31. (The book makes a nice bookend to the now out-of-print volume Winningham photographed in the mid-1980s, A Place of Dreams: Houston, an American City (Rice University Press, 1986); find the book on Amazon, and the vintage prints on the photographer’s website here.

Finally, a book with rich content and a big-picture rewriting of art history with African-American artists (and those from the African Diaspora) front and center is Four Generations: The Joyner/Giuffrida Collection of Abstract Art (Gregory R. Miller & Co., $55). The Texas connections abound, beginning with Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Core Fellow Julie Mehretu, and including those who have had major museum shows in Texas, from Sam Gilliam and Melvin Edwards to Leonardo Drew, Frank Bowling and Norman Lewis.

To see the players in Four Generations, visit the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans, when the book gets is own national touring exhibition, which opens October 2017.

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