From McQueen to Matisse: May’s New Art Books


The end of May brings a series of gorgeous art-related hardbacks to the shelves, from the highly-anticipated biography of Alexander McQueen to a new retrospective of political hijinks from the Canadian art collective known as General Idea. All of these titles come out on May 31st, so you have exactly two weeks to develop the proper level of excitement before their purchase. (Isn’t that sometimes the best part — the anticipation?) They all also include arresting images for aesthetes as well as those who appreciate the rough and tumble artists who can’t help but bring an iconoclastic message to the table. It’s been a hard winter, but the final days of spring bring us vibrant, lush, colorful books to enjoy.

Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty by Andrew Bolton and Sølve Sundsbø

By now, most of us know that Alexander McQueen was the son of a cab driver and a schoolteacher, and that he learned his trade by working as a dutiful apprentice on Savile Row. Even without his humble origins, McQueen’s life and work still manage to amaze even a casual viewer. His designs are daring, innovative, and theatrical, and Savage Beauty gives us a window into his process; those who saw the Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition and want more should seriously consider picking up this book.

Images courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Beautiful Struggle: The Art of Dzine by Dzine

Carlos Rolon was born in Chicago in 1970, but adopted the name Dzine when he became a practicing artist. His work combines high and low art extremes, from baroque iconography to the aesthetics of Latin American Kustom Kulture, creating gold-plated lowrider trikes with impressive boomboxes mounted on the back, or bicycles dripping in Swarovski crystals, with red velvet seats and shimmery headlights. It’s an ostentatious display, but it’s also fascinating to observe.

Penelope Umbrico: Photographs

This is the first monograph from Penelope Umbrico, a photographer and professor at the School of Visual Arts and the chair of the photography MFA program at Bard. Umbrico arranges commonplace items (e.g., books, TVs, remote controls, packing boxes) and captures them on film, creating moments which become, as she writes, “cultural absurdities” of consumerist desire.

Penelope Umbrico, Embarrassing Books

General Idea: A Retrospective 1969-1994

The Toronto-based artist collective known as General Idea was founded in 1969 by AA Bronson, Felix Partz, and Jorge Zontal, and folded in 1994, when both Partz and Zontal died of AIDS. The Art Metropole description says, “Treating the image as a virus infiltrating every aspect of the real world, General Idea set out to colonize it, modify its content and so come up with an alternative version of reality.” Their art installations (e.g., One Year of AZT/One Day of AZT) confronted the AIDS crisis at a crucial time in history, and offered viewers giant pills and pirate flags which overtook traditional, stodgy spaces. New commissioned essays and republished texts make this a definitive read for anyone interested in the cult artists.

The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde

Gertrude Stein and her brothers, Leo and Michael, amassed an incredible modern art collection during their time in Paris during the early 20th century, and Jan Bishop, the curator at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, did a similar feat by compiling the images and text in this comprehensive book. It features more than 600 images of the artists shaping the scene at the time, from Henri Matisse to Francis Picabia, as well as essays from notable curators. Interested San Franciscans can head over and see the paintings at SFMoMA from May 21st through September 6, 2011.

Henri Matisse, Blue Nude (Souvenir de Biskra), 1907. Oil on canvas. Courtesy of SFMoMA