Gift Guide: 10 Gifts for the Art Aficionado


Art-minded folk are notoriously tough to impress during the holiday season, perhaps because they navigate world in which naked human “centerpieces” and séances with Tennessee Williams are just part of the norm. To save you the displeasure of having your seasonal tchotchkes scoffed at, we’ve scrounged up some of this year’s fresh art book and film releases, unique accessories that will surprise the aesthetically-minded crowd, as well as a few hard-to-find gems. Consider our brainstorming a starting point, and if all else fails, go to the Unemployed Philosopher’s Guild virtual emporium of delightful kitsch. But first, take a browse in our gallery, and stay tuned for our last pick, which we promise is the thriftiest and savviest of them all.

One of 2011’s best art book releases, Art & Agenda: Political Art and Activism is an illustrated, annotated, inspiring compendium of contemporary rebel art, from Voina’s anarchist antics to the Yes Men’s ingenious social hacking to JR’s humanist street art. It’s thorough, gorgeous and rousing. Coupled with 2010’s Urban Interventions: Personal Projects in Public Spaces , it’s a spirited duo, for the academics, the curious and the action-minded artist.

We’re not vouching that these painted, porcelain sunflower seeds on eBay are really the very same lining Tate Modern Turbine Hall for Ai Weiwei’s exhibition, but there’s bound to be a few legit bunches floating out there. A little while ago, a Chinese factory in the town of Jingdezhen where Ai commissioned 1,600 artisans to create his millions of seed replicas, was selling seeds on China’s eBay — at a dramatic discount rate compared to Sotheby’s official sale. Possibly, those were made by the very same artisans. If anything, these could be quality fakes, which an art aficionado could also appreciate, as Ai’s company is dubbed Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd. Chortle chortle?

Art and design nerds alike will find the fresh PANTONE: The Twentieth Century in Color tome joyfully fascinating. This decade-by-decade study of color’s sociological manifestations spans 100 years and 200 actual works of art, design, fashion and advertising. Explore the significance of the Jet Black (PANTONE 19-0303) of the “roaring twenties” Jazz Age or the cultural particulars of that hue of James Dean’s red jacket from Rebel Without a Cause. It’s color theory re-imagined.

Supreme has previously releases a slew of custom skate decs featuring Robert Longo’s darkly rendered bomb blasts, Takashi Murakami’s signature psycho-Kawaii superflat, Damien Hirst’s spin paintings, etc, but the item of the moment are their $78 decs featuring original artwork by filmmaker-artist Harmony Korine. Bonus: That’s one precious, pre-Mila Kunis Macaulay Culkin.

If you enjoyed Mike Leavitt’s Art Army series of detailed, expertly-crafted, pun-equipped artist action figures (balloon-dog Jeff Koons, bisected Damien Hirst-shark)… too bad, almost everything is sold out. To really wow, you could commission a Mike Leavitt custom-made action figure of your beloved one. It will run you anywhere from $1,600 to $4,000, and it will be amazing. There are more moderately-priced alternatives though, like these $50 hand-cast resin one-earred-Van-Gogh-head earrings. Ooh, meta.

The Holy Grail of art gifts is this limited-edition Tate Modern bag inspired by the John Baldessari 1971 classic I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art. It’s quite rare, but if you rustle up this clever gem, you’ll be hailed as the art gift-giving aficionado, as it’s truly a thing of pure beauty. If you can’t, there’s always the retrospective art book, Pure Beauty.

This anthology of all the paintings in the Louvre, entitled appropriately, The Louvre: All the Paintings, was recently released, featuring 3,022 works of art. Gosh, hefty, huh? Thrust that monster on ’em.

Out on DVD this year, the documentary film Wasteland follows contemporary artist Vik Muniz into the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, where entire families of scavengers subside off the trash piled in mountains at the world’s largest landfill. Muniz photographs the scavengers and re-create their portraits from sculpturally arranged mountains of trash. It’s a seasonally appropriate, heartwarming tearjerker, one that’s a prime example of art doing good. Drop by this Art House film section for more DVD ideas.

The perfect belated holiday gift… Just tell them you were waiting for the January 2012 release of Aram Bartholl: The Speed Book . One of F.A.T. lab artist collective creatives drops his first retrospective of “perceptive and entertaining investigations of digital culture” — from IRL installations of gigantic Google map markers to “dead drop” USB drives as covert file-sharing devices embedded into hidden metropolitan crevices. Digital art and graffiti aficionados might want to shoot Bartholl’s F.A.T. compatriot Evan Roth an email about the availability of those $30 prints of various “s” letters plucked in 2009 from graffiti tags on NYC’s Lower East Side, a part of his grand graffiti taxonomy project. Nifty.

Now, if you really want to impress them or you’re having trouble getting your gifts purchased and shipped on time, we suggest heading over to, the prolific purveyors of free, downloadable avant garde music, sound art, concrete poetry, video art, experimental film clips, and oddball aesthetic ephemera. Make them the ultimate UbuWeb mix tape/CD. It will cost you almost nothing more than careful perusing of your arty friend’s specific interests to produce some meaningful DIY, say Maya Deren speaking on “cinepoems” in 1953 cut to John Cage meets Sun Ra cut to video shorts with Tracy Emin. Nice.