The 10 Books That Got Us Through the Madness

From Andy Warhol’s intimate sketches to pristine interiors by Nicole Hollis, our editors round up the books that helped take the edge off a turbulent year.

Shaun Leane

Shaun Leane is perhaps best known for the raw, menacing pieces created during his fruitful partnership with fashion legend Alexander McQueen, whose limitlessly innovative visions allowed Leane’s creativity to flourish. The two were ideal creative counterparts, sharing a two-decade creative partnership that ranged from McQueen’s own label to his five-year tenure as creative director at Givenchy. Fully immersed in McQueen’s universe of freedom and fantasy, Leane delved into jewelry’s inextricable relationship with history and the human form, yielding phantasmagoric pieces that blended, as Vivienne Becker describes in Shaun Leane (ACC Art Books), “fairy-tale romance with warrior-like savagery.” —Ryan Waddoups



High on Design: The New Cannabis Culture

Whether guest editing at German publisher Gestalten or collaborating with global magazine Monocle, Santiago Rodriguez Tarditi’s writings often analyze subcultures and subvert their taboos. His latest endeavor with Gestalten delves into the weed industry and how legalization has paved the way for a new generation of design-savvy entrepreneurs and consumers. In High On Design, the self-acclaimed stoner weighs in on emergent industry’s novel aesthetics and offers critical takes on its politics and history, as well as the sexiest products, the most beautiful dispensaries, and the most creative movers and shakers. —Gabrielle Golenda



Lair: Radical Homes and Hideouts of Movie Villains

Yes, Lair: Radical Homes and Hideouts of Movie Villains (Simon & Schuster) was published in late 2019, but for a tome whose subject matter cast such an influential shadow over this year’s mood, we’re making an exception. Edited by Andrea Gollin and Chad Oppenheim, Lair asks a simple question: Why do big-screen antiheroes live in such architectural splendor? From futuristic fantasies to deathtrap-laden hives, the book revisits dangerous dens from 15 films such as The Incredibles, Blade Runner 2049, and North by Northwest, all of which receive Carlos Fueyo’s striking black-and-white illustrative treatment, winning the AIGA’s International Competition for Notable Graphic Design. As the pandemic has almost everyone doom scrolling and Netflix binging, these envy-inducing environs offered momentary delusions of grandeur that made my cramped apartment feel like a hedonistic hideout. —RW



Ralph Steadman: A Life in Ink

In my early 20s, this Nevada native spent a glorious afternoon with Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, the psilocybin-tinged roman à clef considered to be Hunter S. Thompson’s finest work. Chaotic, ink-splattered illustrations by Ralph Steadman accompanied the lurid, drug-induced haze of a storyline, making for a hypnotic reading experience best described as retina-widening. You can imagine how thrilled I was to learn about Ralph Steadman: A Life in Ink (Chronicle Books), in which, for the first time, the prolific artist and satirist unpacked his archives to create a defining document that encompasses more than 100 previously unpublished illustrations from his six-decade career. Though his work often speaks for itself, an illuminating interview with the publisher Steve Crist lends the tome a vivid sheen. —RW



George Byrne: Post Truth

In Post Truth (Hamilton Press), the Australian photographer George Byrne documents the past five years of his life in L.A. with captivating if not melancholy abstract street scenes depicting the sprawling metropolis’s loneliest corners. From a desolate gas station on Route 66 to a white spray-painted palm tree in Silver Lake, Byrne always finds beauty in the mundane. Ian Volner, a Surface contributor, captures the book’s essence in his opening essay: “What Byrne manages to induce is an eerily familiar mental state, an encounter with the city bound to send a chill down the spine of anyone who has spent a lonely afternoon in Las Palmas, or the eastern reaches of Chinatown, or drifting up North Gower at five o’clock, under the spreading darkness of the hills.” —Nate Storey



NICOLEHOLLIS: Curated Interiors

These days, scrolling through Instagram feels perfunctory, almost tedious. Rare does an image stop me dead in my tracks, but that exactly describes the breathtaking sensation I felt when first seeing Douglas Friedman’s shot of the sumptuous Italianate-Victorian owned by San Francisco interiors doyenne Nicole Hollis. Coated head to toe in pristine dark-as-night paint with a Tesla perched outside, the two-story townhome’s unapologetically blacked-out facade immediately restored my faith in an industry that often feels far too anodyne. Hollis plays by her own rules, which is what makes NICOLEHOLLIS: Curated Interiors (Rizzoli) such a refreshing read. Whether in city, country, or coastal settings, her interiors balance a reverence for artisanal workmanship with textural elements and found objects. No details are glossed over; opposing forces harmoniously coalesce, and surprises hide in every corner. —RW



Andy Warhol. Love, Sex, & Desire. Drawings 1950–1962

While gaining international renown for paintings of Campbell’s Soup cans, Marilyn Monroe screen prints, and flower portraits, Andy Warhol drew thousands of sketches of unclothed men. Some are timid, while others are brazen, even violent. Taschen’s new book, Andy Warhol. Love, Sex, & Desire, explores these intimate moments with more than 300 drawings and a newly published history by Michael Hermann, Drew Zeiba, and Blake Gopnik. –GG



In the Limelight: The Visual Ecstasy of NYC Nightlife in the ‘90s

In the 1990s, predating the rise of smartphones and selfies, the party never stopped at New York City’s nightclubs. For those lucky enough to venture beyond the velvet rope at the legendary Limelight, Club Expo, and Webster Hall, the era’s most incredible and sought-after parties awaited. Photography was strictly forbidden, entrusted to a select few like Steve Eichner, perhaps the club scene’s most prolific documentarian. While roaming the floor, he captured thousands of lurid full-color images of the over-the-top costumes, nonstop dancing, glitter, confetti, sex, drugs, and music that defined nightlife’s decadent heyday and made Manhattan so appealing to the city’s sprightly young people. These fleeting moments of unbridled joy make In the Limelight: The Visual Ecstasy of NYC Nightlife in the ‘90s (Prestel) at once intimate and intoxicating, a sensorial rush down memory lane. It recalls a halcyon time when New York was more affordable and every night saw artists, bankers, drag queens, musicians, and poets come together in harmony. —RW



Pandemic! Covid-19 Shakes the World 

On March 24, Slavoj Žižek’s publisher announced that he had written Pandemic!: Covid-19 Shakes the World, a book about the coronavirus. In terms of timing, that’s roughly 100 days between the first Covid-19 outbreak and Žižek firing up the presses. It’s an impressive feat, even for the prolific philosopher-provocateur known for his sense of humor, regular op-ed contributions to Russia Today, and research at the Department of Philosophy of the University of Ljubljana Faculty of Arts. The result almost feels like a tongue-in-cheek prank: what mutates more quickly, the coronavirus or commentary about it? What the 10-chapter, 140-page book lacks in humor, it makes up for in insight from typically Žižekian thinkers: Lacan, Hegel, and an analogy for capitalism’s health derived from Kill Bill. Each tackles a different subject, sparingly reaching his thesis: “a new form of what was once called communism” is needed to avoid this pandemic spiraling into a global nightmare. —GG



Objects: USA 2020

In 1969, the Smithsonian exhibition “Objects: USA” propelled the American studio craft movement to new heights. Uniting a cohort of artists inventing new approaches to art-making through craft and subsequently touring the United States and Europe, the exhibition helped canonize Anni Albers, Sheila Hicks, Wendell Castle, and George Nakashima, while introducing other craft artists who would soon achieve widespread art-world success, such as Dale Chihuly, Michele Oka Doner, and J.B. Blunk. 

Five decades later, Objects: USA 2020 (Monacelli) revisits this landmark exhibition and its catalog, which has become an invaluable resource to gallerists, artists, and auction houses. Curated by Glenn Adamson, the book pairs 50 participants from the original show with 50 up-and-comers (Cody Hoyt, Katie Stout, and Thomas Barger) on the vanguard of this dynamic mode of creative expression. “Craft is back—perhaps stronger than ever—in the 21st century,” R & Company founders Evan Snyderman and Zesty Meyers write in the introduction. “Artists are more connected, with broader access to information, technology, and material innovations stimulating this movement to flourish in its unique way yet again.” Whether the movement’s renewed vitality stems from increased awareness of sustainability, a desire for humanized living, or a more discerning audience, one thing is clear: The American craft movement is thriving, and these 50 artists are paving a promising path forward. —RW


This guide is editorially curated. Purchases through our links may earn us an affiliate commission.

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