The 10 best coffee table books for the art museum obsessed

Lead art for 2020 gift guide lists
(Jillian Goeler / For The Times)

Between quarantining at home and shuttered museums and galleries, the last many months of the COVID-19 pandemic have created an unprecedented art-drought. Fortunately, some relief is at hand in a broad spectrum of welcome art books pitched at a wide variety of interests. Here are some of them.

See the full L.A. Times 2020 gift guide here.

‘Goya: A Portrait of the Artist’

Janis A. Tomlinson, "Goya: A Portrait of the Artist"
(Princeton University Press)

If ever there was a time that demanded a fuller understanding of Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, that time is now. Goya navigated the tempestuous shoals around being a court painter and an independent humanist during the brutal period of Spain’s Imperial unraveling. In the process he emerged as arguably the first modern artist. Remarkably, scholar Janis A. Tomlinson’s superlative study, “Goya: A Portrait of the Artist,” is his first major English-language biography. 448 pp., Princeton University Press


$35 | 👉 Purchase here

‘Guerrilla Girls: The Art of Behaving Badly’

The Guerrilla Girls, "Guerrilla Girls: The Art of Behaving Badly"
(Chronicle Books)

The masked and anonymous Guerrilla Girls, behaving so badly they’re good, have been agitating for gender equity in the institutional art world for 35 years. Progress has been made — though not enough — but graphic punch and irrepressible wit skewer powerful patriarchy at every turn in the pages of “Guerrilla Girls: The Art of Behaving Badly,” which chronicles the history of their exploits. 192 pp., Chronicle Books

$30 | 👉 Purchase here

‘Where the Truth Lies: The Art of Qiu Ying’

Stephen Little, "Where the Truth Lies: The Art of Qiu Ying"

Not much is known about the life of Qiu Ying. But that the Ming Dynasty painter is among the most copied — and most forged — artists in Chinese history is one indication of his work’s cultural significance. In the spring, the fine Los Angeles County Museum of Art exhibition got quickly shuttered by the pandemic, but the fascinating, fully illustrated catalog for “Where the Truth Lies: The Art of Qiu Ying,” with essays edited by Stephen Little, provides an essential guide through the dense thickets of legend and fact around Qiu. 240 pp., LACMA/Delmonico Books


$75 | 👉 Purchase here

‘Anni & Josef Albers: Equal and Unequal’

Nicholas Fox Weber, "Anni & Josef Albers: Equal and Unequal"

Two of the 20th century’s most influential abstract artists — Anni, textile designer and printmaker; Josef, painter and graphic designer — are examined in tandem in “Anni & Josef Albers: Equal and Unequal” by Nicholas Fox Weber. The book’s title suggests the imbalance in reception between traditional art mediums like painting and functional objects like textiles, as well as between a female and male artist. The husband-wife team is also seen in relation to work by numerous other artist-friends, including Jacob Lawrence, Ruth Asawa and Merce Cunningham. 512 pp., Phaidon

$150 | 👉 Purchase here

‘Bernini’s Michelangelo’

Carolina Mangone, "Bernini's Michelangelo"
(Yale University Press)

When one genius artist comes along and wants to take on the reigning genius artist of a prior age, what’s the most productive way to proceed? That’s essentially the question tackled by Carolina Mangone in “Bernini’s Michelangelo,” in which the hugely ambitious 17th century Roman sculptor approaches the formidable achievements of the hugely ambitious 16th century Roman sculptor — in ways both sly and previously unsuspected. 288 pp., Yale University Press


$65 | 👉 Purchase here

More gift guides

‘Adrien Dalpayat: The Peter Marino Collection’

Etienne Tornier, "Adrien Dalpayrat: The Peter Marino Collection"

Adrien Dalpayrat was the George E. Ohr of 19th century France — not because his flamboyantly glazed stoneware looks anything like the eccentric American pots made by the famous Mad Potter of Biloxi, but because the once genteel porcelain painter flipped well-mannered ceramics on its head. A dazzling array of thick, speckled glazes spoke to the ineffable impulses of Symbolist art and extreme subjectivity. Emblematic: a flaming oxblood stippled with a rainbow of other hues, all melting over unusually shaped vessels, many formed like slithery animals with human dispositions. Limoges was never like this. This exploration of his life and work is by Etienne Tornier, Phaidon, 272 pp.

$275 | 👉 Purchase here

‘Mira Calligraphiae Monumenta’

"Mira Calligraphiae Monumenta"
(Getty Publications)

It’s back! Out of print for a decade, this gorgeously produced, slip-cased facsimile edition of an exquisite Renaissance manuscript unfurls a battle between brilliant advocates for the beauty of the written word (Hungarian scribe Georg Bocskay) and the painted image (Flemish illuminator Joris Hoefnagel). The small volume, with a bonus alphabet book tucked in at the end, is a sheer pleasure to hold in your hands. “Mira Calligraphiae Monumenta: A Sixteenth-Century Calligraphic Manuscript Inscribed by Georg Bocskay and Illuminated by Joris Hoefnagel, Second Edition” by Lee Hendrix and Thea Vignau-Wilberg, 424 pp., Getty Publications


$85 | 👉 Purchase here

The Stuart Collection

Mary L. Beebe, "Landmarks: Sculpture Commissions for the Stuart Collection at the University of California San Diego"
(UC Press)

Over the past 40 years, San Diego’s nonprofit Stuart Foundation has sponsored the creation of a smashing collection of experimental public sculpture on a suburban university campus. Robert Irwin, Bruce Nauman, William Wegman, Michael Asher, Alexis Smith, Do Ho Suh, Mark Bradford — works by 21 artists are extensively, even lavishly accounted for in Mary L. Beebe’s “Landmarks: Sculpture Commissions for the Stuart Collection at the University of California San Diego.” 282 pp., UC Press

$65 | 👉 Purchase here

‘Modern Artifacts’

Michelle Elligott and Tod Lippy, "Modern Artifacts"
(Esopus Books)

As with rummaging around in a favorite old friend’s attic, unexpected treasures turn up from the deep archives of New York’s Museum of Modern Art in “Modern Artifacts” by Michelle Elligott and Tod Lippy. Whether it’s a 1967 letter from artist James Lee Byars to curator Dorothy Miller (“I regret not seeing you but to imagine you on vacation is a miracle”) to records of the museum’s 10th-anniversary festivities featuring President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Walt Disney and a dinner menu starring an alligator pear (a.k.a. an avocado), an eccentric cultural landscape unfurls in this elaborately designed book. 354 pp., Esopus Books


$60 | 👉 Purchase here

‘Hollywood Arensberg’

Mark Nelson, William H. Sherman and Ellen Hoobler, "Hollywood Arensberg: Avant-Garde Collecting in Midcentury L.A."
(Getty Publications)

Anyone who knows Dada and Surrealist art knows of Louise and Walter Arensberg, the collectors extraordinaire whose house in Hollywood was jam-packed floor to ceiling with around 1,000 paintings, sculptures, drawings and other objects, plus pre-Hispanic stone carvings, a few European Renaissance pictures and more than 4,000 texts, most related to the work of 17th century British writer Francis Bacon. The Modern art is now a collection anchor for the lucky Philadelphia Museum of Art, while the texts are housed at the Huntington Library in San Marino. But the mind-boggling house? The Arensberg era (1927-54) is reconstructed room by room in the fascinating tome “Hollywood Arensberg Avant-Garde Collecting in Midcentury L.A” by Mark Nelson, William H. Sherman, and Ellen Hoobler. 448 pp., Getty Publications

$65 | 👉 Purchase here

More gift guides