BOOKS ON CITIZEN SCIENTISTS, VOGUE PHOTO SPREADS, MEDIEVAL ART, MARIE-ANTOINETTE, NEON LOS ANGELES, QUEER THEORY, DESIGNER PIERRE PAULIN, AND MORE.
CITIZEN SCIENTIST Searching for Heroes and Hope in an Age of Extinction Mary Ellen Hannibal, The Experiment, Hardcover $26.95 (432pp), 978-1-61519-243-4
If climate change has you down and you’re traumatized by the thought of another critical species being lost to extinction, here’s something to think about: all your heartfelt empathy doesn’t do diddly-squat to help the planet. What’s needed is a critical mass of get-off-your-asstivism, as outlined by Mary Ellen Hannibal in Citizen Scientist. Hannibal advocates for participatory research, the longstanding tradition of amateur naturalists engaging in whale watching, bee counting, tide-pool monitoring, and other forms of nature observation. The data collected can then be shared on inaturalist, Google Earth Outreach, Google Maps, and similar technologies which “allow us to observe with consequence.” Part personal adventure story and natural history, Hannibal proves herself to be an inspiring writer.
STOPPERS Photographs from My Life at Vogue Phyllis Posnick, Abrams, Hardcover $75 (256pp), 978-1-4197-2244-8
The gang’s all here: Anna Wintour and Vogue’s legendary stable of photographers—anton Corbijn, Patrick Demarchelier, Steven Klein, Annie Leibowitz, Helmut Newton, Irving Penn, Mario Testino, Tim Walker, and Bruce Weber—in a celebration of Executive Fashion Editor Phyllis Posnick’s first-ever collection of photo spreads from her twenty-five years of work for Vogue. In Stoppers, with Posnick’s personal memories alongside each show-stopping photograph, we learn of the off-the-cuff creativity and collaboration between editor, photographer, and the world’s most beautiful women. For those unfamiliar with the Vogue approach, be prepared for irreverent, even shocking photos of the highest quality.
HOW TO READ MEDIEVAL ART Wendy A. Steinw, The MET, Softcover $25 (136pp), 978-1-58839-597-9
Hazy, enigmatic, disturbingly uncivilized, the millennium-long Middle Ages followed the wondrous Greek and Roman eras, seemingly unable to rise above the competing mischief of Roman and Orthodox Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and the Vikings, Normans, Franks, et al. Even the paganistic Celtic and Germanic traditions maintained relevance in many quarters. In that light, it is important to remember that art in the Middle Ages was “made because patrons caused it to be made.” The whimsies and preferences of the artist mattered little. And the predominant source of wealth and power at the time was, of course, the church. This enlightening book showcases splendid illustrations of thirty-eight iconic works from the MET’S vast collection—altarpieces, stained glass, tapestries, sculptures, and illuminated manuscripts, to name a few—next to Wendy Stein’s detailed discussions of why each piece provides a fundamental understanding of the Judeo-christian tradition and the Middle Ages overall.
MARIE-ANTOINETTE Hélène Delalex, Alexandre Maral, Nicholas Milovanovic, Getty Publications Hardcover $49.95 (216pp), 978-1-60606-483-2
Authored by the top curators at the Palace of Versailles and the Louvre, and lavishly illustrated as only the J. Paul Getty Trust can do, Marie-antoinette takes us on location to experience the queen’s rarefied world: her living quarters, gardens, carriages, furniture, gowns, tableware, childhood toys, and, yes, even the humble cotton chemise she was wearing when she lost her head. We learn she was a haughty diva, through excerpts from her correspondence, and we sympathize as she experiences the Revolution’s maniacal wrath. A remarkable work of history, art, and storytelling.
SPECTACULAR ILLUMINATION Neon Los Angeles 1925–1965 Tom Zimmerman and J. Eric Lynxwiler, Angel City Press, Softcover $35 (192pp) 978-1-62640-026-9
The happy-making invention of neon, those gas-filled glass tubes of brilliant color, was patented by Georges Claude in France in 1910, and by 1913 a large Cinzano vermouth sign illuminated the Paris night. A marketer’s dream, it may be said that neon found its true home in sprawling, car-crazy Los Angeles, a city exploding in population just as neon captured the imaginations of advertisers in the 1920s. Of course, LA also had the comet that would be Hollywood launching at about the same time—all of which led to a forty-year golden age of neon. Spectacular Illumination brings together more than two hundred vintage photos that showcase the influence of neon signs played out on the streets of LA. In the intro, the authors also tell a remarkable story about the early days of neon, how certain industries and businesses embraced the light, and the genius behind the design of the individual signs.
QUEER A Graphic History Meg-john Barker, Julia Scheele, Icon Books, Softcover $17.95 (176pp), 978-1-78578-071-4
You are hereby advised not to imagine or assume anything about this book based on its title, such is its unexpected, extraordinary wit and erudition. Queer’s overarching goal is to dispassionately explore how contemporary views of sex, sexuality, and gender in Western culture developed over the years, and what influence was played by the queer movement in reaching this status quo. Leading writers and scholars of queer theory earn profiles herein, and their ideas are explained without wince-causing academic speak. The graphic-novel format proves exceptional at exploring identity politics, gender, biology, privilege, exclusion, and sexology through a queer lens. Aha moments come one right after another. One small step for queer theory, this project will leap the layman far down the path of tolerance and understanding.
PIERRE PAULIN Life and Work Nadine Descendre, The Vendome Press, Hardcover $65 (240pp), 978-0-86565-335-1
Hifalutin art snobs say that designers don’t qualify as artists because they’re constrained by budget, production specifications, and the unglamorous nuts-and-bolts parts needed to make things functional. In our mind, that’s like saying sonnets don’t qualify as poetry because of the rhyming. Artists cause shifts in any medium, and whether he was designing razors and fondue pots or dining room sets, airport departure lounges, and the private quarters of French presidents, Pierre Paulin “found a way of thinking about design which supplanted everything that had gone before.” His art chops are on full display in the seventy sketches included in this fantastic book, along with superb photos of popera designs like the Oyster and Orange Slice chairs, and the Tongue chaise lounge. Paulin upended midcentury design in 1960s Paris, whether the snobs admit it or not.
PAINTING THE SOUTHERN COAST The Art of West Fraser West Fraser, The University of South Carolina Press, Hardcover $49.99 (272.pp) 978-1-61117-694-0
Of a mortal painter in an unfamiliar setting, it is enough to ask for technically sound, representational landscapes, and only from a master, in the haunts and stomping grounds of his home, can we expect paintings to deliver the soul and spirit of a place. A true son of the Lowcountry of America’s Southeast coast, West Fraser descended from Carolina rice farmers. This impressive project showcases 260 works from his forty-year career—paintings, studies, and sketches, as well as original maps marking the location of each painting. Essays by the artist, and Jean Stern and Martha Severens, both experts in Lowcountry art, provide just the background needed to fully appreciate Fraser’s singular talent.
Image from Pierre Paulin, Life and Work, by Nadine Descendre, reviewed on this page. Used with permission from The Vendome Press. © Archives Paulin/ photography Nadine Descendre.