The Chinese Art Book - Colin Mackenzie, Katie Hill, Jeffrey Moser

As one of the most interesting art books of the season, The Chinese Art Book (Phaidon, $59.95) provides a window into the art of the “world’s oldest continuous culture.” Representing all materials and disciplines, the book, introduced by Colin MacKenzie, senior curator at the Nelson-Akins Museum of Art, serves as a compendium of Chinese art dating back to Neolithic cultures and on to works produced today. Effective in its clean presentation and digestible essays by Keith Pratt, Jeffrey Moser, and Katie Hill, the book contextualizes China’s artistic, cultural, and political history through three hundred singular creations. By presenting ancient funerary masks next to digital video stills, the book’s unconventional approach and aesthetic is compelling and informative for both aficionados of and newcomers to the subject.

The Chinese Art Book By Keith Pratt, Katie Hill, Jeffrey Moser Cover Image
ISBN: 9780714865751
Availability: Backordered
Published: Phaidon Press - September 23rd, 2013

Shakespeare's Restless World: A Portrait of an Era in Twenty Objects - Neil MacGregor

Shakespeare’s Juliet famously asks, “What’s in a name?” Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, asks what some twenty objects can tell us about the manners and mores of Shakespeare’s Restless World (Viking, $36). Ranging from a communion goblet to a silver medallion to a peddler’s trunk of miscellaneous fabrics, these artifacts offer a trove of illuminating details about Elizabethan history, politics, and culture. In a simple wool cap, MacGregor finds an icon of social stability. A nine-inch, two-prong iron fork recovered at the Rose Theater showed its owner’s continental savvy as well as the importance of concessions to a playhouse’s bottom line. Similarly, MacGregor reads a history of imperial and otherworldly powers in an obsidian “mirror” that belonged to the Aztecs before it was John Dee’s, and notices personal security issues in the rapier and dagger that were standard accessories for young men going out on the town. As he did so brilliantly in A History of the World in 100 Objects, MacGregor lets material culture tell us how much of the past we haven’t lost.

Shakespeare's Restless World: Portrait of an Era By Neil MacGregor Cover Image
ISBN: 9780143125945
Availability: Special Order—Subject to Availability
Published: Penguin Books - November 4th, 2014

The Smithsonian's History of America in 101 Objects - Richard Kurin

The story of America wouldn’t be complete without Washington’s sword or the furnishings of the Appomattox Court House, but Louis Armstrong’s trumpet and Kermit the Frog are no less essential to the full picture. What many histories may overlook are well within the scope of The Smithsonian’s History of America in 101 Objects (Penguin Press, $50), the handsome and appealing catalog drawn from the 137 million items (the largest such collection in the world) held by the institution’s nineteen museums and galleries. The book, like the collection, casts its net wide and deep. Here is a portrait of Saint Anthony from the 1700s, part of the Spanish missionary hide-painting tradition rooted in the American Southwest. Here’s a feather cape that King Kamehameha presented to Navy officers in 1829—little knowing that his gracious gesture honored the very power that would eventually end Hawaii’s independence. And here’s a fallout shelter, crystallizing the tensions of the Cold War era. The work of Richard Kurin, the institution’s Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture, with help from scores of scholars and curators, the compulsively readable volume spotlights representative relics, inventions, symbols, and icons, relating their role in the ongoing chronicle and recounting how they came to be part of the Smithsonian.