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At Home and Personal: New Books on Contemporary Artists

Julia Champtaloup By Julia Champtaloup Published on November 29, 2016

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Suzanne Barbezat: Frida Kahlo at Home

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La Casa Azul was Frida Kahlo’s home: her birthplace and where she grew up. She also lived there with her husband and noted artist Diego Rivera for various stints during their marriage. It played an important role in her life as it is where she spent long periods recovering from polio and the trolley accident that left her nearly crippled.

Today, Kahlo’s home is one of the most visited museums in the Colonia del Carmen area of Coyoacán, Mexico City. Established in 1958, just five years after her death, the house-museum encapsulates the artist’s life and passions.

After marrying Rivera, Kahlo moved out of La Casa Azul (1931-1933) to travel to the United States. And after separating from Rivera, she returned from the US to her Casa Azul, where she eventually died.

Frida Kahlo at Home features full colour illustrations and photographs, creating a wonderfully complete image of Kahlo’s creative spirit and her love for Mexican culture and folk art as displayed in the house museum. Some of Kahlo’s paintings are reproduced along with archive images, family photographs, and objects such as the pre-Hispanic necklaces and traditional dresses that she was known for. Room after room is documented, showing her eclectic and individual style but also highlighting works from her personal art collection with paintings by Paul Klee, Diego Rivera and others.

The book sets Kahlo’s home within the local landscape showing the inspiration the artist took from her surroundings. Many of the colours, local plants and motifs of the area and her beloved Mexico feature in her paintings. This beautifully presented hardback is an archive in itself and a must-have for any art lover’s bookshelf.


Guy Brett, Catherine de Zegher, and Michael Archer: Mona Hatoum

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A new monograph on Lebanese-born, Palestinian artist Mona Hatoum is part of an exciting publishing project by Phaidon that highlights contemporary artists in a bold, high quality manner written by experts in their fields.

Other monographs in the series include those of Jeff Wall, Peter Doig, Sarah Sze, Antony Gormley, Marina Abramovic, the first monograph on Mexican based artist Francis Alys and many more. The series draws the reader in with personal accounts from the artists with an Artist’s Choice: a piece of literature or poetry, and an Artist’s Writing: stories or essays penned in their own words. This makes for fascinating insight into the artist’s lives and their work.

Mona Hatoum  is an important monograph reinforcing Hatoum’s artistic and political statements with rich images that enhance her art. The book presents Hatoum’s best known work; events, videos, sculptures and large-scale installations. Like artists Marina Abramovic and Francesca Woodman, in Hatoum’s early works she used her body in performances. Hatoum has always been concerned with confrontational themes such as oppression, voyeurism and violence but also feminism and the treatment of women.

Published to coincide with her recent exhibition at the Tate Modern in 2016, Mona Hatoum is a survey of the artist’s work but is also of her personal and political sphere. Mona Hatoum’s journey as an artist is portrayed showing her intimate encounters with the body and the world, set within her global and political perspectives.

Hatoum chose a text by Palestinian author Edward Said for her Artist’s Choice and a statement from Italian post-war sculptor and performance artist Piero Manzoni. For the Artist’s Writing Hatoum included personal notes and interviews. Co-authors Guy Brett and Catherine de Zegher are both experts in their fields of art criticism and curation. Guy Brett explores key themes around the body and language that emerge from Hatoum's work and the artist herself describes the history of her practice in conversation with writer and curator Michael Archer.The beautifully designed book displays the artist’s evocative works in 250 color images.

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Chris Townsend: Francesca Woodman

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Francesca Woodman became something of a cult figure after her untimely death in 1981 at the age of 22. She started taking photographs when she was just thirteen and at the time of her death left a body of work that not only inspired young photographers but also secured her reputation as one of the most influential American artists of the 1970s, along with contemporaries such as Cindy Sherman and Richard Prince.

Woodman’s often haunting and sensual images that were often disturbing self-portraits, explored themes of sexual identity and mortality and were also the work of an artist's journey through young adulthood.

Essays on the artist’s use of the body and interest in metamorphosis and death draw the reader into a very personal and intimate conversation in conjunction with the reproductions of 250 images, some of which have never been reproduced before.

Woodman’s personal story is also told through extracts from her journals selected and edited by her father George Woodman. Author and art historian Chris Townsend examines Woodman’s work in the context of influences from gothic literature, surrealism and feminism.

Readers unfamiliar with Woodman’s work will come to know it intimately through the intensely personal conversations which echo her images and the writings.

This is most comprehensive monograph on Woodman’s work to date, highlighting her enduring legacy and confirming Woodman’s position as one of America's most talented photographers and important artists since 1970. The book was also published as part of the Phaidon series on contemporary artists. 

Buy here.

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    Julia is a Sydney based writer covering sustainable living, innovation, books and art.

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