11 books for art lovers

Art books make for graceful gifts. We selected 11 to recommend, many with local ties.

The Ransom Center is celebrating photographer Elliott Erwitt with an exhibit that continues through Jan. 1. Nationally recognized fine arts print publisher Flatbed Press gets due reverence with a beautiful overview of its quarter-century of art-making.

Rocky Schenck’s surreal photographs are on view at Texas State University’s Wittliff Collection. And the Bullock State History Museum is celebrated in a new volume.

One enormous volume offers a peek at just some of the more than 170 million objects that belong to the University of Texas.

Making our list in the statewide category are sumptuous catalogs from the current Monet exhibit at Fort Worth’s Kimbell Museum; the Degas blockbuster at Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts; and the sublime Picasso show at the Menil Collection.

And six decades of Houston history is seen through the lens of one commercial photography studio.

“Elliott Erwitt: At Home Around the World,” by Jessica S. McDonald, Stuart Alexander, Steven Hoelscher, Sean Corcoran (Aperture/Harry Ransom Center, $65)

Like other great street photographers of the 20th century, Elliott Erwitt has an uncanny knack for capturing a singular and potent moment: Crowds on the beach or at fairs, women walking their dogs in Central Park, children at play on urban sidewalks. Erwitt trained his lens on quotidian scenes with a sense of wry humor but always with a certain tenderness and never at the subject’s expense. And his journalistic assignments sent him to Cuba, the Soviet Union and the American South in the turbulent 1950s as the civil rights movement gained traction.

UT’s Ransom Center acquired Erwitt’s archive last year — about 47,500 vintage and modern black-and-white prints spanning Erwitt’s breathtaking seven decades of witty and perceptive picture-making.

In tandem with the Ransom Center’s current retrospective “Elliott Erwitt: At Home Around the World,” on view through Jan. 1, the Aperture Foundation publishes its own stunning overview of Erwitt’s immense output.

“Flatbed Press at 25,” by Mark Lesley Smith and Katherine Brimberry (University of Texas Press, $65)

Few Austin fine art endeavors have succeeded like Flatbed Press. The collaborative publishing workshop has emerged as one of the premier artists’ printshops in the nation — an epicenter for the art form.

This sumptuous volume features prints from some of the outstanding roster of artists who have printed at Flatbed, including Robert Rauschenberg, John Alexander, Dan Rizzie, Terry Allen, Michael Ray Charles, Luis Jimenez, Julie Speed, Trenton Doyle Hancock and James Surls. Thoughtful commentary puts the art work in context while photos of Flatbed’s print facilities and equipment and the artists and printers at work, as well as a glossary of printmaking terms, make this book robust.

“Degas: A New Vision,” by Henry Loyrette (Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, $35)

Record-setting crowds have clamored to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, since it opened the blockbuster “Degas: A New Vision” in October — the most comprehensive exhibit of the French artist in several decades making its only U.S. stop in Houston.

MFAH Director Gary Tinterow is a widely regarded expert on Degas and, along with Henri Loyrette — former director of the Louvre and curator of the exhibit — assembled an enormous gathering of 200 works from public and private collections around the world. And the accompanying catalog is as breathtaking as the exhibit.

“Monet: The Early Years,” by George T. M. Shackelford (Kimbell Art Museum, $50)

Fort Worth’s Kimbell Art Museum debuted “Monet: The Early Years” in October, a jewel of an exhibit continuing through Jan. 29. The museum assembled 60 Monet paintings from institutions around the world — including France’s Musée d’Orsay — to illuminate the early work of the young genius as he was earning a reputation for being a master of light and atmosphere.

“Mexico,” by Mark Cohen (University of Texas Press, $55)

Street photographer Mark Cohen is notorious for his invasive practice. He takes strangers by surprise, intruding into their personal space by coming uncomfortably close to them and pointing his camera with its bright flash directly at people’s faces. His framing is haphazard, ditto his use of focus. The results, however, are stunning and evocative.

Though Cohen has spent the bulk of his career shooting in Wilkes-Barre, his Pennsylvania hometown, trips to Mexico over the years resulted in a portfolio of black-and-white photographs that are less aggressive than his street portraits but nevertheless bear the same kind of spontaneous visual poetry.

“Picasso: The Line,” by Carmen Giménez (Menil Collection/Yale University Press, $60)

With its characteristic astuteness and elegance, Houston’s Menil Collection presents the first focused look at Picasso’s use of line. Picasso gave his drawn lines a particularly sculptural accent, and simple line drawing remained not just a fundamental part of his lifelong creative practice but a defining element of his radical art. As a companion to an exhibit that continues through Jan. 8, the Menil published an extraordinary volume with over 100 drawings as well as examples of Picasso’s painting and sculpture and photographs of the artist.

“Houston on the Move: A Photographic History,” Steven R. Strom (University of Texas Press, $45)

Commercial photographer Bob Bailey established his studio in Houston in 1929. Over the next six decades, until the shop closed in the mid-1990s, Bailey Studios produced more than 500,000 photographs documenting Houston as it boomed into one of the nation’s largest cities.

The Bailey Studios archive is now a part of UT’s Briscoe Center for American History. Former architectural archivist Steven R. Strom smartly culled 200 photographs for this volume, penning thorough detailed captions that give each image its historical context. Aerial shots reveal how the city’s skyline grew and how its suburbs and freeways sprawled. And the booming petroleum industry and its infrastructure and imprint are a major character in this photographic history of Houston.

“Antebellum,” by Gilles Mora (University of Texas Press, $50)

French photographer and photographic scholar Gilles Mora and his wife landed in Louisiana in 1972 to teach the French language in public schools. Fascinated by the Deep South — “a vanished past whose presence could still be felt,” he writes — Mora embarked on a years-long project to capture the region and its culture.

Mora kept his black-and-white photographs to himself for decades. Published for the first time, Mora’s grainy yet poetic images offer an impressionistic portrait of a place forever in flux between its past and its present.

Rocky Schenck: The Recurring Dream” (University of Texas Press, $50)

Rocky Schenck debuts a news series of color images created by hand tinting black-and-white prints with color oil paint. It’s actually a technique that dates back to the Victorian era. Schenck employs it to modern moody effect.

Schenck, who grew up on a ranch in Wimberley, honed his visual sensibility making experimental films and that cinematic charge echos through eerie landscapes and strange tableaux.

Texas State University’s Wittliff Collections holds Schenck’s archive. And “Recurring Dream” is published in tandem with an exhibit on view at the Wittliff through Dec. 16, part of the UT Press’ commendable Southwestern and Mexican Photography Series.

“The Collections: The University of Texas at Austin,” edited by Andrée Bober (University of Texas Press, $125)

It weighs 11 pounds and proved 11 years in the making. And in its 720 pages are 924 photos. “The Collections: The University of Texas at Austin” is the first attempt to chronicle the more than 170 million objects that belong to the university.

UT began acquiring the day it was founded in September 1883 when the Board of Regents accepted a sculpture by German-born Austin artist Elizabet Ney. “This is a road map for the public to begin navigating UT’s collections,” said Andrée Bober, who shepherded the massive undertaking. “And (the book) establishes the university for the major repository that it is.”

“Seeing Texas History: The Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum” (University of Texas Press, $40)

From early Spanish colonial documents to an 1860s portable kitchen supply box used on cattle drives to a 1980 dress worn by musician Lydia Mendoza, this volume highlights more than 80 artifacts that have been on view at the Bullock Museum.

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