The 20 Best Coffee Table Books of 2020
From a monograph on abstract art to a scrapbook from Kim Gordon
The coffee table book has come to serve largely as a signifier, purchased for its ability to alert others of one’s taste in or knowledge of art, design, culture, photography, etc. For many, they’re simply a way to posture — a medium in which to carefully craft an image of oneself that reads as sophisticated or knowledgeable, put on display in an attempt to impress the outsider. But what happens when the coffee table book is no longer exposed to outside eyes, when its purpose as communicator of alleged taste is rendered useless?
As 2020 has proved to be a year of isolation for many, there’s no better time to return to the true purpose of the coffee table book, as being for oneself rather than others. While these monographs and volumes make handsome additions to one’s home decor, it’s necessary to see their value beyond reflecting the person you purport to be, and instead reflective of the person you actually are. Considering the wealth of books that exist, you’re bound to find one that speaks to you and your interests, one that won’t just rest idly on your shelf but be picked up and perused.
Below are 20 of the best coffee table books this year has produced, covering a range of interests from abstract art to the interior of chefs’ refrigerators and the subculture of LGBTQ+ rodeo. And as tempting as it might be to purchase these books to gain approval from others, it’s time you start collection them for yourself.
Peter Beard from Taschen
After photographer and artist Peter Beard’s tragic passing in March of this year, in an effort to further immortalize Beard’s work and legacy, Taschen has re-released Peter Beard (originally published in 2006) in one large-format volume. The book details Beard’s extensive and diverse career, from his collaborations with fellow artists Francis Bacon and Andy Warhol, to his work with scientists and his time touring with the Rolling Stones. Planned long before his unexpected death, the book has come to be the definitive work on Beard’s art and life, the two of which are intrinsically linked.
Black Futures by Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham
Black Futures is a celebration of Black culture through an assortment of multimedia that essays to memes, tweets, photos and more. Editors Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham construct a narrative of the inventive and radical world that’s being crafted by Black creators, moving deftly from conversations with activists and academics to memes pulled from Instagram. More than a book, Black Futures is a testament to the ingenuity of Black creatives.
Abstract Art: A Global History by Pepe Karmel
Exploring abstract art beyond the confines of museums and cultural institutions, noted art historian Pepe Karmel grounds the movement in a reality that is recognizable to all, viewing it from a global perspective. Looking at five themes (body, landscape, cosmology, architecture and man-made signs) Karmel creates a narrative that extends far beyond the expected works and institutions associated with abstract art, looking to the ways in which the movement has been utilized to express social, cultural and spiritual events and experiences.
Paul Thomas Anderson: Masterworks by Adam Nayman
Considered one of the most respected filmmakers today, Paul Thomas Anderson’s relatively short 30 years in the industry has proved impressive enough to earn him a mid-career monograph exploring his artistic journey. With a foreword by the Safdie Brothers, Masterworks highlights the notable and recurring themes of Anderson’s films, from alienation to reinvention and destiny, offering further analysis from some of the director’s closest collaborators and friends.
Mark Gonzales from Rizzoli
Often deemed the most influential skateboarder of all time, Mark Gonzales’s legacy and contribution to the culture of skateboarding is now documented in this self-titled tome. Featuring photographs by Sem Rubio, the book offers a look into a day in the life of Gonzales, looking beyond skateboarding to include poems, art and collaborations contributed by Gonzales. Rather than interview the skateboarder himself, the book looks to create an image of him through interviews with Gonzales’s collaborators and friends, including Spike Jonze, Tony Hawk and the artist Kaws.
Chefs’ Fridges by Carrie Solomon
If you’ve ever wondered what about the contents of the most skilled and talented chefs’ refrigerators, quell your curiosity with Chefs’ Fridges by Carrie Solomon and Adrian Moore. The book offers an exclusive look into 35 of the most renowned chefs’ kitchens, the photographs accompanied by interviews and anecdotal essays from the chefs that speak to the contents of their fridge. In turn, the book creates an intimate self-portrait of sorts for some of the most elusive culinary figures.
My Window by David Hockney
Artist David Hockney’s preferred medium of late might come as a surprise to many, as he’s taken to an iPhone and iPad to create a series of digital drawings. Taschen has compiled 120 of these works by Hockney into My Window, a documentation of the seasons as witnessed through the window of Hockney’s Yorkshire home. It’s the rare chance to perceive the world through the lens of one of our greatest living artists. This limited edition is also signed by Hockney.
I Can Make You Feel Good by Tyler Mitchell
At only 25 years old, Tyler Mitchell has already made an impressive career for himself that most notably includes photographing Beyoncé for the cover of Vogue. Now in his first published monograph I Can Make You Feel Good, Mitchell imagines the possibility of Black utopia and what it could look like. Mitchell extends the message of the book beyond the photographs of Black men and women, allowing for no visible white space to further realize his vision.
Art = Discovering Infinite Connections in Art History from The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Cataloguing more than 800 works of art, Art = Discovering Infinite Connections in Art History seeks to disrupt the traditional, chronological approach to the study of art, instead organizing the works included by thematic keywords. The result is an illumination of the ways in which art is connected regardless of geography or time, drawing comparisons between the unlikeliest of pieces and creating a more contextual history of The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s extensive collection.
Accidentally Wes Anderson by Wally Koval
What began as an Instagram account documenting the discovery of Wes Anderson-like places and designs in the everyday has now yielded a nearly 400-page book with a foreword by the director himself. Wally Koval’s collection of highly pleasing images are now made tangible with Accidentally Wes Anderson, a catalogue featuring some of the most symmetrical and unique destinations, provided with context. It’s the closest one can get to living in a Wes Anderson film.
Friday Night Lives: Photos from the Town, the Team, and After by Robert Clark
Before there was the hit TV show Friday Night Lights, there was Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream by Buzz Bissinger, chronicling a season spent with the Texas high school football team the Permian Panthers. Bissinger was accompanied by then twenty-something photographer Robert Clark, whose 137 rolls of film are finally published in their entirety in Friday Night Lives: Photos from the Town, the Team, and After. The photos further illuminate the town of Odessa and bring to life the real Boobie Miles and Coach Gaines, documenting the disparate emotions that marked the dramatic season.
Kim Gordon: No Icon by Kim Gordon
There’s no better way to get to know music legend Kim Gordon than through Gordon herself, and now she’s allowing us the privilege of doing so with Kim Gordon: No Icon. Gordon offers a timeline of her life beginning with her childhood on California surf beaches in the ’60s and ’70s to the founding of Sonic Youth in the ’90s, presented in a personally curated scrapbook. Containing unpublished photographs, fashion editorials and newspaper clippings alongside Gordon’s lyrics, art and personal objects, Gordon crafts a self portrait that extends beyond her identity as a cultural icon and muse.
Oxford: The Last Hurrah by Dafydd Jones
Oxford University is an institution that bears hefty associations, counting among its alumni such notable names as Stephen Hawking, Oscar Wilde and T.S. Eliot. But as esteemed as the university is, that doesn’t mean it was immune to bouts of debauchery and mischief, evidenced in Dafydd Jones’s Oxford: The Last Hurrah. Looking at the establishment through the lens of the 1980s, Jones highlights a time marked by extreme wealth, privilege and extravagance, when those who had money reveled in the rise of Thatcher’s Britain.
Anni & Josef Albers: Equal and Unequal from Phaidon
Considered two of the twentieth century’s most important abstract artists, Anni and Josef Albers’s influence is at last celebrated in this 500-page monograph from Phaidon, tracing their life and work from their early years at the Bauhaus in Germany to their departure during World War II to Black Mountain College in North Carolina, and their lengthy period in Connecticut. Containing more than 750 artworks, archival images and documents, the volume provides insight into the couple’s storied lives, their influence on one another and their instrumental impact on abstract art.
’93 Til: A Photographic Journey Through Skateboarding in the 1990s by Pete Thompson
Skateboarding culture as we have come to know it today looks vastly different from that of the culture in the ’90s, a time reflected in ’93 Til by Pete Thompson. While many skateboarders today have ascended to celebrity status, Thompson’s photographs reveal a period when establishing oneself as a professional skateboarder proved rare if not altogether impossible, showing skateboarding before it was co-opted by luxury brands and social media.
National Anthem: America’s Queer Rodeo by Luke Gilford
Photographer and filmmaker Luke Gilford challenges the conservatism and homophobia that has come to define rodeo culture through his documentation of the International Gay Rodeo Association (IGRA), the organizing body for LGBTQ+ cowboys and cowgirls to safely express themselves. Gilford’s photos intimately capture and celebrate the diversity that permeates this subculture, in turn reflecting Gilford’s own deeply personal connection with the community.
Nike: Better Is Temporary by Sam Grawe
It’s difficult to conceive Nike as once having been a small brand, but even the design behemoth has quaint origins. In Nike: Better Is Temporary, author Sam Grawe documents how the Swoosh came to be through intimate looks at the brand’s design philosophy, as well as photos of unreleased prototypes and insider anecdotes. The five chapters cover everything from collaborations to sustainability, offering a comprehensive history of the now ubiquitous brand.
High on Design: The New Cannabis Culture from Gestalten
In case you haven’t heard, weed is now chic, and High on Design serves as a testament to this fact. As marijuana has become more mainstream and accepted, a crop of designers and brands elevating the experience of getting high continue to emerge. High on Design highlights the notable trends that have come to mark contemporary cannabis culture, all while acknowledging and juxtaposing these brands and products against the racism that continues to disproportionately criminalize Black and brown communities.
The Iconic American House: Architectural Masterworks Since 1900 from Thames & Hudson
For those seeking interior design inspiration, allow The Iconic American House to provide ample references with its detailing of some of the most famed spaces in America. The book contains more than 400 photographs featuring the designs of famed architects Frank Lloyd Wright, Walter Gropius and Thomas Gluck, among others. Covering the span of 120 years, the volume provides a visualization of the changing aesthetic styles of architecture in America, in turn allowing insight into clients’ wants and needs, the emergence of new technology and experimentation with form and design.
The Look of the Book by Peter Mendelsund and David J. Alworth
The old adage warns not to judge a book by its cover, but as The Look of the Book proves, it’s sometimes difficult not to. Authors Peter Mendelsund and David J. Alworth seek to figure out what makes a book cover enticing by examining some of the most notable book jackets and their origins, alongside writings from literary and design professionals, providing an expansive look at the varying designs of best-selling jackets and exposing the trends of covers throughout history.
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