Best contemporary art books: a guide for winter 2022

From maverick memoirs to topical tomes, turn over a new leaf with the Wallpaper* arts desk’s pick of new releases and all-time favourite art books

'Marcel Duchamp', Artwork by Marcel Duchamp best art books
'Marcel Duchamp', Artwork by Marcel Duchamp
(Image credit: © AssociationMarcel Duchamp / ProLitteris, Zurich, 2021, Courtesy Hauser & Wirth Publishers)

When it comes to art books, contrary to popular pessimism, print still very much has a pulse. From maverick monographs and topical tomes to coffee table icebreakers, these are the best art books for 2022 – ideal for Christmas art gifts (or self-gifting - no judgement here). 

The best contemporary art books: an ongoing guide

Censored Art Today, by Gareth Harris 

Gareth Harris Censored art today best art books

(Image credit: Lund Humphries)

In recent years, debates and scrutiny surrounding censorship have swelled to new levels of intensity, notably in the world of arts and culture. But in a globalised, digitised, subjective world, who are the censors, and what are the consequences of censoring art? These themes are at the heart of Gareth Harris’ engaging and timely analyses in Censored Art Today. From political censorship in China, Cuba and the Middle East to the suppression of LGBTQ+ artists, cancel culture and the algorithms policing art online, Harris’ superbly-researched book poses critical questions about the trajectory of free speech, free expression and ultimately, who gets to decide. 

£19.99, (opens in new tab)

The Gourmand’s Egg. A Collection of Stories & Recipes 

The Gourmand’s Egg. A Collection of Stories & Recipes best art books

(Image credit: Taschen)

It’s been Dalí’s muse, Hitchcock’s nightmare, and for others, one of the most versatile culinary ingredients human nature ever invented. It turns out that the egg also makes a great ingredient for a book. With written contributions from Ruth Reichl and Jennifer Higgie, The sumptuously illustrated The Gourmand’s Egg, published by Taschen celebrates the long-running relationship between eggs and art, ranging from antiquity to now. This cracking read covers the full spectrum of egg potential: poached, scrambled, whipped into a cocktail, transformed into an art medium, or used as a tool for protest. 

£40, (opens in new tab)

Adriana Varejão book

Adriana Varejão, published by Rizzoli Electa, in association with Gagosian

(Image credit: Gagosian)

This first English-language monograph on Adriana Varejão explores how the Brazilian artist has stretched the discipline of painting to its extremes as she reifies the legacy of Brazil's colonial past, pluralist identities, disparate cultures, religion, eroticism and Modernism. From early paintings created in the 1990s to recent multimedia installations, pages explode with chaotic, pulsating red viscera rupturing with force from cold, domestic structures. 

$75, (opens in new tab)

Great Women Painters

Phaidon book on great women painters

(Image credit: Phaidon)

The recorded history of painting is long and comprehensive; for the female pioneers, it’s less so. In her 1971 essay, Linda Nochlin asked Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists? The answer, she found, is that there were great women artists, they had just all too often been denied opportunities for greatness. Inspired by Nochlins text, a new book Great Women Painters, published in October, will explore the work of 300 artists born in 60 countries from the 16th to 21st centuries, framed as an A-Z of the key female players in painting history. Among those featured include Vanessa Bell, Etel Adnan, Rana Begum, Cecily Brown, Judy Chicago, Elaine de Kooning, Genieve Figgis, Katharina Grosse, Carmen Herrera, Luchita Hurtado, Shirazeh Houshiary, and Julie Mehretu. 

£49.95, (opens in new tab)

Doug Aitken: Works 1992–2022

Doug Aitken: Works 1992–2022 best art books

Doug Aitken, Green Lens, 2021 (detail). Installation view: Isola della Certosa, Venice, Italy, 2021, from Works 1992-2022 (MACK, 2022)

(Image credit: Courtesy of the artist and MACK.)

Diving into the staggering career of American artist, Doug Aitken: Works 1992–2022 explores everything from the ambitious artist’s large-scale film installations, site-specific sculptures in extraordinary locations, to happenings like Station to Station (2013), which saw a train containing a nomadic studio cross the USA from the Atlantic to the Pacific, with performances staged at each stop. The 600-page tome is punctuated by texts by the likes of Dean Kuipers, Daniel Birnbaum, Hans Ulrich Obrist, and Susan Solomon. 

£100, (opens in new tab)

Marcel Duchamp

Marcel duchamp best art books

Marcel Duchamp

(Image credit: Artwork by Marcel Duchamp © AssociationMarcel Duchamp / ProLitteris, Zurich, 2021, Courtesy Hauser & Wirth Publishers)

Marcel Duchamp means different things to different people. To some, he fathered the readymade, to Willem de Kooning in 1951, he was a ‘one-man movement’. Published in 1959, the book Marcel Duchamp became the bible of the artist’s work. It was the result of years of Duchamp’s collaboration with its author, art historian and critic Robert Lebel, and offered a comprehensive and penetrating study of the artist: from his early painting, subsequent farewell to painting, to his fixation on the fetish. Marcel Duchamp went out of print for 60 years, but the Grove Press English edition is now back in circulation with Hauser & Wirth Publishers’ authorised facsimile.

£100, (opens in new tab)

The Women Who Changed Art Forever: Feminist Art – The Graphic Novel

The Women Who Changed Art Forever – Feminist Art Graphic Novel, by Valentina Grande and Eva Rosetti, published by Laurence King best art books 2021

Spread from The Women Who Changed Art Forever – Feminist Art Graphic Novel, by Valentina Grande and Eva Rosetti, published by Laurence King

(Image credit: Courtesy Laurence King)

In 1971, art historian Linda Nochlin asked, ‘Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?' The issue, she wrote, ‘lies not in our stars, our hormones, our menstrual cycles, or our empty internal spaces, but in our institutions and our education'. There had been great women artists, they had just been denied the opportunity of greatness. The Women Who Changed Art Forever by Valentina Grande and Eva Rosetti tells the story of four trailblazers of feminist art: Judy Chicago, Faith Ringgold, Ana Mendieta and the Guerrilla Girls. The fight for equality is a long road. The graphic novel narrates this unfinished story with vibrance and accessibility through those that paved, and continue to pave, the way to a more equal art world.

£14.99, (opens in new tab)

The Hotel by Sophie Calle 

Room 28. Both in The Hotel by Sophie Calle

Sophie Calle, Room 28. Both in the book The Hotel by Sophie Calle, Siglio, 2021

(Image credit: Courtesy Siglio)

Privacy. These days, it’s everywhere, and nowhere. In 1981, Sophie Calle took a job as a chambermaid to breach it, for art. At the Hotel C in Venice, the French artist snuck a camera and tape recorder into her mop bucket. As she cleaned, she voyeuristically and methodically documented the personal belongings of guests; their bedding, books, postcards, and toiletries. She rifled through rubbish bins, diary entries, letters and family photographs. She eavesdropped on arguments and sex and sprayed herself with perfume that wasn’t hers. The Hotel, published for the first time as a standalone book in English, is a provocative examination of privacy, lack thereof, and what fragmented possessions might reveal about our lives – all told through belongings that were never meant for Calle, or us, to see. 


1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows, by Ai Weiwei 

1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows: A Memoir, by Ai Weiwei, published by Penguin Random House best art books 2021

1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows: A Memoir, by Ai Weiwei, published by Penguin Random House

(Image credit: Courtesy Penguin Random House)

Experiencing the art of Ai Weiwei is like biting into a scorpion. Plenty of sting, searingly sharp, and hard to swallow. And so it should be. The Chinese artist has dedicated his life, career and freedom to exploring some of the most pertinent issues facing humanity. His long-awaited memoir, 1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows, is a century-long epic tale of China narrated through his own life and the legacy of his father, the celebrated poet Ai Qing, who was banned from writing and subjected to hard labour for 20 years. As Ai told us in an interview this year: ‘I [decided] to write a book about what was happening, so my son knew his grandfather and his father, from their own words.’

RRP £25, (opens in new tab)

From the Sculptor’s Studio: Conversations with 20 Seminal Artists, by Ina Cole

Anish Kapoor, Mother as a Mountain, 1985, Wood, gesso and pigment. In From the Sculptor’s Studio, by Ina Cole

Anish Kapoor, Mother as a Mountain, 1985, Wood, gesso and pigment. In From the Sculptor’s Studio, by Ina Cole

(Image credit: Courtesy Laurence King)

There’s a majestic quality to the artist’s studio; a sense of potential in the often-private to-and-fro of an artist as they wrestle with concept, form and execution. From the Sculptor’s Studio, published by Laurence King, is a record of where the magic happens. Writer Ina Cole conducted conversations with 20 seminal sculptors, exploring the artists’ lives and work in their own words, in their own environments. The book features 165 images of studios and artworks, alongside portraits of each sculptor, which includes Phyllida Barlow, Anthony Caro, Antony Gormley, Mona Hatoum, Anish Kapoor, Richard Long, David Nash, Cornelia Parker, Marc Quinn, Eva Rothschild and Rachel Whiteread.

£45, (opens in new tab)

Photography Now, by Charlotte Jansen

Photography Now: Fifty Pioneers Defining Photography for the Twenty-First Century, by Charlotte Jansen best art books 2021

Cover of Photography Now: Fifty Pioneers Defining Photography for the Twenty-First Century, by Charlotte Jansen, published by Octopus Publishing Group

(Image credit: Courtesy Octopus Publishing Group)

For photographers in the 20th century, things were more straightforward. Whole genres could be sparked by a single photograph of something the world had never seen. These days, standing out in an image-saturated post-Instagram world is tough. In this comprehensive, authoritative and international book, writer and longtime Wallpaper* contributor Charlotte Jansen surveys the 50 most significant photographers working today, with high-quality reproductions of their work, commentary and interviews. Artists featured include Nan Goldin, Wolfgang Tillmans, Hassan Hajjaj, Andreas Gursky, Juno Calypso, Zanele Muholi, Shirin Neshat, Catherine Opie, Martin Parr, Cindy Sherman, Hiroshi Sugimoto and Juergen Teller. It's an important book in an age when society faces the increasingly heavy social responsibilities of photography, and visual communication more broadly. 

£35, (opens in new tab)

Peter Blake: Collage

Peter Blake: Collage published by Thames & Hudson

Peter Blake: Collage published by Thames & Hudson

(Image credit: Praline. Courtesy Thames & Hudson)

Throughout his seven-decade career – which included co-designing The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album sleeve – artist Peter Blake has redefined what collage can be: a collision of media, genre, time and space. Peter Blake: Collage reveals the British artist’s knack for extracting fragments of banal reality, and transforming them into compositions that could only exist in imagination. It also captures the artist’s flair for fusing seemingly disparate, distinct items, figures and scenes into one cohesive artwork, one that has cemented his status as the ‘Godfather of British pop art’. As old school friend David Hockney notes in the book’s foreword: ‘Peter understands that collage places one time on top of another’. (opens in new tab)

The Kitchen Studio: Culinary Creations by Artists

Spread from the Kitchen Studio by Phaidon featuring Charles Gaines' Southern-Style Candied Yams recipe, photographed by Nicolas Polli for Wallpaper*

Spread from The Kitchen Studio: Culinary Creations by Artists, published by Phaidon, featuring Charles Gaines’ Southern-Style Candied Yams recipe, photographed by Nicolas Polli for Wallpaper*

(Image credit: Nicolas Polli)

As we know from our long-running Artist’s Palate series, creativity does not stop at the studio door; for many, it extends to the kitchen. This is the subject of Phaidon’s The Kitchen Studio: Culinary Creations by Artists, in which 70 leading contemporary artists present 100 recipes, illustrated with personal photographs, paintings, collages, sketches, iPhone snaps, and illustrations. Among the features – which include contributions by Subodh Gupta, Jeppe Hein, Carsten Höller, Laure Provost, Kehinde Wiley, Ragnar Kjartansson, Philippe Parreno, and Rirkrit Tiravanija – we were excited to find Charles Gaines’ Southern-Style Candied Yams, a recipe originally commissioned for the March 2021 issue of Wallpaper*. 

£29.95, (opens in new tab) 

Harriet Lloyd-Smith is the Arts Editor of Wallpaper*, responsible for the art pages across digital and print, including profiles, exhibition reviews, and contemporary art collaborations. She started at Wallpaper* in 2017 and has written for leading contemporary art publications, auction houses and arts charities, and lectured on review writing and art journalism. When she’s not writing about art, she’s making her own.