Old, new, borrowed, blue—a happy marriage between art aficionados and their book collections is never hard to find. Herewith, a list of ARTnews editors’ favorite books of 2019.

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Hot, Cold, Heavy, Light, 100 Art Writings 1988-2018, Peter Schjeldahl (Abrams)
“Most of us have never known an art world without Peter Schjeldahl in it.” That is how Jarrett Earnest begins his introduction to Hot, Cold, Heavy, Light, a collection of art writings by Peter Schjeldahl dating from 1988 to 2018. Unfortunately, sooner there will be people who do—after, a few days ago, the New Yorker, where Schjeldahl has served as chief art critic since 1998, published a long, brilliant essay in which he informs us that he has lung cancer, and a very limited time left on Earth. Schejldahl is a sentence writer. Opening the book at random, it’s tough to find one that doesn’t crackle. “De Kooning’s keynote is a self-engulfment in painting that demands every resource of wit and skill not to become a mess” (Village Voice, November 1, 1994). “Dabs of raw turpentine cause runny dissolutions, as if some forms were melting into their white ground” (on Arshile Gorky, in the New Yorker, November 11, 2009) “As for ‘junk,’ [Rachel] Harrison exposes the arbitrariness of the word, which, like the use of ‘weeds’ to describe ungoverned plants, insults things that are no less particular for being unwanted” (New Yorker, December 22/29, 2014). One could go on. And on, and on. Maybe that’s the best way to read this book: flipping through, picking out sentences like a kid in a candy store. Schjeldahl makes most art criticism look un-fun. —Sarah Douglas

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Critic, Les Levine (Matthew Marks Gallery)
The best $5 I spent this year landed me this slim volume, which was published to accompany a wily, idea-rich exhibition that Alex Kitnick organized in September at Matthew Marks Gallery in New York. It contains transcripts of 2-minute talks that a baker’s dozen of art critics gave about their field for a 1966 video piece by the great Les Levine. The responses are wonderfully all over the place—some express eerily familiar concerns, while others seem to radiate from another universe. They’re all memorable, but Irving Sandler’s comments have particularly stuck with me. He begins: “I remember when I was first drawn to art. It had to do with a kind of excitement, a kind of meaning in the work itself. The idea—whether it was good, whether it was bad—didn’t mean much. The important thing was that it was alive.” —Andrew Russeth

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Queer Holdings: A Survey of the Leslie-Lohman Museum Collection, edited by Gonzalo Casals and Noam Parness (Hirmer)
Since the Leslie-Lohman Museum reopened in early 2017, under the helm of director Gonzalo Casals, it has transformed itself into an institution that is at the forefront of rethinking what it means to be a museum—not just a culturally specific one or a queer institution, but a museum in general. (Other enterprises should take note of what’s going on there.) The museum published a book about its collection, Expanded Visions, just two years ago, but this new volume, Queer Holdings, isn’t so much a collection survey or a book “about perpetuating a particular set of an institution’s ideas,” per the preface by editors Gonzalo Casals and Noam Parness. The editors think of it as a way for the museum to hold itself accountable: “to practice institutional critique, acknowledge their privilege, and decolonize their collections.” Queer Holdings looks at what’s missing and gives voice to those who have been marginalized, dismissed, and under-recognized, particularly in the queer community—which, like the Leslie-Lohman itself, has privileged the voices of white cis gay men. Included are key essays by important writers and artists who have long called for a more expansive art world that centers queer and trans people of color. Among them are Sur Rodney (Sur), Chris E. Vargas, and Vivian A. Crockett. —Maximilíano Durón

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Out of Bounds: The Collected Writings of Marcia Tucker, edited by Lisa Phillips, Johanna Burton, and Alicia Ritson, with Kate Wiener (New Museum/Getty Research Institute)
It’s no secret that Marcia Tucker, the late founder of New York’s New Museum, was brilliant, so it’s no surprise that Out of Bounds is extraordinary. Tucker was a firebrand—she quit her first job, as a secretary at the Museum of Modern Art, after being asked to sharpen too many pencils—and her writings reflect her radical spirit. This anthology, which contains both published and never-before-seen writings, is unabashedly feminist, vehemently anti-racist, and historically open-minded. My favorite piece is “The Ten Most Pressing Issues in the Art World Today, and Some Uncommon Solutions,” a previously unpublished set of notes for a 1987 lecture in which Tucker called out museum donors for acting in their own interests—doesn’t that accusation sound familiar!—and demanded a redress to power imbalances in institutions. Here’s one of her proposed fixes: “Demand, as a condition of the job, that all museum personnel take a minimum of two weeks per year to read (anything other than mass media).” Hear, hear! —Alex Greenberger

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The New Woman’s Survival Catalog, Kirsten Grimstad and Susan Rennie (Primary Information)
Republished in a facsimile edition by Primary Information, The New Woman’s Survival Catalog was issued in 1973 as a paperbound materialization of a network for women to call on for all manner of consultation and aid. Kirsten Grimstad and Susan Rennie assembled it after a two-month road trip during which they talked to women banding together in different ways, and it’s both intensely inspiring and depressingly disquieting to look at now. There’s so much energy and guts on each and every page, from a historical age that seems so distant. But then, of course, that age is not distant at all—and remains ongoing. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt more awash in the sense of history being alive and able to implicate us all than I am when flipping through these pages. —Andy Battaglia

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The Fate of Fausto, Oliver Jeffers (Philomel Books)
The artist, illustrator, and New York Times bestselling author Oliver Jeffers revels in big questions. He’s explored some of the greatest mysteries of our vast universe and humanity’s place within it. His latest book, a painted fable titled The Fate of Fausto, tells the story of a man who believed he owned everything, from the flowers growing at his feet to the mountains towering above him. Featuring lively and richly hued images created using traditional lithographic printmaking techniques, this tale of avarice and hubris—published against a backdrop of headlines about abuses of power and environmental destruction—is particularly timely. But Jeffers’s story ends on an uplifting and just note, with balance restored to the sea, the mountains, and the trees. “For the fate of Fausto did not matter to them,” the book concludes. —Claire Selvin

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Lynn Hershman Leeson: Anti-Bodies (Hatje Cantz)

Anti-Bodies focuses on a recent installation by Lynn Hershman Leeson, The Infinity Engine, that appeared in her 2018 solo exhibition, “Anti-Bodies,” at the House of Electronic Arts in Basel, Switzerland. A pioneer of digital art, Hershman Leeson has been mining the intersections of cyberspace and self since the 1960s. More recently, she’s explored the dissolving boundaries between natural and artificial life in the age of synthetic genetics and DNA manipulation. At the installation in Basel, viewers could view personalized strips of synthetic DNA created for the artist by the pharmaceutical company Novak. The book offers an in-depth (and much needed) explanation of the scientific process that made this possible, in addition to insight into the artist’s philosophical motivations. The strange mixture of biotech and social commentary was engrossing and—like so much in her oeuvre—unnerving. —Tessa Solomon



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