Even though we are temporarily closed, the conversations around art never stop, and there are many great art-related books, podcasts, and movies out there. We asked members of our team to recommend their favorites. Discover more Staff Picks in the first, second, and third installments in our series.
Chosen by: Yan Yang, Curatorial Assistant for the Collection, Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art
What it’s about: Members of the music ensemble 自得琴社 (Zi De Guqin Studio) wear period costumes and take audiences on a journey to the ancient Chinese capital Chang’an, an international metropolis of art and culture during the Tang dynasty (618–907).
Why it’s recommended: Homebirds are turning to music and art that facilitates time travel. This creative group of young Chinese musicians revives traditional tunes and performances for 21st-century audiences through their YouTube channel, sometimes adding a humorous touch.
Theft: A Love Story by Peter Carey
Chosen by: Narayan Khandekar, Director of the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies
What it’s about: In this novel, Michael “Butcher” Boone, a formerly famous artist, now acts as a caretaker for his brother Hugh. They find themselves entwined in a scheme to validate a previously unknown painting by the late great (fictional) painter Jacques Liebovitz.
Why it’s recommended: Mr. Carey’s language grabs you and doesn’t let go. He describes the technical aspects of painting with a deep understanding, and he delves into the complicated history of the varieties of the pigment titanium white—anatase and rutile—which is crucial for the authenticity of the painting in the story. Throughout the novel, he plucks details from real-life forgery cases and incorporates them into the narrative. It is so well researched that I put it on the reading list of my class, HAA206: Science and the Practice of Art History, something that pleased Mr. Carey.
Robar a Rodin (Stealing Rodin)
Chosen by: Frances Gallart Marqués, Frederick Randolph Grace Curatorial Fellow in Ancient Art, Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art
What it’s about: A documentary that covers the fleeting theft and farcical recovery of Rodin’s Torso of Adèle, on loan from the Rodin Museum in Paris to the Chilean National Museum of Fine Arts in 2005.
Why it’s recommended: The documentary, which reexamines the events surrounding what must be every museum’s worst nightmare, the theft of a Rodin (on loan, no less!), unfolds like an absurdist procedural. The suspected young thief claimed not to have committed a crime but to have carried out an art performance. The thief-artist’s argument that absence makes what is missing more present is especially affecting today as we reconsider the roles of museums and art in our society. (By the way, this is in Spanish and French, with English subtitles.)
Candide, or Optimism by Voltaire
Chosen by: Bahadır Yıldırım, Expedition Administrator, Archaeological Exploration of Sardis
What it’s about: The physical and mental journey of a young person coming of age whose worldview is shattered as he struggles to understand humanity in the face of the suffering and absurdities he experiences during travels through Europe, the Americas, and the Ottoman Empire in the 18th century.
Why it’s recommended: As time and space seem to collapse in our physically isolated worlds, and we turn to nurture our own “garden” and reflect on our lives and our place in society, I find this illustrated edition of this timeless satire provides much-needed perspective as we hope for a better future in the current Catch-22 realities.
Chosen by: Erica Lawton, Staff Assistant, Division of European and American Art
What it’s about: In 18th-century France, an artist is commissioned to secretly paint a wedding portrait for a young woman who refuses to pose.
Why it’s recommended: This beautifully shot period piece, set on an island off the coast of Brittany, is a historical romance that artfully explores the female gaze. As the artist and sitter observe one another, their intimacy grows and results in a compassionate portrait of a woman experiencing freedom for the first time, if only fleetingly.
Logically Depressed by Hogoè Elimiera
Chosen by: Marvin Smith, Security Control Center Operator
What it’s about: It’s about reality and mentality expressed through a selection of poems.
Why it’s recommended: I think it’s good to read poetry that might help you come to understand the maze that is your own human psyche. Elimiera touches on topics from self-awareness to the beauty we can find within, even on our darkest days. Truly a work of art that reminds you that humans are art as well.
Chosen by: Kappy Mintie, John R. and Barbara Robinson Family Curatorial Fellow in Photography, Division of Modern and Contemporary Art
What it’s about: A series of recently recorded interviews with contemporary artists working across media, conducted by Gregory Crewdson, Director of Graduate Studies in Photography at Yale University.
Why it’s recommended: First, the lineup of interviewees is outstanding and features many artists whose work I admire, including LaToya Ruby Frazier, Catherine Opie, Kara Walker, and Tilda Swinton. Second, the artists are generous in discussing their lives and careers, and I left each interview feeling intellectually energized. Finally, there is the guilty pleasure of encountering the artists at home and glimpsing their bookshelves.
The Best of Archy and Mehitabel by Don Marquis (illustrated by George Herriman)
Chosen by: Ed Dormody, Visitor Services and Shop Assistant
What it’s about: Dispatches from a poet reincarnated as a cockroach who secretly types out notes at night in the office of a New York newspaper in the late 1910s and 1920s.
Why it’s recommended: With sweet, satirical, sometimes sad free verse that occasionally rhymes, Archy relates a world that could have been and introduces its denizens, such as his muse Mehitabel, who if you ask, was once Cleopatra but has only recently found herself as a spirited alley cat on her ninth life. George Herriman’s illustrations are no less the star of the show here, and all the breezy surrealism of his critically acclaimed comic Krazy Kat is present, bringing the text to life in a brilliant collaboration of comic poetry and art.
Chosen by: Steve Mikulka, Preparator, Collections Management
What it’s about: A 17th-century rogue who has a gift for healing seeks redemption after being rewarded, then disposed of, by King Charles II.
Why it’s recommended: The film hits on topics of plague, isolation, excess, and the search for meaning in art, displayed with incredible costumes and scenery. Robert Downey, Jr., plays the debauch, as only he can, looking for redemption, and he is backed up by a great cast, including Sam Neill, Ian McKellen, Polly Walker, Meg Ryan, and Hugh Grant as a scoundrel artist. The novel by Rose Tremain tells a better story, but the movie is worth the spectacle.