'The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together'
Heather McGhee; One World/Random House; 396 pages
No, it's not an art book. But "The Sum of Us" is one of a handful of the most important books published this year, and it lays out in powerful terms the larger cultural landscape in which art is being made, seen and reconsidered now. Heather McGhee is a clear and generous thinker and writer about the false idea that progress for some must come at the expense of others — what she calls "the zero-sum paradigm" long operational in American life — and her book is essential reading. $28
'Hung Liu: Portraits of Promised Lands'
Dorothy Moss; Yale University Press; 218 pages
Hung Liu's sudden death at 73 from pancreatic cancer just days before her retrospective exhibition opened at the National Portrait Gallery in late August lends an elegiac note to the fine catalogue produced for the show. During China's torturous Cultural Revolution, Liu was forced to burn scores of family photographs — their embedded memories going up in smoke — for fear of unacceptable social imagery. Photographs are ubiquitous today, but her poignant paintings, executed in a fluid, gossamer style she called "weeping realism," derive from those and other fragments that remain. $50
'Emerson's "Nature" and the Artists: Idea as Landscape, Landscape as Idea'
Tyler Green; Prestel; 144 pages
Writing and painting intersected and informed each other in 19th century America's developing sense of a national identity — not least in its racial conception of a space for establishing the authority of whiteness. Green, following his 2018 book on California's first great artist, landscape photographer Carleton Watkins (1829-1916), looks at the complex relationship between Ralph Waldo Emerson's widely read 1836 essay, "Nature," and such landscape painters as Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Cole, George Inness and John Frederick Kensett, along with Watkins, sculptor Horatio Greenough and other influential artists. $25
'African Artists: From 1882 to Now'