Books your creative friends actually will want on their coffee table

Christopher Knight, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertaining

Chika Okeke-Agulu, Joseph L. Underwood and Phaidon eds.; 352 pages

The small number of widely known modern and contemporary artists from (or working in) Africa gets a big, much-needed expansion in this broad survey, which includes more than 300 painters, sculptors, photographers and other artists from the past 140 years, a selection advised by an international panel of 30 experts. Among its other benefits, Princeton professor Chika Okeke-Agulu notes in his introduction that the vastness of Africa's geography and its demographic and cultural diversity "push against any notion of Africa as an entity." An array of Indigenous, Arab/Islamic and European/Christian artistic legacies emerge — some familiar, many enticing to new Western eyes. $69.95

'Sensation: The Madonna, the Mayor, the Media and the First Amendment'

Arnold Lehman; Merrell; 248 pages

If you discovered just last year that Rudy Giuliani was a dangerous clown when he was waving his arms at a Big Lie press event held outside a porn distributor and a lawn care company to fantasize about a supposedly stolen presidential election, you probably missed his scandalous 1999 attempt to shut down a museum over an art exhibition. The show shouldn't have taken place — it merely fluffed a private collection (and was partly underwritten by the collector) — but Giuliani had culture-war promotion of racism and religious bigotry in mind. Former Brooklyn Museum Director Arnold Lehman, whose museum it was, unfurls from the inside the ridiculous — but serious and widely reported — censorship tale. $35

'Leaked Recipes: The Cookbook'

Demetria Glace (editor); JBE Books; 280 pages

Photographer Emilie Baltz takes food styling to an unexpected level in this quirky idea for a cookbook. Recipes for black bean dip, Southern fried venison and oatmeal raisin cookies that were gleaned from notorious digital hacks, leaks and data breaches — Hillary Clinton's emails, a Google drive of French President Emmanuel Macron — get appropriately odd illustration. The cover's still life, laid out on a white satin background, is emblematic: It shows mushrooms bound to a cellphone with a rubber band, a witty cobbling together of a "digital fungus" that looks like an outtake from Ed Ruscha's eccentric 1975 "Tropical Fish Series." $49.95


'Erwin Olaf: Strange Beauty'

Roger Diederen and Anja Huber (editors); Hatje Cantz; 240 pages

Dutch photographer Erwin Olaf brings a commercial photographer's clean, burnished sensibility to richly produced pictures with narrative implications that are never clear-cut. The result: Imagination is unleashed as a viewer is seduced into wanting to know something that's unlikely ever to be fully revealed. Included in the 40-year survey of his work are Olaf's pictorial essays on life in three disparate international cities: Berlin, Shanghai and Palm Springs. $50

'Culture Strike: Art and Museums in an Age of Protest'

Laura Raicovich; Verso; 224 pages

Former Queens Museum Director Laura Raicovich is righteously angry about art museums behaving badly, often pretending to be distant from the ills of American society with which they are instead inevitably intertwined. If the book's focus is a bit too limited to cultural institutions in the Northeast, only because that's where the author has the most direct experience, it nonetheless maps out thoughtful considerations of pressing subjects that apply everywhere. Among them are the private power of philanthropy, the practical and spiritual benefits of staff diversity, unionizing cultural institutions and the contours of museums' social responsibility. $26.95