Lots of NFT art collections nose-dived in this year’s crypto crash, but a well-stocked library will never lose its value. Museums, galleries and art institutions have not yet lost faith in high-quality print publications in this screened-out century, and even as venues for cultural debate keep shrinking — pour one out for Bookforum, the lively art-adjacent book review that shuttered this week — art publishing remains in fine fettle, with more titles every year than even the most committed bibliomaniac could peruse. My fellow critics and I have selected here some of the best we read in 2022: splashy or studious, affordable or investment-grade, all of them worthy of a space on your shelves. — JASON FARAGO
Saving Cultures Amid Transformation
‘Dare to Know: Prints and Drawings in the Age of Enlightenment’
It was the “stay woke” of its day: Sapere aude, “dare to know,” a Latin motto that Immanuel Kant raised to a moral command. This dense and very handsome overview of 18th-century European graphic arts (the catalog of a show on view at Harvard through Jan. 15) takes the form of a dictionary whose 26 chapters, from Antiquities to Zealotry, cast a sharp new glare on the Enlightenment’s transformations in science, economics, religion and liberty. Anatomical studies face off with satires of quack doctors, watercolors of erupting volcanoes with cross-sections of slave ships; and if Enlightenment reason is found somewhat wanting, its philosophers also furnish us tools for its own critique. (Harvard Art Museums / Yale University Press)
‘Treasures of Ukraine: A Nation’s Cultural Heritage’
This urgent new title introduces us to more than 100 buildings and art objects, from prehistory to the Baroque era to the bomb-shelter present, in the nation we now finally see as the heart of Europe. With chapters on Orthodox icons and Catholic cathedrals, Soviet avant-gardism and nationalist folk crafts, this book illustrates a culture whose very diversity now puts it in danger — and indeed some works pictured, such as stone statues near Kharkiv dating from the 9th to 13th century, have already been destroyed. The Ukraine war is a culture war, and these are the stakes. All proceeds from the book’s sale are being donated to PEN Ukraine. (Thames & Hudson)
The curator and Rutgers professor Sandrine Colard organized one of the most ambitious shows I saw this year, at Antwerp’s photography museum: an excavation of photographs from Congo under Belgian colonial rule, by Europeans and Africans, as propaganda and as free expression. The trilingual catalog is even more expansive, and unfolds rare amateur photo magazines, 1930s studio portraiture, missionary and ethnographic documentation, and also wrenching but important photos of colonial atrocities (framed here with uncommon care). A talented slate of …….