Favourite art and design books of 2021 (so far)

Readings’ art & design specialist Margaret Snowdon runs through some highlights of the year so far, from frontrunners to the not-so-obvious.


Architecture books have been quite inspiring this year, with Thames & Hudson’s classy monograph Kerstin Thompson Architects (next available mid-June) on the Melbourne-based practice with a progressive approach to place and community. Delving deeper into this area, a personal favourite is Landscape as Protagonist, a collection of essays taken from a symposium organised by Molonglo for Melbourne Design Week 2019, in which our disconnection from (and reconnection to) nature in built environments is examined. The second title in Thames & Hudson’s excellent First Knowledges series, Design: Building on Country by Alison Page and Paul Memmott, will expand what I suspect would be many people’s limited knowledge of Aboriginal design technologies. To gain more of an understanding of these sophisticated systems that positively interact with natural environments is beneficial for everyone.

Beatrice Galilee’s Radical Architecture of the Future is an international look at building things to improve the planet’s (and humankind’s) wellbeing. And for those looking to be inspired by different cultures, Beyond the West: New Global Architecture looks at the strikingly different solutions and frequently very beautiful work from architects across Asia, Africa and the Americas.

Much has been written about the contemporary art scene, but probably not from a voice like Rachel Kushner’s. The Mayor of Leipzig, a fictionalised delve, is short, pricey and published by Karma Gallery in New York’s East Village. It is described as ‘an acidic portrait of the grifters and pretenders of the art world’ – an attractive small hardback at $39.95, it sounds like a guilty pleasure! At the other end of the spectrum, Patrick Baty’s Nature’s Palette is a gorgeous book about the colours and colour codes of Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours (first published in 1814) that was used by artists, botanists, zoologists, mineralogists and anatomists. Presented with the sources of the colours from nature and many examples of artworks created using them, it is a lovely book.

The first edition of Daniel Thomas: Recent Past – Writing Australian Art sold out almost immediately every time it hit our shelves. A second printing is due in June, so don’t miss out on this collection of Thomas’s writing on Australian art spanning the period from 1958 to 2020. There is also a 50th anniversary, small hardback edition of Linda Nochlin’s seminal feminist essay Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists? with accompanying reappraisal 30 years after – if you have never read it, now is a good time.

The third compendium of contemporary drawing practice from around the world, Vitamin D3, follows the publisher’s familiar ‘Vitamin’ format, and the collection of more than 100 artists nominated by 79 experts will always have something inspiring for any reader. Spring Cannot Be Cancelled sees David Hockney sharing his experience of lockdown in rural Normandy at La Grande Cour, the centuries-old rural farmhouse he had set up for his studio in the previous year. Featuring discussions of life and art with Hockney’s old friend and collaborator, Martin Gayford, as well as luminous works by Hockney and paintings by other artists who have inspired him, it is no wonder this title has become a bestseller in the UK.

There have a been a number of photo documentation books on aspects of Melburnian life, most notably David Wadelton’s Small Business (a companion volume to the now out-of-print Suburban Baroque), which preserves fast disappearing old-school shops and establishments through image. Due late June from Perimeter Books is Installation View, a significant new account of photography in Australia by Daniel Palmer and Martin Jolley, which promises to be excellent.

Glossy: The Inside Story of Vogue by Nina-Sophia Miralles is the history of the famous magazine that all started in the spare room of someone’s house. This biography will take readers through three centuries and two world wars, charting the magazine’s successes and failures and the women and occasional man behind the scenes.

Last, but not least: although Readings welcomes our canine buddies, the delightful Shop Cats of Hong Kong makes me want some Readings moggies. This really is my pick of cat books this year so far. These cats are lucky cats and hang out with their humans among a delightful and varied array of goods and products in the colourful markets and shopping precincts of Hong Kong.


Margaret Snowdon is the art and design buyer at Readings.

Shop Cats of Hong Kong

Shop Cats of Hong Kong

Marcel Heijnen, Catharine Nicol, Ian Row

$24.99Buy now

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