Unsurprisingly, many of our contributors listed as their best reads of 2016 articles on the presidential election and its aftermath. A Ta-Nehesi Coates book and poetry by Rebecca Gayle Howell rounded out other selections focusing on artists and art history.
Click the links to see what our contributors selected as their favorite exhibitions, who and what were the most signifiant news and people in their cities, and their most memorable cultural experiences.
Jordan Amirkhani, assistant professor of art history, University of Tennessee-Chattanooga
I learned so much from Douglas Crimp’s new book, Before Pictures, which was published earlier this fall. Written as an autobiography of Crimp’s formative experiences as a critic in New York City in the 1970s, the text is a kind of valentine to the beauty and impact that concertized dance (ballet and modern vocabularies of movement) had on Crimp’s intellectual development as a writer and critic. I soaked up every word!
Sarah Higgins, curator of Zuckerman Museum of Art, Kennesaw State University
Render: An Apocalypse by Rebecca Gayle Howell
This crushing book of poems came into my life at just the right moment: in the middle of personal upheaval and just a couple of days before the election. Rebecca Gayle Howell writes poems as instructions for survival, for living off the land, and confronting the elegant brutality and uncomfortable intimacy of a raw and precarious form of civilization. I’ve been glued to it and I’ve gifted copies to friends. It is the book of this year for me, hands down.
Michi Meko, artist, Atlanta
Render: An Apocalypse by Rebecca Gayle Howell.
I haven’t purchased it yet but with the elections going assbackwards, I want to read White Trash: The 400 year Untold Story of Class in America.
Joe Nolan, critic, columnist, and intermedia artist, Nashville
Awakening the Eye: Robert Frank’s American Cinema is a fascinating read that places the filmography of the eponymous American photographer in a critical context defined by postwar experimental film and avant-garde literature. At its best George Kouvaros’s examination illuminates how film, video, and photography empowered Frank to make art from the circumstances of his everyday life.
Lauren Ross, curator, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond
Again, the election dominates the forefront of my mind. I was deeply moved by two postelection essays about Trump’s impact on the arts: Christian Viveros-Fauné’s chilling prediction of the culture wars to come, and Ben Davis’s sobering reflection of the limited capacity art will have for social change if we don’t widen our audiences and strategize carefully.
A refreshing break from all the politics came in reading Ben Dolnick’s 2013 novel At the Bottom of Everything, a beautifully written story of two childhood friends bound and divided by a shared dark secret.
Logan Lockner, BURNAWAY assistant editor, Atlanta
Ben Davis on art after the election of Donald Trump. “[Some] clear-eyed analysis of what rhetoric is effective and what is not, is going to be very, very important in the years to come. It will not be enough to languish in mythological beliefs about art’s value as a humanistic salve, or even to fly the flag for ‘political art’ as a genre. We have to debate strategy.” In these urgent times, criticism must consist of more than cleverness and a good vocabulary.
I didn’t read as much fiction as I would have liked to this year, but I’m really looking forward to finishing Zadie Smith’s new novel Swing Time over the holidays. The speech she delivered in Berlin two days after the US election is also well worth the read.
Rebecca Lee Reynolds, assistant professor at University of New Orleans
On the value of criticism, New York Times film critic A. O. Scott’s book Better Living Through Criticism.
On race and visual culture: Jill Lepore, “American Exposure,” in the New Yorker; and Taylor Renee Aldridge, “Black Bodies, White Cubes: The Problem with Contemporary Art’s Appropriation of Race,” in Artnews.
For post-election reading, I’m arming myself with knowledge by reading Christine Stansell’s 2011 history The Feminist Promise: 1792 to the Present. Alongside that, I read Sue Monk Kidd’s 2015 book, The Invention of Wings, historical fiction based on the life of Sarah Grimké, a 19th-century abolitionist born into an upper crust Charleston family. Beautiful and inspiring, the book alternates between the points of view of Grimké and her slave Hetty/Handful, who winds up witnessing Denmark Vesey’s 1822 plot to stage a slave rebellion (Vesey was one of the founders of the Emanuel AME church, recently in the news for the trial of Dylann Roof, who murdered nine people there).
And about the election, my favorite pieces were Alain de Botton’s morning-after response (“The Citizen in Frightening Times“) in the New York Times, and Rebecca Traister’s detailed account of what went wrong (“Shattered“) in New York Magazine.
For sheer laughs, I enjoyed Mira Schor’s short piece “Who ya gonna call?”on the 2016 remake of Ghostbusters and Trump.
Amy White, artist and writer, Carrboro, NC
Jan Verwoert’s Cookie! (Piet Zwart Institute and Sternberg Press, 2014) is the followup compendium of essays by this protean critic and philosophical rockstar to Tell Me What You Want, What You Really, Really Want (2010).
In The Psycho Records (Wallflower Press, 2016) Laurence A. Rickels presents texts that perform a cultural/forensic analysis of cinematic horror, with the shower scene in Psycho as its epicenter. The book is the culmination of a decades-long engagement by Rickels with the horror genre, glimmers of which were already apparent in his 1991 pop-inflected, Freudian dispatch Case of California.
I am closing out the year reading Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (Penguin Classics), a tour de force of extrapolative imagination, in which the author chronicles the practical and philosophical endeavors of a castaway who must, of necessity, assess his resources and innovate to ensure his own survival (in striking parallel with the current historical moment). The novel has served as solace and inspiration with the passing of Mary D. Sheriff (1950-2016), the internationally celebrated art historian and educator, whose Enchanted Islands: Picturing the Allure of Conquest in Eighteenth-Century France is forthcoming from University of Chicago Press.
Jaime DeSimone, Curator, MOCA Jacksonville
Just one?! Glenn Adamson’s Art in the Making: Artists and their Materials from the Studio to Crowdsourcing was an insightful read. I couldn’t put it down.
Non-art related — I got lost in The Girl on the Train.
Didi Dunphy, artist, Athens
Wanderlust by Rebecca Solnit
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
Yanique Norman, artist, Atlanta
24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep by Jonathan Crary (2013)
“The Trump Nightmare Is Here” by Hrag Vartanian (op-ed piece)
Lydia Cheney and Jim Sokol, art collectors, Birmingham
The political satire of Andy Borowitz in The New Yorker.
Mary Addison Hackett, artist, Nashville
Joan Didion, Slouching Toward Bethlehem
Art Matters: How the Culture Wars Changed America by Brian Wallis (editor) and Marianne Weems
Megan C Mosholder, artist, Atlanta
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
Eric Mack, artist, Atlanta
African Modernism: Architecture of Independence by Manuel Herz
The Fallen: Life In and Out of Britain’s Most Insane Group by Dave Simpson
The Artist as Producer: Russian Constructivism in Revolution by Maria Gough
Miranda Lash, contemporary art curator, Speed Art Museum, Louisville
Ada Limón, Bright Dead Things: Poems, gorgeous text. Like me, Limón is a California-to-Kentucky transplant.
Pete Schulte, artist / co-founder of The Fuel & Lumber Company, assistant professor at University of Alabama, Birmingham
Ben Lerner’s game-changing novel 10:04 (published 2014) completely rearranged my reality.
Krista Clark, artist, Atlanta
Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates