The Five Most Inspiring Art and Design Books of 2011

In a year studded with beautiful new volumes by and about artists and designers ranging from Alexander McQueen to Andrea Zittel, these are the five that we found most inspiring.

Autobiography of a Fashion Designer: Ralph Rucci (Bauer and Dean) by Ralph Rucci, with photographs by Baldomero Fernandez
Fashion designer and artist Ralph Rucci has been betrayed by key members of the fashion press, who should have made him a household name years ago, but critics, curators, and connoisseurs have picked up the slack. This just-published volume is a fascinating follow-up to Ralph Rucci: The Art of Weightlessness (Yale University Press), published in 2007 to accompany the Museum at FIT’s exhibition of the designer’s work. Like Rucci’s exquisite creations, Autobiography of a Fashion Designer rewards patience and close-looking, with pages of lush color photos and descriptions of the couture techniques used (and in some cases pioneered) in the Chado Ralph Rucci atelier. Inspired by Sol LeWitt’s Autobiography (1980), a kind of exhaustive visual index of the artist’s life, this book also tells the stories behind 20 objects Rucci has collected in his lifetime. It’s a fitting tribute to an uncompromising designer with the soul of artist.

Alexander Girard by Todd Oldham and Kiera Coffee (Ammo Books)
Treat yourself to the amazing Alexander Girard mega-monograph by designer Todd Oldham and writer Kiera Coffee. The product of nearly four years of research and, at 672 pages, an innovative scheme of printing and binding, this book is a must for any design lover. Oldham was granted exclusive permission to sift through the fastidiously kept archives of Girard (1907-1993), who is best known for his folk art-infused textiles for Herman Miller but also designed everything from buildings to typography. “I’d estimate that 90 percent of the work in the book hasn’t been seen,” Oldham told us earlier this year. “Wait ‘til you see the stuff from his early design career, in the ‘20s.” And take a closer look at the image credits: many of the archival photos were taken by frequent Girard collaborator Charles Eames.

Todd Eberle: Empire of Space (Rizzoli) photographed by Todd Eberle, with an introduction by Graydon Carter, foreword by Glenn O’Brien, and essay by David Hickey
This sublime book combines four of our favorite things: modernism, minimalism, photography, and Todd Eberle. A longtime contributor to Vanity Fair, Eberle defies categorization: one day he’s revealing the beauty in overlooked architectural spaces (abstracted elevator banks, ceilings, bathrooms) or immortalizing the works of Donald Judd and the next he’s making a luminous portrait of the uber-multitasker: Martha Stewart. Part of the pleasure of paging through Eberle’s 30-year career is that this book, designed by Richard Pandiscio, unfolds as a series of paired images, visual juxtapositions inspired by the Walker Evans book, First and Last. “It allowed me absolute freedom to mix subjects,” Eberle has said. “I wanted to have my first book represent what I do. I think it’s hard to come up with a point of view when making a book and the pairings solved many things for me.”

Symbol (Laurence King) by Angus Hyland and Steven Bateman
Industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss and his staff once assembled a database of 20,000 symbols that served as raw material for the Symbol Sourcebook, first published in 1972 with a wacky foreword by Buckminster Fuller. The seminal reference has been updated for the 21st century with Symbol, Angus Hyland and Steven Bateman’s impossible-to-put-down visual dictionary of graphic icons and logos. The 1,300 examples that made it into the book are grouped according to their visual characteristics, including circles, crosses, stripes, fruit, and eyeballs. “Arranged this way, the symbols are essentially isolated so that the effectiveness of their composition and impact can be assessed without distraction,” explains Hyland in the book’s introduction, “and so that the reader can enjoy them as a pictorial language in their own right.”

Groundwork: Between Landscape and Architecture (Monacelli) by Diana Balmori and Joel Sanders
Working at the interface of landscape and architecture, nature and structure, public and private, Diana Balmori continues to push the boundaries with innovative green roofs, floating islands, and temporary landscapes that get people talking in more ways than one. In her idea-studded Landscape Manifesto (2010, Yale University Press), Balmori described her interest in “shaping spaces… not objects within the landscape,” and this new book presents 25 projects that exist somewhere between building and environment. Co-written with architect Joel Sanders, an associate professor at Yale, Groundwork examines how the likes of Zaha Hadid, Snøhetta, and Aranda/Lasch are linking indoors and outdoors, around the world.