Phaidon Makes History With Giant Survey
If you're considering putting Phaidon's new book The Art Museum under the Christmas tree for a loved one this winter, be advised: you may need a bigger tree. A survey of art history from the cave paintings at Lascaux to relational esthetics, with, on average, nearly one artwork illustrated per year, the 992-page tome weighs in at 17.5 pounds and measures 17 by 12½ by 2¼ inches. Due for release in November, the book will retail at $200.
The publisher called on a panel of 65 specialists to advise on the project. The experts are a varied crew. A sampling of just U.S.-based contributors turns up a Stella Paul, who works in audio programs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, to Sanjyot Mehendale, an archeologist and lecturer in Near Eastern Studies at UC Berkeley, and Matthew McCarty, a Mellon Fellow in the Humanities at Yale.
The book-as-museum is divided into 452 color-coded "rooms," each featuring a mini-exhibition. Room 190 is devoted to Italian Renaissance wood architectural models; room 449 surveys Chinese figurative art since the Cultural Revolution.
Illustrations range in size from an inch across, for small items like jewelry, to entire spreads, over 2 feet wide, for large items such as the Sistine Chapel ceiling and Jackson Pollock's One: Number 31. The contemporary pages include artists as young as Sarah Sze and Vanessa Beecroft (both b. 1969).
Ironically, the publication comes on the heels of a big buzz about Ikea, in the age of the e-book, redesigning its classic Billy bookshelf to store decorative items rather than actual books. Will The Art Museum rekindle (as it were) the public's love affair with the physical item, or be its swan song? Says Amanda Renshaw, Phaidon's editorial director, "In our experience, there is currently great demand for books that are also beautiful, unique objects, and this book is extraordinary-unlike anything that has ever been published."