As an art authenticator, my business is dependent on owning a comprehensive library on the artists I authenticate. I find books that are heavy on illustrations and historical details on artists’ careers particularly useful. The difficulty is that some of the greatest art books are in short supply. For one reason or another, art books tend to be printed in small runs. Factor in limited-edition gallery and museum catalogs and you find yourself competing for them with countless individual collectors and libraries.
Owning rare art books can also turn out to be a good investment: Much like paintings, certain volumes become rare and desirable. Recently, I spotted a copy of Keith Haring’s famous “pink spiral-bound” Tony Shafrazi Gallery exhibition catalog on eBay for $5,000 (though in all fairness, it contained a small sketch by Haring). In addition, the art market loves works of art that have been illustrated in books and exhibition catalogs. Collecting paintings which are documented not only increase your enjoyment and knowledge, but also confirm a work’s importance.
Call it beginner’s luck, but when I started Richard Polsky Art Authentication six years ago, I came across a Jean-Michel Basquiat catalog issued by the Fruitmarket Gallery in Edinburgh, Scotland, which hosted an early Basquiat museum show in 1984. I discovered it at Green Apple Books, a longtime neighborhood bookstore in San Francisco. The thin booklet was priced at $175. After evaluating its minimal illustrations, I shrugged and decided the purchase could wait. Recognizing it was scarce, however, I mentioned it to my colleague Lee Kaplan, the proprietor of the finest art-book emporium in America, Arcana: Books on the Arts, in Los Angeles—who promptly snatched it up. Needless to say, I have never seen another copy of that catalog again.
Three of the key artists I work on—Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Keith Haring—all shared a connection, frequently socializing and visiting each other’s studios during the 1980s. Basquiat actually collaborated with Andy on a group of paintings, creating a memorable bit of cross-pollination. Any art collector building a significant art library needs to own books on these artists; how many will be determined by your degree of interest and budget. Below is a short list of volumes essential for understanding the vital contributions of each painter to art history. Some are easy to find; some are a challenge. All are enjoyable.
, edited by Pat Hackett (Twelve/Hachette Book Group)
And you thought all Andy did was paint? Think again. The gossip runs deep, as Warhol makes a daily habit of calling Pat Hackett every night with news of “a day in the life.”
, by Richard B. Woodward and Ruel Golden (Taschen)
A remarkable document that recounts the wide scope of people who intersected with Warhol over the years; both famous and infamous—from rock star David Bowie to porn star Joe Dallesandro.
, by Neil Printz and Sally King-Nero (Phaidon)
An undertaking of epic proportions (which won’t be completed for years) that illustrates the majority of the paintings and sculpture produced by Warhol from 1962 to 1978. If it’s within your budget, these multiple volumes are essential to understanding his astonishing achievement.
, by Bob Colacello (Vintage)
This is probably the best biography on Andy’s later years and captures what it was like to work for him. As the editor of magazine, and part of Andy’s inner circle, Colacello recounts both the good, the bad, and the ugly of life with his boss.
, by Andy Warhol and Pat Hackett (Mariner Books)
A lively account, written in part by Andy himself, on his rise to fame during the 1960s. Warhol removes the scrim from his Pop persona to reveal a refreshingly honest account of the times and how his work helped define them.
, by Phoebe Hoban (out of print)
You’ll wind up reading this biography several times, because there’s simply too much fascinating detail about Jean-Michel Basquiat’s short but intense life. To wit: Hoban recounts the tale of Basquiat and his pals doing cocaine on a flight to Los Angeles. When confronted by a flight attendant, he glanced up in surprise and said, “I thought this was first class?”
(out of print)
Though far from a complete listing of all of the artists’s paintings and drawings, it still remains the closest stab yet at a much-needed catalogue raisonné. The paintings volume was published by the Tony Shafrazi Gallery and Galerie Enrico Navarra; the drawings volume was published by Galerie Enrico Navarra.
by John Cheim (out of print)
Drawing was at the core of Basquiat’s work; you might say he drew with the paint. This Robert Miller Gallery catalog, from 1990, is a sweet overview of the artist’s commanding draftsmanship. Author John Cheim went on to become a key member of the Jean-Michel Basquiat Art Authentication Board.
, edited by Jeffrey Deitch, Franklin Sirmans, and Nicola Vassell (out of print)
Art-world impresario Jeffrey Deitch treats us to a series of interviews with the individuals who helped launch Basquiat: Glenn O’Brien (a producer of the film , starring the artist), Annina Nosei (his first New York dealer), Diego Cortez (the curator who gave him his first New York exposure at the show New York/New Wave, in 1981), and others. The photographs of rapper Fab Five Freddy, musician James White, Debbie Harry, and others capture the legendary bohemian spirit of the East Village .
, by Fred Hoffman (Galerie Enrico Navarra)
As Basquiat’s print publisher and friend, author Fred Hoffman shares his personal knowledge of the artist and the influences behind his art. This volume reinforces the notion that there’s nothing like a book written by someone who was there.
, by Keith Haring (Penguin Classics)
The next best thing to having known Keith Haring is reading his journals. He comes across as candid, humble, and possessing a keen understanding of what he sought to accomplish as an artist. The pages are chock full of photos of the artist and his work and cover Haring’s life from 1977 to 1989 (he died in 1990).
, by John Gruen (out of print)
A satisfying account—produced with support and access from the Keith Haring Foundation—of the street-turned-pop artist’s impressive capacity for work and how it allowed him to achieve so much in so few years.
, by Jeffrey Deitch, Henry Geldzahler, and Carlo McCormick (Princeton University Press)
If you believe (like I do) that the “Subway Drawings” are the bedrock of Haring’s achievement, this slim volume will reinforce that notion—or wholly convince you.
, by Jeffrey Deitch, Suzanne Geiss, and Julia Gruen (Rizzoli Classics)
The perfect overview of the diversity of Haring’s work and the milieu in which it was created. It’s all here in rich detail, from the paintings to the lifestyle. The viewer is treated to the mob scene at the opening reception of his first show at Tony Shafrazi Gallery, Grace Jones and Madonna performing at the Paradise Garage in Haring-designed outfits, and the artist creating his monumental mural for the Palladium.
, by Elisabeth Sussman (Bulfinch Press)
This oversize catalog, which accompanied the 1997 retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art, is a compendium of Haring’s oeuvre that even includes a sample of the black paper used by the artist in his white-chalked “Subway Drawings.”