Phil Patton

Critic; Curator; Writer / United States /

Phil Patton’s Notable Books of 2011

The best books offer new angles on subjects, like dramatic spotlights on stage or a clever shot on a pool table.

So a book about painting turns out to say a lot about architecture and a car maintenance manual can reveal a hidden human story. Look at Le Corbusier as a “car nut” and you get a fresh impression of his cities; study the details of the architecture firm KieranTimberlake’s walls and windows and you learn about technology.

This is an important lesson in a time when books and the business behind books are changing. The definition of what constitutes the proper subject for a book is also changing. What this new situation demands is our constant curiosity about books: we need to pick up and leaf through and note down titles and search out references.

Here are some titles that sent me off in surprising directions.

2 books
Donald Albrecht

Beaton was a schoolmate of Evelyn Waugh and hung out with Greta Garbo. He moved from the world of the 1920s Bright Young People to 1960s Carnaby Street.

Six degrees of Cecil Beaton would connect just about everyone in fashion, film, and art of the 20th century. This fresh view, published to accompany an exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York, looks at Beaton’s time in New York, which was halfway between London and Hollywood. The show, featuring drawings and costumes, is an important reminder that Beaton was not only a photographer of royalty, fashion, Hollywood, and the stage—he was himself a designer, creating stage sets, lighting, and costumes, notably for My Fair Lady and the film Gigi.

Michele Castagnetti

I came across this self-published volume of images of bicycles in the window of Mxyplyzyk, the New York design shop. The book wonderfully summarizes the grit of city bikes, personalized by tape and paint, wearing an urban patina of dings and scratches.

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