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Originally published Sunday, December 2, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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Gift Books '07

Visual arts | Shock and beauty

By Sheila Farr, Seattle Times art critic

"Mapplethorpe" essay by Arthur C. Danto (teNeues $125). This long out-of-print photography book stands as a monument to the searing vision of a 20th-century great, an artist whose Catholic upbringing informs the black/white, heaven/hell dichotomies of his work. In startling, insightful and utterly gorgeous formal portraits, Robert Mapplethorpe unveils the character of notables Patti Smith, Louise Bourgeois, Willem de Kooning, Roy Cohn, Isabella Rossellini, William Burroughs, Arnold Schwarzenegger, himself and a host of others. He made the most graceful studies of flowers and nudes you will ever hope to see — and recorded shocking sadomasochistic acts with the same formal perfection and unflinching honesty. Mapplethorpe died of AIDS in 1989 at age 42. His work is unforgettable.

"Chuck Close: Work" by Christopher Finch (Prestel, $85). Everybody loves Chuck Close, and because he was born in these parts and graduated from the UW, we like to claim him as our own. This hefty new book tracks him from the tiny house in Monroe, Wash., where he was born on July 5, 1940, to international stardom as an artist and innovator, with knockout pictures from start to finish. As a painter, Close first mastered the technique of photo realism and then deconstructed it. His usual subject is the human face, but he uses his friends' faces — and recycles them repeatedly — for visual purposes of his own. If you know Close's work, you will want this book. If you don't know the work, you need it.

"On Ugliness" edited by Umberto Eco (Rizzoli, $45). If truth is beauty and beauty truth, as the poet said, what in the world is ugliness? In a bookend to his earlier "History of Beauty," Italian writer and semiotician Eco helps us understand what we are trying to express when we define a thing as ugly and how that morphs with different eras, cultures and world views. Old age, evil, death, obscenity, nakedness, the ill and downtrodden, the supernatural, the unfamiliar or exaggerated, the scary: Delve beyond the (fabulous) illustrations in this book to learn where our responses to certain physical attributes come from.

"Gustav Klimt: The Ronald S. Lauder and Serg Sabarsky Collections" edited by Renée Price (Prestel, $65). Remember when Klimt's sensuous bauble "The Kiss" was the poster of choice around college campuses? Now Klimt's 1907 portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer (purchased recently for a staggering $135 million) is the centerpiece of billionaire collector Ronald Lauder's jewel-box Neue Gallerie, a museum for German and Austrian art in Manhattan. If you are traveling to New York before June 30, 2008, you can see a show assembled around the mesmerizing gold and silver embellished painting. Or, you can opt for this handsome book, with essays that put the artist and his work in context, and plates illustrating a few of Klimt's paintings, many of his drawings, and a bonus section on art and fashion influenced by him.

"Chris Burden" (Locus+ Publishing Ltd, $65). Southern California's Chris Burden is one of the 20th century's most shocking artists, responding to an era when the news media pummeled us everyday with shocking imagery: monks self-immolating, children burning with napalm, a man being shot point-blank in the head. In 1971, Burden got a reluctant assistant to shoot him in the arm. In 1974, he had himself nailed to the top of his VW bug in a mock cruxificion. Burden as much as any artist resonated with the distressed tenor of the Vietnam era and has continued to push the envelope with conceptual sculptures and grand gestures. This monograph catalogs his sculptural and performance work over the years, calling it "a sometimes violent confrontation of the banal and the extreme ... "

"Georg Baselitz: A Retrospective" by Norman Rosenthal, Richard Shiff, Carla Schulz-Hoffman and Georg Baselitz (Abrams, $60). Rather than turn his back on the unfathomable recent history of his native Germany, artist Georg Baselitz (born 1938) absorbed it into paintings that taunt and disturb, but consistently strike home. He channels the expressionistic style of an earlier era in German painting and also alludes to the violent images of painters such as Chaim Soutine and Francis Bacon. This catalog for a retrospective at the Royal Academy of Arts traces the development of Baselitz's work and includes a rare and revealing commentary by the artist. On his recent work, he says, "As a painter, if you don't jump out of the window in time, you'll just grow old, and then it'll be up to you to find a way to fill the rest of your days."

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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