Judge by the Cover

This week, we have something to confess: a crippling weakness for good art books. And while we’re at it, we might as well admit to loving bad art books, too.

Bloomsday Books‘ new art-district locale specializes in both ends of the spectrum. Last spring, when the store left its comfy Crestwood location and ventured over to one of the Crossroads’ newest retail blocks at 15th Street and Walnut, owner Tom Shawver decided to cater to the art crowd by focusing on art books. This includes not only those delightfully pretty books known for their compatibility with coffee tables but also books on art history, architecture, fashion and design. We also noticed an unlabeled erotica art-book section. (We would notice that, wouldn’t we?)

For anyone remotely interested in art, the place is worth discovering. So let’s start with the good books. It really can’t get much better than The Thousand Buddhas, an enormous tome we’d eyeball at 2 feet by 3 feet. Printed with the cooperation of the British Museum, this book is art — and it’s priced accordingly, at $2,500, because it’s one of only 750 copies ever printed. Shawver says its author, Aurel Stein, was “kind of a grave robber.” While exploring cave temples in Western China, he took tapestries and other religious art to protect the pieces from being stolen by “barbarians.” The book contains high-quality prints of the images from these caves. Most of us will never get to own this kind of book, and we should jump at the chance to (carefully) look at it in Shawver’s store.

There also are books on well-known artists and books created by well-known artists, such as Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus: A Survivor’s Tale.

Then there are the bad books, which are also kind of great. Shawver excitedly shows us his copy of Just Above the Mantlepiece — a hardcover with a wood-panel-and-bad-wallpaper motif. It’s an in-depth exploration of entire bad art genres, including the “mantelpiece mammary” (which gets its own chapter). And Las Vegas With Love is so awful that we can’t put it down!

“I should have a bad-art section,” Shawver notes.

We agree. But what strikes us most about Bloomsday is that it offers the art scenester something that a gallery can’t — that is, a deeply personal experience with the work. When you read, even in public, you don’t feel like you’re in public.

Shawver knows the feeling. “Sometimes I sit down in that chair with an art book, and I’m just lost,” he says.

Categories: Art, News