The best books that make modern art exciting

Michael Findlay Author Of Seeing Slowly: Looking at Modern Art
By Michael Findlay

Who am I?

I have spent an exciting half-century in the New York art world as a dealer and an author and while my passion is to encourage people to enjoy art for art’s sake (rather than money or prestige) my many close friendships with artists demonstrate how much their life informs their art. The authors of these five books bring the art as well as the artists to life.


I wrote...

Seeing Slowly: Looking at Modern Art

By Michael Findlay,

Book cover of Seeing Slowly: Looking at Modern Art

What is my book about?

When it comes to viewing art, living in the information age is not necessarily a benefit. So argues Michael Findlay in this book that encourages a new way of looking at art. Much of this thinking involves stripping away what we have been taught and instead of trusting our own instincts, opinions, and reactions. Including reproductions of works by Mark Rothko, Paul Klee, Joan Miró, Jacob Lawrence, and other modern and contemporary masters, this book takes readers on a journey through modern art. “The most important thing for us to grasp,” writes Findlay, “is that the essence of a great work of art is inert until it is seen. Our engagement with the work of art liberates its essence.”

The books I picked & why

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Portrait of Dr. Gachet The Story of a van Gogh Masterpiece (Modernism, Money, Politics, Dealers, Taste, Greed and Loss)

By Cynthia Saltzman,

Book cover of Portrait of Dr. Gachet The Story of a van Gogh Masterpiece (Modernism, Money, Politics, Dealers, Taste, Greed and Loss)

Why this book?

This journey of a masterpiece through the hands of some of the most memorable characters of the twentieth century is more than art history, for me, it illuminated the motives, pure and impure, of collectors from Paris to Tokyo and the turbulent times in which they lived.

This tale of one painting by a great artist of a very peculiar patron provides an amazing journey from late nineteenth-century Paris to Amsterdam in the 1920s to Nazi Germany to late twentieth-century New York and, finally Tokyo. I make a cameo appearance towards the end.

Portrait of Dr. Gachet The Story of a van Gogh Masterpiece (Modernism, Money, Politics, Dealers, Taste, Greed and Loss)

By Cynthia Saltzman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Portrait of Dr. Gachet The Story of a van Gogh Masterpiece (Modernism, Money, Politics, Dealers, Taste, Greed and Loss) as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

At a star-studded auction in 1990, a painting was sold for the record-breaking price of $82.5 million. That painting, Vincent van Gogh's Portrait of Dr. Gachet, has seemed to countless admirers to portray our times as "something bright in spite of its inevitable griefs."

This fascinating book reconstructs the painting's journey and becomes a rich story of modernist art and the forces behind the art market. Masterfully evoked are the lives of the thirteen extraordinary people who owned the painting and shaped its history: avant-garde European collectors, pioneering dealers in Paris and Berlin, a brilliant medievalist who acquired it for…


You Must Change Your Life: The Story of Rainer Maria Rilke and Auguste Rodin

By Rachel Corbett,

Book cover of You Must Change Your Life: The Story of Rainer Maria Rilke and Auguste Rodin

Why this book?

Rilke, a shy young Austrian poet goes to Paris in 1902 to write a book about Rodin, a famous and famously difficult sculptor twice his age. Not only do they become friends but the ideas they shared about art and creativity are influential to this day. Guest appearances by Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse, George Bernard Shaw, and many other notable artists and writers.

I am an art dealer who is also a writer so I was fascinated to learn about the relationship between Rodin, a great sculptor whose work I know very well, and the young poet Rilke, whose work I knew little about. Art and poetry come from the same wellspring of imagination and both artist and poet were inspired by each other despite the difference in their age and practice.

You Must Change Your Life: The Story of Rainer Maria Rilke and Auguste Rodin

By Rachel Corbett,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked You Must Change Your Life as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Paris in 1902, Auguste Rodin had just completed The Thinker; visiting from Prague was Rainer Maria Rilke, broke and with writer's block. When Rilke was commissioned to write a book about Rodin, everything changed. You Must Change Your Life tells one of the great stories of modern art and literature: Rodin and Rilke's years together as master and disciple, their heartbreaking rift and finally, their moving reconciliation. Rachel Corbett reveals how Rodin's friendship led Rilke to write his most celebrated poems and inspired his Letters to a Young Poet. She captures the dawn of Modernism amid the characters that…

Life with Picasso

By Françoise Gilot, Carlton Lake,

Book cover of Life with Picasso

Why this book?

She was 21, he was 61. Thousands of books have been written about Picasso, this one is unique. Gilot is an artist (whose work he admired) who became the mother of two of his children and the only woman to have left him. All Picasso’s work is about his life and this book illuminates the passions of his later years.

Women were Picasso’s most enduring subject and his relationships with them vitally inform all the decades of his work. His greatness as an artist is matched only by his failure as a partner and his poor treatment of the real women in his life is well documented. He met his match in Françoise Gilot, the only woman to have left him voluntarily. As an artist in her own right, she is in a unique position to inform us about the man and his work.

Life with Picasso

By Françoise Gilot, Carlton Lake,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Life with Picasso as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Francoise Gilot was a young painter in Pasis when she first met Picasso - he was sixty-two and she was twenty-one. During the following ten years they were lovers, worked closely together and she became mother to two of his children, Claude and Paloma.

Life with Picasso, her account of those extraordinary years, is filled with intimate and astonishing revelations about the man, his work, his thoughts and his friends - Matisse, Braque, Gertrude Stein and Giacometti among others. Francois Gilot paints a compelling portrait of her turbulent life with the temperamental genius that was Picasso.

She is a superb…


Ninth Street Women: Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, and Helen Frankenthaler: Five Painters and the Movement That Changed Modern Art

By Mary Gabriel,

Book cover of Ninth Street Women: Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, and Helen Frankenthaler: Five Painters and the Movement That Changed Modern Art

Why this book?

The “Action Painting” movement by American artists in the 1950s wrote a new chapter in art and has been widely identified with Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, and other male painters. The revelation to me of this book is the degree to which they were influenced in their work and lives by the women artists of their time who only now are being finally acknowledged as their equals. In Gabriel’s richly detailed epic of the hedonistic downtown art scene in the 1950s and 1960s five highly talented and innovative women painters come alive along with the Beat era they helped define. With a supporting cast from Billie Holliday to Samuel Beckett this is art history as it was lived. 

Ninth Street Women: Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hartigan, Joan Mitchell, and Helen Frankenthaler: Five Painters and the Movement That Changed Modern Art

By Mary Gabriel,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Ninth Street Women as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NINTH STREET WOMEN is the impassioned, wild, sometimes tragic, always exhilarating story of five women who dared to enter the male-dominated world of twentieth-century abstract painting--not as muses but as artists. From their cold-water lofts, where they painted, drank, fought, and loved, these pioneers burst open the door to the art world for themselves and groundbreaking artists to come.

They include Lee Krasner and Elaine de Kooning, whose careers were at times overshadowed by the fame of their husbands, Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, but who emerged as stunning talents in their own right, as well as a younger…


Holy Terror: Andy Warhol Close Up

By Bob Colacello,

Book cover of Holy Terror: Andy Warhol Close Up

Why this book?

Of the many biographies of Andy Warhol this early one remains the best, written by a man who worked and partied with the artist in the heyday of the artist’s glamorous world (and I make another brief cameo appearance). Everything about the enigmatic icon of contemporary art continues to inform our culture and I was deeply influenced not only by Warhol’s paintings but by my friendship with him from 1964 until his death in 1987. In books and movies he has been transformed into a cultural icon rather than the complicated amusing hard-working artist I knew. Bob Colacello wrote this book shortly after Warhol died and for me is the best portrait of the “real” Andy Warhol and the era he helped to define.

Holy Terror: Andy Warhol Close Up

By Bob Colacello,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Holy Terror as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the 1960s, Andy Warhol’s paintings redefined modern art. His films provoked heated controversy, and his Factory was a hangout for the avant-garde. In the 1970s, after Valerie Solanas’s attempt on his life, Warhol become more entrepreneurial, aligning himself with the rich and famous. Bob Colacello, the editor of Warhol’s Interview magazine, spent that decade by Andy’s side as employee, collaborator, wingman, and confidante.

In these pages, Colacello takes us there with Andy: into the Factory office, into Studio 54, into wild celebrity-studded parties, and into the early-morning phone calls where the mysterious artist was at his most honest and…

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