The Friday Night Club: a new novel about Hilma af Klint

‘Every time I succeed in finishing one of my sketches, my understanding of humanity, animals, plants, minerals, or the entire creation, becomes clearer. I feel freed and raised up above my limited consciousness.’ Hilma af Klint

The newly-acquired general fiction title we would like to focus on this month is The Friday Night Club by Sofia Lundberg, a fictionalised account of the real-life group of women artists formed by Hilma af Klint at the start of the twentieth century .

If you were lucky enough to see the recent exhibition of her work at City Gallery Wellington Te Whare Toi, you will be familiar with her extraordinary work. And her real life was as revolutionary as her art.

The  art world has long been male-dominated and controlled the narrative for the story of art, claiming that the first modern abstract paintings were created by male artists such as Malevich or  Mondrian. However, the mystic visionary Swedish artist Hilma af Klint should actually receive the credit. Inspired by mystic visions, she created her own abstract visual language years before these artists.

Hilma worked at a time when creative freedoms for women were rare and limited. Yet from this reality she created a huge body of abstract work that predated Kandinsky, Malevich, and Mondrian or, indeed, any of the other male artists credited as inventing modern abstract art.

Hilma af Klint’s  body of work has only relatively recently been given the praise it so richly deserved, and it is clear that her work at that time rewrites the history of modern art. Hilma knew her abstract work was way ahead of its time and at her death she left instructions that her work be kept secret until at least twenty years after her death, when she hoped that society would have changed enough to accept her work.

You can access our non-fiction collection of works about Hilma af Klint here.

The Friday Night Club / Lundberg, Sofia
” Early 1900s: The world belongs to men, and the art world in Stockholm, Sweden, is no different, until Hilma af Klint brings together a mysterious group of female painters and writers-Anna, Cornelia, Sigrid, and Mathilda-to form their own emotional and artistic support system. … Over a century later, an associate curator at the Guggenheim Museum, Eben Elliot, brings the Hilma af Klint show to New York where he uncovers questions about the Five and how the modern day art world is funded, which puts him in a precarious position both emotionally and professionally, as he witnesses how history can be manipulated. ” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Chain-gang all-stars / Adjei-Brenyah, Nana Kwame
” Loretta Thurwar and Hamara “Hurricane Staxxx” Stacker are the stars of Chain-Gang All-Stars, the cornerstone of CAPE, or Criminal Action Penal Entertainment, a highly-popular, highly-controversial, profit-raising program in America’s increasingly dominant private prison industry. It’s the return of the gladiators and prisoners are competing for the ultimate prize: their freedom. In CAPE, prisoners travel as Links in Chain-Gangs, competing in death-matches for packed arenas with righteous protestors at the gates…” (Adapted from Catalogue) Also available as an eBook.

Retrospective / Vásquez, Juan Gabriel
“The Colombian film director, Sergio Cabrera, is in Barcelona for a retrospective of his work. It’s a hard time for him: his father, famous actor Fausto Cabrera, has just died; his marriage is in crisis; and his home country has rejected peace agreements that might have ended more than fifty years of war. In the course of a few intense days, as his films are on exhibit, Sergio recalls the events that marked his family’s unusual and dramatic lives: especially his father’s, his sister Marianella’s and his own. ” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Continue reading “The Friday Night Club: a new novel about Hilma af Klint”

Laughing at the dark: New biographies and memoirs

Winter is well and truly here! The long dark nights and chilly days call for a good book, a cosy corner and a cuppa. This month’s crop of biographies and memoirs new to the collection will surely create that cosy environment we’re all looking for at this time of year.

Laughing at the dark : a memoir / Else, Barbara
“By the time she was in her forties, Barbara was married to a globally recognised academic physician and had two beautiful teenage daughters. As her writing career developed, her husband became angry at the prospect of her being anything but a housewife. In a moment of madness — or realisation — she packed her car and took off to live with the man who would become her second husband. With her trademark wit and humour, Barbara poignantly describes her transformation from a shy but stubborn child into a fulfilled and successful adult.” (Catalogue)

True west : Sam Shepard’s life, work, and times / Greenfield, Robert
“True West is the story of an American icon, a lasting portrait of Sam Shepard as he really was, revealed by those who knew him best. This sweeping biography charts Shepard’s long and complicated journey from a small town in southern California to his standing as an internationally known playwright and movie star. While exploring his relationships with Patti Smith, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and Jessica Lange across the long arc of his brilliant career, Greenfield makes the case for Shepard not just as a great American writer but a unique figure who first brought the sensibility of rock ‘n’ roll to serious theater.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

The real Enid Blyton / Cohen, Nadia
“She is the most prolific children’s author in history, but Enid Blyton is also the most controversial. A remarkable woman who wrote hundreds of books in a career spanning forty years, even her razor sharp mind could never have predicted her enormous global audience.  She was prone to bursts of furious temper, yet was a shrewd businesswoman years ahead of her time. She may not have been particularly likeable, and her stories infuriatingly unimaginative, but she left a vast literary legacy to generations of children.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Takeaway : stories from a childhood behind the counter / Hui, Angela
“Growing up in a Chinese takeaway in rural Wales, Angela Hui was made aware at a very young age of just how different she and her family were seen by her local community. From attacks on the shopfront (in other words, their home), to verbal abuse from customers, and confrontations that ended with her dad wielding the meat cleaver; life growing up in a takeaway was far from peaceful. But alongside the strife, there was also beauty and joy in the rhythm of life in the takeaway and in being surrounded by the food of her home culture. Family dinners before service, research trips to Hong Kong, preparing for the weekend rush with her brothers – the takeaway is a hive of activity before a customer even places their order of ‘egg-fried rice and chop suey’.” (Catalogue)

Rock n roll nanny : a memoir / Arnold, Sally
“What’s it like to prepare Christmas lunch with Mick Jagger? To go clubbing with The Who’s crazy drummer Keith Moon? Or to deal with the WAGs in a band’s entourage? In 1971, Sally Arnold takes a nannying job in Paris that will transform her life. Her charge is Mick Jagger’s daughter Jade and she is soon running more than bath-time… she is working for the giants of rock as the first woman tour manager in the business. When Sally moves on to organising charity events, she has to manage other larger-than-life personalities such as Billy Connolly and Rowan Atkinson.  How did Sally survive in this world of rock and roll” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Bruno Schulz : an artist, a murder, and the hijacking of history / Balint, Benjamin
“A biography of the Polish-Jewish writer and artist includes an account of the discovery of his last artworks–murals painted on the walls of a villa occuppied by a Nazi officer–sixty years after his death and the complicated political dispute over the ownership of the murals.” (Catalogue)


You could make this place beautiful : a memoir / Smith, Maggie
“Life, like a poem, is a series of choices.” In her memoir You Could Make This Place Beautiful, poet Maggie Smith explores the disintegration of her marriage and her renewed commitment to herself in lyrical vignettes that shine, hard and clear as jewels. The book begins with one woman’s personal, particular heartbreak, but its circles widen into a reckoning with contemporary womanhood, traditional gender roles, and the power dynamics that persist even in many progressive homes. With a poet’s attention to language and an innovative approach to the genre, Smith reveals how, in the aftermath of loss, we can discover our power and make something new. Something beautiful.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Ten : the decade that changed my future / Clark-Neal, Rylan
“Funny and outspoken, Rylan is one of the UK’s most-loved presenters and a true household name. In this brand-new memoir, Rylan invites us deeper into his world to reflect on all the things he’s learnt from a decade in the limelight, whilst also pulling back the curtain on his personal journey. Covering everything from fame and celebrity to his mental health and identity, family and relationships to his love of reality TV, he recounts his life lessons with humour, candour and a huge amount of heart. This is Rylan as you’ve never seen him before – an intimate, fascinating and joyful insight into an extraordinary ten years on the telly and in our hearts.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Island girl to airplane pilot : a story of love, sacrifice and taking flight / McLeod, Silva
“This is the life story of Silva Mcleod, the first Tongan woman to become an airline pilot. She’s still one of only a handful. Told by Silva with frankness and wit, it’s quite a story. Silva takes us on a journey of cultural change from her beginnings as a poor island girl to her marriage to an Australian. The challenges of pursuing a flying career and its impact on her family are set against the backdrop of the love story of her life with her husband and his battle with cancer.” (Catalogue)

A forager’s life : finding my heart and home in nature / Lehndorf, Helen
“When Helen Lehndorf moves to the city after a childhood living off the land in rural Taranaki, she can’t help but feel different from her peers and professors. She finds solace in long walks foraging weeds and plants along the river, but something inside her still longs for home. Chasing a feeling of ancestral belonging, she travels to England with her new husband. There they learn about nature as the commons, shared between all who encounter it – a source of delight, food, medicine. Weaving memoir with foraging recipes, principles and practices, A Forager’s Life is an intimate story and a promise that, with the right frame of mind, much can be made of the world around us.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

For more new items in the collection, take a look at What’s new & Popular / June 2023 (

The artist, the studio & the myth: New art books

There’s a slew of new books to hit our shelves that explore both art history and the contemporary art world. Begin your reading with Possessions, a book that examines the contentious processes of cultural appropriation through the art-historical lens of settler societies Australia and New Zealand, raising important questions and discussions around decolonising our arts practices, collections and institutions.

The glorified and inaccurate dualities and myths surrounding the artists studio are deconstructed in The Artist’s Studio. This book delves back into the Western art history canon to explore where popular stereotypes such as the ‘starving’ and ‘bohemian’ artist arose, and how these cultural constructions are played out and intensified in the art studio setting.

This Dark Country shines a light on the long list of forgotten female artists working in still life painting, as does the book Adelaide Perry, that focuses on one of Australia’s preeminent Modernist printmakers. Weather Paintings features a new collection of work by Tamaki Makaurau-based painter Ammon Ngakuru. And for a wonderfully odd read, check out The Madman’s Gallery for all things eccentric, strange, and utterly ridiculous in the worlds of painting, sculpture and “other artistic oddities”.

Possessions : indigenous art, colonial culture, decolonization / Thomas, Nicholas
“The arts of Africa, Oceania and Native America famously inspired twentieth-century Western modernist artists. The politics of such stimulus have long been highly contentious: was this a cross-cultural discovery to be celebrated, or just one more example of Western colonial appropriation? This revelatory book explores cross-cultural art through the lens of settler societies. The dynamic of dispossession and resistance, against an Indigenous claim to place, history and sovereignty –asking is cultural exchange a two-way process?” (Adapted from Catalogue)

The artist’s studio : a cultural history / Hall, James
“An exciting narrative and visual history of the artist’s studio, examining the myth and reality of the creative space from early times to today. The artist’s workplace has always been an imaginary as well as an actual location, an idealized utopia as well as the domain of dirty, back-breaking work. This pioneering cultural history charts the myth and reality of the creative space from Ancient Greece to the present day, tracing a history that extends far beyond the bohemian, romantic and renaissance cults of the artist.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

This dark country : women artists, still life and intimacy in the early twentieth century / Birrell, Rebecca
“For women artists in the early twentieth century Still Life painting was a conduit for their lives, their rebellions, their quiet loves for men and women. But for every artist we remember, there is one we have forgotten; whose remaining artworks lie dusty in archives or attics. In this boldly original blend of group biography and art criticism, Rebecca Birrell brings these shadowy figures into the light and conducts a dazzling investigation into the structures of intimacy that make – and dismantle – our worlds.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Make it modern : a history of art in the 20th century / Taylor, Brandon
“Original thought, startling artistic techniques, and new attitudes to experimentation were required to produce exceptional and timely work. ‘Make It Modern’ guides the reader through the art of the modern world. Works of celebrated artists, from Pablo Picasso and Wassily Kandinsky to Frida Kahlo, Jackson Pollock, and Yayoi Kusama, alongside a panoply of undervalued or less-known figures, populate this decade-by-decade narrative, telling an unforgettable story of how art was changed forever.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Adelaide Perry : artist & teacher / Oliver, J
“Adelaide Perry was part of the Modernist art movement in Australia and one of the innovative women printmakers between the wars. This biography explores her life and work over a period when the lives of women changed radically. The Adelaide Perry Gallery has been named in her honour and holds the prestigious Adelaide Perry Prize for Drawing each year, continuing this remarkable Australian woman artist and teacher’s legacy.” (Catalogue)


Exposed : the Greek and Roman body / Vout, Caroline
“The Greek and Roman body is often seen as flawless, but this, of course, is a lie. Here, classicist Caroline Vout reaches beyond texts and galleries to expose Greek and Roman bodies for what they truly were: anxious, ailing, imperfect, diverse, and responsible for a legacy as lasting as their statues. Taking us on a gruesome, thrilling journey, she taps into the questions that those in the Greek and Roman worlds asked about their bodies. You’ve seen the paintings, read the philosophers and heard the myths – now here’s the classical body in all its flesh-and-blood glory.”(Adapted from Catalogue)

Get your shit together / Shrigley, David
“Get Your Sh*t Together features recent artwork in colour by beloved British artist David Shrigley. Celebrating Shrigley’s absurd, deadpan sensibility through both his signature drawing style and accompanying text. This collection is sure to delight die-hard Shrigley fans and new ones alike. Featuring not only artwork but also hand-written, humorous essays throughout.” (Adapted from Catalogue)


The madman’s gallery : the strangest paintings, sculptures and other curiosities from the history of art / Brooke-Hitching, Edward
“Discover an eccentric exploration through the curious history of art, to find the strangest paintings, sculptures, drawings and other artistic oddities ever made. This unique exhibition gathers more than a hundred magnificent works, each chosen for their striking beauty, weirdness and captivating story behind their creation.” (Adapted from Catalogue)


Weather paintings / Ngakuru, Ammon
“Featuring a new body of work by Tamaki Makaurau-based painter Ammon Ngakuru. This collection builds less towards a diaristic record than a series of questions about what gets sedimented upon the everyday: about how histories, climatic conditions, systems of naming and structures of power might inform how one looks, and what one sees. Here, as with elsewhere in his practice, Ammon negotiates where and how the artist is positioned within the production of meaning, resisting an easily parsable biographical reading of an artistic output, while asking what facets of an identity might find themselves untranslatable within the context of an exhibition or a book: what, that is, as a matter of subterfuge or reticence, might appear only as a trace or gesture.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Contemporary Masterpieces: new art books

For a fix of the latest contemporary New Zealand art, look no further than the Print Council of Aotearoa New Zealand’s recently released book Proof: Two Decades of Printmaking. We recently had the privilege of hosting the Wellington book launch at Karori Library, and visited the studios of local artists Basia Smolnicki, Kirsty White and Carrie Carey in the lead-up to the event. You can take a sneak peek into their printmaking processes by watching their recorded interviews on our YouTube channel. The book is a visual delight that celebrates 20 years of homegrown printmaking. This stunning complication displays the vast array of talented artists practicing and living right here on our shores.

Over across the pond, Tracey Emin, one of Britian’s preeminent living artists, continues to leave an indelible mark on the contemporary art scene. Her creative output has ranged from controversial bedsheets to neon-light exposés, that often polarise audiences and critics alike. Emin’s works exhibit scathingly raw and honest reflections in both visual and text form, on deeply personal issues such as sexuality and ageing, and in more recent years her battle overcoming cancer. Pick up a copy of Tracey Emin: Art into Life to read a selection of essays on Emin’s significant contributions to not only the British art scene, but also the global contemporary art world. 

Dive hundreds of years back into art history with Making a Masterpiece and Botticelli’s Secret, to discover the age-old tales and modern revelations behind the worlds most infamous artworks. These newly released books uncover the often scandalous lives of the artists who epitomised the Renaissance, and created the artworks that are cemented into the history books.

Proof: Two Decades of Printmaking
“A superb showcase of some of the best examples of contemporary fine art printmaking in Aotearoa New Zealand today. With 180 works by 127 artists, Proof covers a huge breadth of printmaking processes and display the incredible diversity of this artform, from traditional woodcuts and etchings to those pushing the boundaries of print. This is the first book on fine art printmaking ever to be published in New Zealand.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Tracey Emin : art into life
“Tracey Emin has undergone an extraordinary metamorphosis from a young, unknown artist into the ‘bad girl’ of the Young British Art (YBA) movement, challenging the complacency of the art establishment in both her work and her life. Today she is arguably the doyenne of the British art scene and attracts more acclaim than controversy. In Tracey Emin: Art Into Life, writers from a range of art historical, artistic and curatorial perspectives examine how Emin’s art, life and celebrity status have become inextricably intertwined.” (Adapted from Catalogue)


Making a masterpiece : the stories behind iconic artworks / Mancoff, Debra N.
“There are many great works of art, but what makes a genuine masterpiece? Find the answers in this captivating book, which looks at the fascinating stories behind the world’s most famous artworks — the ones that can truly claim that label. Each work reveals that making a masterpiece involves much more than just artistic skill: their paths to fame are filled with stories of theft, scandal, artistic reputation, politics and power.” (Adapted from Catalogue)


David Smith : the art and life of a transformational sculptor / Brenson, Michael
“The landmark biography of the inscrutable and brilliant David Smith, the greatest American sculptor of the twentieth century.” (Adapted from Catalogue)




Botticelli’s secret : the lost drawings and the rediscovery of the Renaissance / Luzzi, Joseph
“Some 500 years ago, Sandro Botticelli, a painter of humble origin, created works of unearthly beauty. A combination of artistic detective story and rich intellectual history, Botticelli’s Secret shows not only how the Renaissance came to life, but also how Botticelli’s art helped bring it about-and, most important, why we need the Renaissance and all that it stands for today.” (Adapted from Catalogue)


Art is life : icons and iconoclasts, visionaries and vigilantes, and flashes of hope in the night / Saltz, Jerry
“Sotheby’s Institute of Art has called him, simply, “the art critic”, now, in Art Is Life, Jerry Saltz draws on two decades of work to offer a real-time survey of contemporary art as a barometer of our times. Art Is Life offers Saltz’s eye-opening appraisals of trailblazers like Kara Walker, Hilma af Klint, Jasper Johns, Richard Prince, Marina Abramović and Willem de Kooning. The result is an openhearted and irresistibly readable appraisal by one of our most important cultural observers.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Dance vision : dance through the eyes of today’s artists / Teal, Joshua
Dance Vision showcases a kaleidoscope of contemporary artwork–from photography and sculpture to illustration and design–by world-renowned artists who find inspiration in dance. For some, the movement of bodies in space is a gateway into the human experience of beauty. For others, dance has become a way to engage with individuals and communities that exist beyond our singular experiences.” (Adapted from Catalogue)


The grand affair : John Singer Sargent in his world / Fisher, Paul
“A bold new biography of the abiding enigma that is John Singer Sargent, the American expatriate painter. This book details the unruly emotions and furtive desires of Singer Sargent, that drove his innovative and groundbreaking paintings.” (Adapted from Catalogue)




A feast for your eyes: New art books

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then what kind of story does a book like Adam Green’s Affinities tell?  It’s an art piece in itself, made up almost solely of images (taken from the last 2000 years of human history) which are presented with no written explanation. Such an approach can be quite daunting. But Affinities invites you to find your own meaning – the pictures are in constant dialogue with the images on the other pages, all of them chosen with curator Adam Green’s eagle eye, and as a whole they take the reader on a dreamlike journey, relating the unrelated and encouraging us to see things anew. All it asks of us is to look, to really look. From that point on, any reaction – whether confusion or surprise, disgust or joy – is the right one.

There’s a similar visual journey in England on Fire, except this time the images are accompanied by evocative landscape writing. As to the other visual delights and art books new to the library this month, we also have the vibrant Paradise Camp about the work of artist Yuki Kihara, a journey into Medieval art with The Story of the Bayeux Tapestry, and a cross-cultural anthology in Women, Aging and Art. 

Affinities : a journey through images from the Public Domain Review / Green, Adam
“Drawing on a decade of archival immersion at The Public Domain Review, an online journal and not-for-profit project dedicated to exploring curious and compelling works from the history of art, literature, and ideas, this volume has been assembled from a vast array of sources: from manuscripts to museum catalogs, and ship logs to primers on Victorian magic. The images are arranged in a single captivating sequence that unfurls according to a dreamlike logic, through a play of visual echoes and evolving thematic threads–hatching eggs paired with early Burmese world maps, marbled endpapers meet tattooed stowaways, and fireworks explode beside deep sea coral.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Paradise camp / Kihara, Shigeyuki
“Interdisciplinary artist Yuki Kihara is the first Pasifika and first Fa’afafine artist to be presented by New Zealand at the prestigious 59th International Art Exhibition at the Venice Biennale. With a groundbreaking exhibition of new work that addresses some of the most pressing issues of our time, Kihara’s work interrogates and dismantles gender roles, consumerism, (mis)representation, and colonial legacies in the Pacific. Edited by Natalie King, who has commissioned provocative essays by contributors from around the world, this publication contextualizes Kihara’s works from her entire career, which puncture and expose, queer and question dominant narratives, turning history on its head.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

England on fire : a visual journey through Albion’s psychic landscape / Ellcock, Stephen
“This is a book about English art like no other. Forget the tired rogues’ gallery of lords and ladies, forget the tall ships and haywains. These images cut to the heart of England’s psychic landscapes to portray an Albion unhinged, where magic and rebellion and destruction are the horses to which the country is hitched. Here you will find depictions of ancient trackways, chalk carvings and standing stones, of animal-masked community rituals, of streets set ablaze in protest, of occult dreams and psychedelic prophecies.  The selection of images is accompanied by short texts by Mat Osman, poetic renderings of a spectral isle.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Women, aging, and art : a crosscultural anthology
“The thirteen contributions to this edited volume explore a broad range of images of old women, ranging from medieval “old wives” to contemporary re-imaginations of shamans and witches and empowering self-portraits. Works from medieval Europe to colonial-time Polynesia, present West Africa, Japan, and the Americas, in a multiplicity of media are explored in detail. These studies of varied representations of “old women” offer fresh perspectives and an engaging dialogue about society’s values and preconceptions regarding the wisdom of our elders and the “golden years” in different times and cultures.” (Amazon UK)

The story of the Bayeux tapestry : unraveling the Norman conquest / Musgrove, David
“Political intrigue and treachery, heroism and brutal violence, victory and defeat – all this is depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry, an epic account of one of the pivotal episodes in English history embroidered on a strip of linen. Many mysteries and questions still surround this unique embroidery and not all is as it might appear at first glance. Who made it, when, why, where and what for? David Musgrove and Michael Lewis skilfully lead us through the full story of the Tapestry and the history it relates, providing illuminating insight into a world of fascinating details that might otherwise be overlooked or their significance missed.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Muse : uncovering the hidden figures behind art history’s masterpieces / Millington, Ruth
“The fascinating true stories of thirty incredible muses-and their role in some of art history’s most well-known masterpieces.” (Catalogue)

Surrealist Art at Te Papa: interview with curator Lizzie Bisley

Surrealist Art at Te Papa

The Te Papa Surrealist exhibition is now open and affords visitors the (ultra-rare) chance to see 180 surrealist masterpieces from Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam. The exhibition includes sculpture, furniture, paintings, graphic design, prints, and photography.

As a special accompaniment for this exceptional exhibition, we recently had the pleasure of interviewing its curator Lizzie Bisley (Curator Modern Art at Te Papa) in conjunction with the Caffeine and Aspirin arts and entertainment review show on Radioactive FM.

Below is the podcast of that interview for your enjoyment:

The Te Papa’s Surrealist exhibition runs until 31 October in Te Papa’s gallery— (Please note, charges apply.)

This exhibition features major works by all key surrealist artists such as Salvador Dalí, René Magritte, Marcel Duchamp, Leonora Carrington, and Man Ray. To get you fully informed before you go along to the exhibition, visit the library, and browse or borrow from our extensive collection of Surrealism on our Catalogue.