The “coffee-table” book—a large-format monograph written by a recognized authority and accompanied by lavish color reproductions—has long been an art publishing staple. But there’s another, lesser-known version of it that also makes an occasional appearance. It features fewer reproductions and a much briefer text; it is usually easier to lift. The main difference, though, is that the text is written by a well-known personage from another walk of life, a celebrity. A decade ago, the Whitney Museum asked Michael Crichton, the best-selling author of The Andromeda Strain, to write the catalogue for its Jasper Johns retrospective, and there have been several examples since. Now Abrams, long known as a pioneer of the respectable kind of coffee-table book—the sort where a sober text cools the seductive appeal of the color plates—has made a contribution to this subgenre with Alex Katz, by Ann Beattie,...


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