If you're planning to visit Los Angeles for the monumentally hyped Andy Warhol retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art, be sure to stop by the city's terrific art bookstores during your stay. But don't worry; though L.A. is the country's second largest city, there are only a few stores you'll need to check out.
Start out in Santa Monica around the Third Street Promenade, where you can grab a fresh-squeezed orange juice (and get some change for the numerous panhandlers). Your first stop should be Lee Kaplan's Arcana: Books on the Arts (1229 Third Street Promenade), clandestinely situated between Adidas and Rockport clothing emporiums. Since 1987, Kaplan has operated the finest art bookstore in Los Angeles, serving the Hollywood creative community as well as artists and art collectors.
Arcana specializes in catalogue raisonnÚs, artist monographs, photography, modern art and most notably a locked-glass case of hard-to-find collectibles. The store is filled wall-to-wall, but is lovingly well-organized and attended by a friendly, knowledgeable staff. This month's bestseller is Phaidon's The Andy Warhol Catalogue Raisonne 01, followed closely by the catalogue for Martin Parr's latest retrospective, signed at one of Arcana's infrequent book signings.
After 15 years in the book-selling biz, Kaplan still gets enthused about each sale. "Owning and running the store is difficult, but it's those times when something extraordinary passes through my hands -- like Conceptual Art ephemera from the early 1960s, for instance -- that makes it worthwhile. And it can be gratifying to put a special book into a customer's hands; it's nice to make the right person happy." Kaplan is cagey about revealing who some of those right people are (though many famous faces pass through his door each week).
Two gems Kaplan is offering right now are Andreas Gursky's Fotografien von 1984 Bis Heute, the rare German-language first edition from Munich-based publisher Schirmer/Mosel, uncommonly signed by the master of extra-large scale photos for $400.
And for those with even deeper pockets, Kaplan has Andy Warhol's Index Book, a presentation copy, flamboyantly signed by Warhol (with a drawing, too), in a custom black linen clamshell box. It's only $1,200. "It's like a children's book for hipsters," says Kaplan. "A true piece of Pop Art with fold-outs, acid blotters, balloons -- a New York druggie's version of a children's book."
Arcana's inventory of art books only goes back to Abstract Impressionism, and Kaplan frequently refers customers to Hennessey + Ingalls (1254 Third Street Promenade), which carries a deeper stock of earlier work such as Renaissance monographs. Coincidentally, Hennessey's manager, Robert Barrett, is a former manager at Arcana.
About 100 steps -- or three street musicians -- to the south of Arcana, the 40-year-old Hennessey + Ingalls "superstore" is a virtual library of books on art, architecture, landscaping, interior design, graphic design and fashion. Billed as the largest bookstore in the country specializing in visual arts, the eerily quiet store also stocks art magazines, gift & note cards and vintage magazines.
Hennessey + Ingalls also specializes in books focusing on the resonant history of California modernist architecture. One of my faves (for which I was on a month-long waiting list) is Taschen's 12-pound tome Case Study Houses: The Complete CSH Program, 1945-1966, priced at $150. You can see some of the brilliant visionary work of architect-designers such as Charles Eames, Richard Neutra and Pierre Koenig.
Other great Hennessey + Ingalls finds include noted Japanese photographer Naoya Hatakeyama's scarce Underground: Cimmerian Darkness and Stygian Gloom, published by Media Factory and priced at $47, and love-him-or-hate-him designer Karim Rashid's deluxe, mod, limited edition & signed I Want To Change the World (Universe Publishing), replete with plastic pink clamshell case designed by Rashid, for $100.
The third stop on our Los Angeles art-bookstore tour is Form Zero Architectural Books + Gallery (811 Traction Ave, 1A), a chic architecture bookstore that recently relocated from art-book epicenter Santa Monica to way over on the other side of town in the movie industry's back lot, downtown Los Angeles. A store for Eastside hipster Angelenos who would never venture west of Highland, Form Zero is located in the downtown art district's Traction Avenue enclave, and caters in a large part to students and teachers from the nearby SCI-Arc (Southern California Institute of Architecture) freight-depot campus, as well as anyone who dares venture into the downtown area.
Minimalist yet pleasing in design, Form Zero features regular exhibitions, lectures and book events, and has a terrific e-mail list that actually delivers. The store should be commended for helping to bring culture back to the architecturally magnificent downtown area. Now if only restaurants would follow.
Current hot titles include Phaidon's A. Quincy Jones by Cory Buckner, the first book on the noted L.A. architect, and a perfect complement to Taschen's Case Study bible, for $59.95. Also look for L.A. Now, a heavily illustrated University of California Press title by museum director Richard Koshalek with architects Thom Mayne and Dana Hutt. This book, volume one in a two-volume series, focuses on the ongoing revitalization of Downtown Los Angeles and is selling briskly at $45.
Finally, if the traffic is too heavy to venture downtown or Santa Monica, you can always try the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves at Book Soup (8818 Sunset Blvd.) on Sunset Strip in West Hollywood. A solid selection of art and photography books and one of the city's best sources for U.S. and international art magazines, Book Soup is great for general and indie publisher's stock -- but don't expect to find many exhibition catalogues. Open from 9:00 a.m. to midnight seven days a week and featuring a legendary celebrity clientele, you never know whom you might bump into.