Grace Before Jones: Our Recommended Books

A series of books lined up from left to right. Grace Jones' book 'I'll Never Write My Memoirs' is foregrounded to the front.

At the start of every new exhibition at Nottingham Contemporary the most asked question of the shop is 'will there be a catalogue?'. Occasionally we can happily answer yes, but most the time we are obliged to disappoint. I imagine most curators, artists and we who run the shop would love to offer a lavishly illustrated record of whichever exhibition is currently on, but accepting that cost and logistics are a factor the majority of our exhibitions are created specifically for us and frequently don't get finished until minutes before the doors open, and any catalogue would appear long after the exhibition has become part of our history.

When there is not a catalogue, the shop looks to support the show with books that relate to the artist or the themes that the exhibition explores. Over the years this has meant a very eclectic selection of books during an exhibition and many have remained mainstays of the shelves ever since.

An exhibition like Grace Before Jones offers both a challenge and an opportunity for us. She inspired well-published artists such as Basquiat, Haring and Warhol, but books on Grace Jones herself are scarce. For this exhibition we have looked at the world that defined the Grace Jones we now recognise. The glamour, glitzy and sleaze of the rise of seventies New York disco.

If for you it's Grace and Grace only, then you have to read her 2016 autobiography I'll never write my memoir, written with legendary Manchester gobshite Paul Morley it doesn't disappoint and neither does it flinch from the difficulties of her upbringing and constantly defying notions of what a black woman should be.

The backdrop to the rise of Grace Jones was the hedonism of the 1970's New York disco scene, centred around the bacchanalian Studio 54. This club inspired more writing than the majority of artists shown at Nottingham Contemporary, we've got a selection available ranging from Anthony Hayden-Guest's gossipy part memoir part celebration, The Last Party to Mark Fleischman's Inside Studio 54, more reliable but no less entertaining.
Rizzoli have republished Studio 54: Night Magic based on an exhibition at the Brooklyn museum. Large format and extensively illustrated, it is a window into the club and the excesses it inspired. The project was clearly a labour of love for the curators and its timely re-release was perfect to accompany our show.

For a more rounded view of the New York dance scene and American dance music culture in general, Tim Lawrence is your man. A lecturer in music culture, Lawrence has produced three absorbing books on the scene which offer an academic eye for detail and a fans enthusiasm.

Love Saves the Day is the definitive history that disco deserves, as authoritative as it is gossipy it perfectly captures an America ripe to experience a new seductive soundtrack to its nightlife. Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor covers the period 1980-1983, when the party scene entered a ferociously inventive period. The love of disco was matched with a love of life against the looming spectre of Reaganomics, corporate intrusion and Aids.

The downtown music scene provided much of the drive for the scene and in Hold On to Your Dreams, a biography of musician and composer Arthur Russell, Lawrence reveals as much about the intricacies of the scene as he does of the little known but highly influential Russell.

Together they are a remarkable and revelatory trip to a world long-consigned to history yet still very relevant today.

Many of these books are being sourced from the US and are available to reserve at the gallery or posted out for £5 postage and packing, please ring 0115-9489750 for details.


I'll Never Write My Memoirs, Grace Jones & Paul Morley, Gallery Books, £15.99

The Last Party, Anthony Haden-Guest, icon!t press, £15.99

Inside Studio 54, Mark Fleischman, Vireo Rare Bird Press, £22.99

Studio 54: Night Magic, Brooklyn Museum, Rizzoli-electra, £26.95

Love Saves the Day: A history of American dance music 70-79, Tim Lawrence, Duke University Press, £23.99

Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor, Tim Lawrence, Duke University Press, £23.99

Hold On to Your Dreams, Tim Lawrence, Duke University Press, £21.99

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