Heavyweight Contenders

'Tis the season for big art books

Erik Tanner for TIME

Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty

What is it about a book with lots of pictures--preferably one heavy enough to get you hit with an excess-baggage charge at the airport--that screams "gift book"? During the holiday season, these door stoppers call to grownup gift givers the way puppies in pet-store windows call to kids. Except the kids don't want to wrap up the puppies and give them away.

Many of the best of this year's gift books--and all those grouped here--grew out of museum collections or shows. They come with lucid scholarly essays, texts that do more than oooh and aaah over the pictures but don't drag...