Posts Tagged ART

book review: The Last Nude

The Last Nude , by Ellis Avery. Publisher: Riverhead (January, 2011). Literary fiction. Hardcover, 320 pg.

The Last Nude transports the reader to 1920s Paris and the expat art world. It’s an impressive work of historical fiction as the place and the characters become so vivid and recognizable to the reader. This makes The Last Nude a book you are hesitant to put down. It’s immensely engrossing.

Above my desk I have a small framed print of Tamara de Lempicka’s “My Portrait,” in which she sits at the wheel of a bright green car in a gray hat, gray scarf and bright red lipstick. I also have “Saint Moritz”—a striking woman wearing a red and white turtleneck ski sweater. I’ve always been drawn to these art deco paintings. The colors, the attitude, the soft edges. All very appealing. So when I saw The Last Nude by Ellis Avery, I knew I had to read it. I wasn’t disappointed.

Avery’s descriptions of Paris are elegant and magical, yet also gritty. The reader should be enraptured by Paris. How can one not? It’s such an artistic, fashionable, beautiful city. I stayed in Paris for some time, many years ago and a novel as descriptive as this one brings everything right back to me in full color. It’s a true delight. Avery focuses on many ex-pats like Sylvia Beach, James Joyce, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Peripheral characters include the Seine and Sylvia Beach’s famed bookstore Shakespeare and Company.

The Last Nude imagines an affair between Tamara de Lempicka and one of her models– the one who sat for “The Dream” and “Beautiful Rafaela.” She’s a young woman of 17, recently arrived in Paris, naive to the ways of the art world and the excessiveness of the 1920s as well. Tamara seduces Rafaela and Rafaela falls quickly and intensely in love with Tamara. Of course artists can be selfish and cruel but Rafaela gives her whole heart before learning about Tamara’s shortcomings. This is a novel about the roaring, stylish 20s, art, survival, love and betrayal.

I marveled as I pulled the brown dress over my head. Sleek fashion plate, focused artist, resplendent lover, competent mother: I had seen four Tamaras in two days.

When Tamara finds Rafaela she’s turning tricks and surviving by any means necessary—in most cases trading her body for dinners, food, gifts. She’s a stunning young woman but also naïve and impressionable. She admires Tamara’s independence [or seemingly so because later we find out that Tamara, as most artists of the time, had a benefactor], talent and sexual freedom. Rafaela quickly becomes obsessed with Tamara and believes they’re in a mutually exclusive relationship. But it’s the twenties and Tamara is an artist. Who is Tamara really? Rafaela doesn’t find this out until later.

The Last Nude resonates with and enthusiastic first love and the reality of supporting oneself as an artist. In imagining the liaison between artist and muse, Ellis Avery crafts an engulfing novel. She makes life in the 1920s pop from the pages.

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purchase at Amazon: The Last Nude

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book review: An Object of Beauty

Title: An Object of Beauty
Author: Steve Martin
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (November 23, 2010)
Category: contemporary fiction
Rating: A-

My goal, once I discovered that my artistic aspirations were not accompanied by artistic talent, was to learn to write about art with effortless clarity. This is not as easy as it sounds: whenever I attempted it, I found myself in a convoluted theoretical tangle from which there was no exit.

Actor/author/musician Steve Martin is multi-talented to say the least. Sure he’s known for his funny guy films in the late 70s/ early 80s, but I really like his more serious turns such as in Shopgirl with Claire Danes [based on the novella that Martin wrote]. I recently went to an exhibit at the MFA [I think it was Edward Hopper] and Martin had loaned one of his own paintings to the exhibit. I read [or listened to] his memoir which recounted his early days of stand-up. Steve Martin is definitely on the list of people that I’d like to have at a dinner party.

In An Object of Beauty, Martin delves into the complicated New York art world and particularly into the life of art dealer Lucy Yeager. Like an Edith Wharton novel, this glitzy, posh scene has its nuanced participants and sinister underbelly. Only an elite few can catapult to the top of the art world. It’s a vicious, often vacuous, cutthroat business. Yet art has an important cultural function. An Object of Beauty illustrates this with a darkly memorable protagonist and brutally honest depiction [Lucy’s story is told by her art writer friend] of the challenges one faces.

Lucy Yeager is quite eager to become famous and she stops at nothing: sleeping with buyers; becoming involved in shady deals and possibly theft. She’s an intriguing character. She re-invents herself to excel: changes how she dresses; her mannerisms; and learns what will make her irreplaceable in the art world. A strong-willed, independent woman focused on her ultimate goal: owning her own gallery. She starts out at Sotheby’s, spends time at the Barton Talley gallery and finally launches the Yeager gallery.

Lacey had come into money not by magic, but by prestidigitation. No one had seen her sleights except her and me, and I was bound to silence by complicity. I was guilty, too, but I did not know exactly of what. Lacey and I had collaborated on a feint, for which I was unrewarded, but apparently Lacey had seen hundreds of thousands of dollars come her way.

Martin weaves an exquisite and clever story. There’s mention of the still unsolved Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist of 1990. He offers a truly page-turning account of a woman’s rise and fall in a thorny field. An Object of Beauty provides an insider’s viewpoint of a world to which many are never privy.

buy at Amazon: An Object of Beauty: A Novel

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