Friday, July 10, 2009

SF Chronicle Review: 'Stormy Weather' by James Gavin


For most of her life, Lena Horne has been a very angry woman. She may have given as good as she got for many of her 92 years, but as related in James Gavin's definitive new biography, she had reason enough.

"Stormy Weather: The Life of Lena Horne" takes its title from her signature song, but in the beginning, it wasn't even her song: It was Ethel Waters', and the older star's resentment of Horne during the making of the groundbreaking film "Cabin in the Sky" would presage Horne's own iciness years later toward younger singer-actresses like Diahann Carroll.

Although Horne was born and raised in a middle-class family, her early life was no walk in the park. Her mother was an actress who frequently left Lena to be raised by her grandparents. At school, she was taunted by other black kids for the lightness of her skin. "In her first memoir," Gavin writes, "Horne recalled their abuse. 'Yaller! Yaller!' they chanted. 'Got a white daddy! Shame! Shame!' " Gavin tells us she tried to darken her skin by spending time in the sun, but she also felt self-conscious about the way she talked: "At her grandmother's home, to use anything but textbook English was grounds for punishments. But [other African Americans] talked in thick southern accents, using Negro dialect. A confusion overtook her that she never quite lost."

As a teenager, she was hired as a chorus girl at the Cotton Club and broke into films largely on the basis of her extraordinary beauty. MGM found her when African Americans were routinely portrayed as maids or servants, or as shuffling stereotypes.

Most of Horne's film roles were cameos in musicals such as "Panama Hattie" and "Ziegfeld Follies," where she would be shown standing against a column, beautifully coiffed and gowned, to deliver a song. When the song was over, she was gone. And when the films played the South, she was gone entirely.

Image becomes weapon

Horne was a token, and it angered her, but it took years for her to voice that anger. For much of her life, she was conflicted about racial identity. At 18, she posed for ads for Dr. Fred Palmer's Skin Whitener Ointment. As a young woman, she sang "white," according to bandleader Artie Shaw, one of her lovers. On the song "Good for Nothin' Joe," recorded in 1941, Gavin observes that "[h]er delivery lacks even a hint of black-music influence; she sings with elocution school diction, clean and neat." In the '50s, she performed for white audiences in pricey supper clubs, but swore at them under her breath when she took her bows.

"If her beauty had lured people in," Gavin writes, "Horne would taunt them with it, dangle it out of reach, just as film roles had been held out of hers. She found a way to use her torrid image as a weapon, not just an enticement."

But all of that anger couldn't be contained forever. Gavin points to a 1960 incident at a cheesy Hollywood restaurant as pivotal to the emergence of Horne's latter-day activism. While her second husband, Lennie Hayton (who was white), was away from their table, Horne was insulted by a white patron and threw an ashtray and two hurricane lamps at him.

In the '60s, she became involved in the civil rights movement, but at first, the idea of speaking at a rally or singing in an all-black Southern church scared her, in part because she'd been both adored by African Americans and criticized as a sellout for so many years.

Once uncaged, her anger was such that she counted herself a follower of Malcolm X and was less than convinced by Martin Luther King Jr.'s more passive response to prejudice.

Civil disappointments

"What was 'honest' about Lena Horne had become harder to discern," Gavin writes of Horne in the '70s and after. "For all her disappointment over the outcome of the civil rights movement, proud and distinctive black identities had emerged all around her. ... The popular black culture of the day ... gave her the license to be what her career, up to then, hadn't allowed."

Her personal life was always as much of a struggle as her professional life. She married an African American early on and had two children, her son, Teddy, who died of kidney failure after years of drug abuse, and her daughter, Gail, who married filmmaker Sidney Lumet. She wasn't close to her children early on, although she developed a relationship with her daughter later.

The power of Gavin's biography is that he has clearly labored to separate fact from fiction. In the future, it may be easier for biographers to detail the lives of current celebrities whose every move is seemingly captured by TMZ and tabloid TV.

But MGM stars, as one observer of Horne's life puts it, were "taught to lie" and, after a while, Horne seemed to believe much of her own hype and revised her life story whenever she thought it necessary. Beyond that, she was a complicated woman whose personal struggles with identity were inextricably intertwined with those of African Americans throughout the 20th century. In Gavin's capable hands, Lena Horne's story is both uniquely her own and an integral part of a larger cultural journey.

Stormy Weather: The Life of Lena Horne
By James Gavin (Atria Books; 598 pages, $27)

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Colm Tóibín's 'Brooklyn': Best of the Month at Amazon Review
Amazon Best of the Month: Committed to a quiet life in little Enniscorthy, Ireland, the industrious young Eilis Lacey reluctantly finds herself swept up in an unplanned adventure to America, engineered by the family priest and her glamorous, "ready for life" sister, Rose. Eilis's determination to embrace the spirit of the journey despite her trepidation--especially on behalf of Rose, who has sacrificed her own chance of leaving--makes a bittersweet center for Brooklyn. Colm Tóibín's spare portrayal of this contemplative girl is achingly lovely, and every sentence rings with truth. Readers will find themselves swept across the Atlantic with Eilis to a boarding house in Brooklyn where she painstakingly adapts to a new life, reinventing herself and her surroundings in the letters she writes home. Just as she begins to settle in with the help of a new love, tragedy calls her home to Enniscorthy, and her separate lives suddenly and painfully merge into one. Tóibín's haunted heroine glows on the page, unforgettably and lovingly rendered, and her story reflects the lives of so many others exiled from home. --Daphne Durham

From Publishers Weekly
Signature Reviewed by Maureen Howard: Colm Tóibín's engaging new novel, Brooklyn, will not bring to mind the fashionable borough of recent years nor Bed-Stuy beleaguered with the troubles of a Saturday night. Tóibín has revived the Brooklyn of an Irish-Catholic parish in the '50s, a setting appropriate to the narrow life of Eilis Lacey. Before Eilis ships out for a decent job in America, her village life is sketched in detail. The shops, pub, the hoity-toity and plainspoken people of Enniscorthy have such appeal on the page, it does seem a shame to leave. But how will we share the girl's longing for home, if home is not a gabby presence in her émigré tale? Tóibín's maneuvers draw us to the bright girl with a gift for numbers. With a keen eye, Eilis surveys her lonely, steady-on life: her job in the dry goods store, the rules and regulations of her rooming house—ladies only. The competitive hustle at the parish dances are so like the ones back home—it's something of a wonder I did not give up on the gentle tattle of her story, run a Netflix of the feline power struggle in Claire Booth Luce's The Women. Tóibín rescues his homesick shopgirl from narrow concerns, gives her a stop-by at Brooklyn College, a night course in commercial law. Her instructor is Joshua Rosenblum. Buying his book, the shopkeeper informs her, At least we did that, we got Rosenblum out. You mean in the war? His reply when she asks again: In the holocaust, in the churben. The scene is eerie, falsely naïve. We may accept what a village girl from Ireland, which remained neutral during the war, may not have known, but Tóibín's delivery of the racial and ethnic discoveries of a clueless young woman are disconcerting. Eilis wonders if she should write home about the Jews, the Poles, the Italians she encounters, but shouldn't the novelist in pursuing those postwar years in Brooklyn, in the Irish enclave of the generous Father Flood, take the mike? The Irish vets I knew when I came to New York in the early '50s had been to that war; at least two I raised a glass with at the White Horse were from Brooklyn. When the stage is set for the love story, slowly and carefully as befits his serious girl, Tóibín is splendidly in control of Eilis's and Tony's courtship. He's Italian, you see, of a poor, caring family. I wanted to cast Brooklyn, with Rosalind Russell perfect for Rose, the sporty elder sister left to her career in Ireland. Can we get Philip Seymour Hoffman into that cassock again? J. Carol Naish, he played homeboy Italian, not the mob. I give away nothing in telling that the possibility of Eilis reclaiming an authentic and spirited life in Ireland turns Brooklyn into a stirring and satisfying moral tale. Tóibín, author of The Master, a fine-tuned novel on the lonely last years of Henry James, revisits, diminuendo, the wrenching finale of The Portrait of a Lady. What the future holds for Eilis in America is nothing like Isabel Archer's return to the morally corrupt Osmond. The decent fellow awaits. Will she be doomed to a tract house of the soul on Long Island? I hear John McCormick take the high note—alone in the gloaming with the shadows of the past—as Tóibín's good girl contemplates the lost promise of Brooklyn.

Maureen Howard's The Rags of Time, the last season of her quartet of novels based on the four seasons, will be published by Viking in October.

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Washington Post Review: 'Darling Jim' by Christian Moerk

Priority Mail: A Message from the Dead

By Daniel Mallory / The Washington Post

"Accursed who brings to light of day/The writings I have cast away!" So warned Yeats in 1908. A century later, those dusty words are lost on Dublin postman Niall Cleary, as he retrieves from the dead-letter bin a bulging envelope addressed to "Anyone at all." The signatory: Fiona Walsh, whose ravaged corpse was recently discovered in a prim suburban house alongside the bodies of her sister and aunt -- victims, it seems, of a triple homicide. Fiona's handwriting, ragged and wrought, hurtles across pages stained with blood: "My time is short," she vows. "We'll die in this house because we loved a man named Jim." And so Niall sinks into his chair, sure "he wouldn't move until he'd reach the last page."

Neither will the reader of "Darling Jim," the spellbinding new novel from Danish-born, Brooklyn-based Christian Moerk. Aglow with fairy-tale inflections, this hypnotic, neo-Gothic suspense story unfolds like a hothouse bloom, lush and pungent; it's a sprig of nightshade, all petals and poison. And it heralds the arrival of an astonishingly gifted storyteller.

Itinerant bard Jim, the lithe, sloe-eyed Casanova prowling the murky margins of Moerk's tale, has blown into coastal Castletownbere astride a comet-red vintage motorbike. By day, he entrances the Walsh women -- first Fiona, then her sisters Aoife and Róisín, and finally their shy maiden-aunt, Moira. At night, he unspools folklore in the village pubs: sinister legends of Celtic princes and deathless wolves, wracked castles and doomed love. "In whatever time I may have left," remembers Fiona, "I'll always recall the hush that preceded Jim's story that night. For, in a sense, it was the last moment of peace the three of us would know."

Darling Jim Quick, of course, is not what he appears. As the Walsh sisters exhume his murderous past, he romances the besotted Moira; meanwhile, Fiona's diary leads Niall to Castletownbere, where another journal completes the story.

Two diaries, then, alongside a clutch of spinsters, virgins and villains, all ranged across an Ireland of foamy bays and transistor radios, midnight forests and punk musicians. Time slips and blurs in "Darling Jim," which fixes its events "not so long ago," and Moerk tweaks the creaky conventions of Gaelic myth even as he honors them: Niall makes a noble if hapless knight-errant; ghostly voices in the CB ether inform and advise the Walsh girls; a crippled prince of legend returns as an aristocrat in a wheelchair.

Sly, wry and utterly original, "Darling Jim" is the stuff of alchemy, missing only the perfect epigraph: "Take, if you must, this little bag of dreams;/Unloose the cord, and they will wrap you round."

Mallory researches modernist literature at New College, Oxford.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Chicago Tribune Review: 'The Man Who Made Vermeers' by Jonathan Lopez and Edward Dolnick's 'The Forger's Spell'

By Wendy Smith

Published within months of each other, these two wildly contrasting books about Dutch forger Han van Meegeren strikingly demonstrate that attitude indelibly shapes content.

In "The Forger's Spell," Edward Dolnick spins the swashbuckling tale of an outrageous con man who should have fooled no one, whose forgeries were so blatantly bad that the real mystery is: Why did all those so-called experts fall all over themselves to declare the works genuine?

Dolnick's tone is zestfully cynical, his chronology impressionistic, as he romps through Van Meegeren's misdeeds, placing front-and-center the painter's most famous victim, Hermann Goering.

The author of "The Rescue Artist," a well-received account of the 1994 theft and recovery of Edvard Munch's iconic masterpiece "The Scream," Dolnick paints Van Meegeren as a high-living rogue, downplaying his Nazi sympathies and displaying considerable affinity with his disdain for the dealers, curators and scholars who authenticated his bogus works.

Art historian Jonathan Lopez takes a sterner approach in "The Man Who Made Vermeers." He depicts Van Meegeren as a talented, albeit second-rate, painter who turned to forgeries for easy money in the 1920s, much earlier than he ever admitted. Lopez also identifies the artist as an admirer of Hitler as far back as 1928, when Van Meegeren founded a reactionary magazine (unmentioned by Dolnick) that denounced modern painting as the degenerate output of Bolsheviks, "negro-lovers" and Jews in terms quite similar to those Hitler employed in "Mein Kampf."

Van Meegeren was an outright collaborator during the Nazi occupation of Holland, charges Lopez, pointing to paintings he did in the 1940s under his own name replete with heroic images of the Volksgeist, "the essential spirit of the German people" touted by the Nazis. This same imagery, Lopez persuasively argues, pervaded Van Meegeren's most successful forgeries: the series of phony Vermeers painted from 1936 to 1945, snapped up by museums and collectors (including Goering) as newfound examples of the 17th Century artist's previously unknown "biblical" period.

Dolnick and Lopez differ considerably in their treatment of these biblical fakes. (They even translate the Dutch titles slightly differently; for the sake of simplicity I've used Lopez's versions.) Both agree that "The Supper at Emmaus," the first in this line, was by far the best and that it was modeled after a painting on the same subject by the Italian artist Caravaggio.

"Caravaggio was a brilliant, mischievous choice because there had long been speculation in art circles that Vermeer had studied Caravaggio's work and been much influenced by it," writes Dolnick.

"The forger needs to anticipate the connoisseur's expectations and build in precisely those touches that will move the expert to say, 'Just as I figured.' " These comments are in keeping with Dolnick's vision of art experts as practically begging to be fooled.

Lopez notes more soberly that "Caravaggio was known to have exerted a strong influence over Dutch painters" and that "by imitating the sense of suspended action that pervades Vermeer's paintings [as opposed to Caravaggio's flamboyantly theatricality] Van Meegeren gave 'The Supper at Emmaus' a crucial measure of credibility as an example of the master's 'missing' biblical period."

He moves on to examine the Germanic echoes, not just in "The Supper at Emmaus" but in all the biblical forgeries, including "Christ and the Adulteress," the one sold to Goering. That canvas, he contends, "seems to lift its composition almost literally from a well-known 1940 painting by the Nazi artist Hans Schachinger." Side-by-side photos buttress his argument, as well as the underlying point that Van Meegeren's forgeries succeeded in part because they "exerted a strong subliminal attraction on viewers steeped in the visual culture of the day." It's a provocative, though debatable attempt to explain why so many experts were fooled by these works, which look obviously fake to the modern eye. Dolnick is content to paint a vivid, gossipy picture of feuds and backbiting among scholars and curators more eager to discredit their rivals and burnish their reputations with sensational finds than to carefully examine works about which they should have been skeptical.

Lopez's portrait of the art market is fuller and more damning. He extensively discusses Van Meegeren's 1920s apprenticeship with restorer/forger Theo van Wijngaarden (skated over by Dolnick, who prefers to see the artist as a buccaneering individual). Lopez delves into the interactions among shady art dealers, crooked businessmen and experts who were sometimes betrayed by corrupt associates coaching the forgers to appeal to their preconceptions. He shows the wealthy American collectors and dealers who were their initial marks becoming increasingly wary as some of Van Meegeren's 1920s fakes were exposed.

The stage is thus ably set for the biblical forgeries, less vulnerable to damning stylistic comparisons, since there were so few authentic biblical Vermeers. This extensive background also leads naturally to the moral dilemmas faced by the art market in Nazi-occupied Holland.

The invading Germans preferred purchases, however coerced, to outright looting, except of course from enemies of the state. Panicked Jewish dealers and collectors sold to middlemen at bargain prices or hid their paintings; informers reaped big rewards for uncovering them.

"Commerce and pillage cohabited," writes Lopez. Even reputable dealers were reluctant to ask awkward questions about desirable works of unknown provenance coming into the market.

It was a situation custom-made for Van Meegeren, as both authors demonstrate. They take very different approaches, however, to describing his shrewd maneuvers. ". . . Hitler and Goering were rubes who fancied themselves connoisseurs," writes Dolnick. "Faced with the hideous prospect of Dutch masterpieces falling into German hands, Holland's art establishment and its great industrialists flung money at the sellers." The tone is mocking, the emphasis on the buyers' gullibility.

Lopez reminds us that the Nazi collectors had darker motives: "to validate, in a material way, the Reich's complete domination of Europe."

The stakes were higher than Dolnick's lighthearted summary suggests. Context is a problem throughout his enjoyable narrative, which leaps frequently into modern times to consult contemporary forgers or refer to Clifford Irving's bogus Howard Hughes biography. It's all great fun, and we learn a lot about the psychology of fakes, but it places Van Meegeren in a lineup of loveable scamps. It whitewashes the man who inscribed a book of his drawings, "To the beloved Fuehrer in grateful tribute."

This damning inscription was one of the many pieces of evidence never introduced at Van Meegeren's 1947 trial for forgery. (He died of heart disease shortly after being convicted and slapped on the wrist with a one-year sentence.) Indeed, as both authors note, he confessed to the Vermeer forgeries to evade the far graver charge of collaboration. Characteristically, Lopez focuses on Van Meegeren's clever manipulation of Joop Piller, the Dutch Resistance leader who arrested him in May 1945 and who fell for the painter's story that Van Meegeren faked the Vermeers to revenge himself on the critics who had scorned his own paintings.

Dolnick takes this explanation of Van Meegeren's motives more or less at face value, and his hilarious account of the trial quotes generously from the embarrassed testimony of "seduced experts and suckered millionaires," as well as the judge's admonishment that "hopefully this history will teach the experts modesty."

Lopez points out that the trial repackaged "a Nazi-loving art forger" as a folk hero who gulled Goering. His caustic comment about this sanitized view of Van Meegeren—it "transforms the tragedy of the Nazi era into light comedy" could also stand as a harsh but not entirely unfair assessment of Dolnick's vivid treatment.

Breezily written and immensely entertaining, "The Forger's Spell" will appeal to casual readers, especially anyone who thinks that critical pronouncements about art are mostly high-class hogwash.

Those with a more serious interest in the subject, however, will close Dolnick's book with an uneasy feeling that it leaves out a lot, an impression amply justified by perusal of Lopez's more detailed and thoughtful work in "The Man Who Made Vermeers."

The Forger's Spell: A True Story of Vermeer, Nazis, and the Greatest Art Hoax of the Twentieth Century

By Edward Dolnick

Harper, 350 pages, $26.95

The Man Who Made Vermeers: Unvarnishing the Legend of Master Forger Han van Meegeren

By Jonathan Lopez

Harcourt, 352 pages, $26

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Washington Post Review: 'Surrender' by Bruce Bawer

Bracing for a Cultural Takeover

Paul Barrett / Washington Post

Bruce Bawer's latest book comes wrapped in the American flag or, more precisely, wrapped in a jacket depicting the Statue of Liberty gagged with an American flag. It's an arresting image meant to convey an alarming message: Muslims on a "cultural jihad" intend to stifle free speech in the United States and destroy our liberty. They may succeed, Bawer warns, because they receive aid and comfort from liberal dupes flying the banner of "multiculturalism."

Bawer, an accomplished literary critic, has addressed this subject before, in a book published in 2006 called "While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam Is Destroying the West from Within." There he wrote about the increasing tension between majority populations in cities such as London, Paris and Amsterdam and their often alienated Muslim immigrant neighbors. Bawer stirred controversy by painting Muslims with crude brushstrokes suggesting ubiquitous and intrinsic Islamic extremism.

Much of "Surrender" merely updates that earlier volume. In his new book, Bawer indulges in such unsubstantiated declarations as: "While there are such things as moderate and liberal Christianity, there is no such thing as a moderate or liberal Islam." And: "To put it briefly and nakedly, the West is on the road to sharia," or the rule of Islamic religious law.

Forgoing the temptation to dismiss Bawer's latest work as a polemical retread (because most of it actually deals, again, with events in Europe), one might focus on his depiction of Muslims in America. "Surrender" 's cover, after all, advertises a book about the United States, and the author expends considerable energy extolling the First Amendment in contrast to less tolerant-sounding words from the Koran. Training his gaze on the United States, Bawer produces a muddled picture. He neglects to take note of the fact that, on average, the American Muslim population is better educated, better off economically and better integrated socially than its Western European counterparts. Not surprisingly, American Muslims have been implicated in far fewer terrorist plots since 9/11 -- and no successful ones.

This is not to say that the toxic mixture of religious zealotry and anti-Western ideology that poisons some European Muslim enclaves is altogether absent from the United States. Bawer could have looked at the tiny minority of American Muslims who harbor real hostility to the mainstream: men like the three Muslim brothers from Albania who were sentenced to life in prison in April for conspiring to kill American soldiers at the Fort Dix, N.J., military base or the four men arrested in New York last month in an alleged plot to bomb two synagogues in the Bronx.

Instead, he implies that innocuous Muslim social and spiritual organizations favor religiously inspired violence. One he singles out for condemnation as an extremist "front group" is the Islamic Society of North America. I happen to have interviewed numerous members of ISNA and attended their gatherings. Bawer provides no evidence that he has first-hand experience with the group, but, in any event, his attack seems wildly misleading. ISNA has tens of thousands of members who are led by middle-class immigrant engineers, physicians, academics and entrepreneurs. Its current president is Ingrid Mattson, a moderate-minded scholar born in Canada who years ago converted to Islam. Most ISNA members, it's fair to say, disagree with most American Jews on relations with Israel. But by and large, these are Muslims seeking a constructive role in American society. They adhere to various strains of Islam: some orthodox, some less so. They are increasingly engaged politically. Many supported George W. Bush in 2000; in 2008, they rallied to Barack Obama.

Bawer veers into self-parody when he asserts that Muslims have cowed skeptics into self-censorship and inaction: "Artists and writers avoid Islamic themes and settings; police officers avoid Muslim neighborhoods." His own work shows that critics of Islam have no trouble publishing. I counted references in "Surrender" to more than 15 of his allies: prominent columnists, bloggers and authors. As for the notion that the police, FBI and immigration authorities steer clear of Muslim neighborhoods, one need only consider the thousands of Muslims who have been arrested and deported from the United States since 9/11 -- some justly, some unjustly -- to verify that Bawer has lost his bearings on this topic.

Paul M. Barrett is a journalist in New York and the author, most recently, of "American Islam: The Struggle for the Soul of a Religion."

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Review: 'South of Broad' by Pat Conroy

From Booklist
An unlikely group of Charlestonian teens forms a friendship in 1969, just as the certainties and verities of southern society are quaked by the social and political forces unleashed earlier in the decade. They come from all walks of life, from the privileged homes of the aristocracy, from an orphanage, from a broken home where an alcoholic mother and her twins live in fear of a murderous father, from the home of public high school’s first black football coach, and from the home of the same school’s principal. The group’s fulcrum, Leopold Bloom King, second son of an ex-nun Joyce scholar, who is also the school’s principal, and a science-teacher father, is just climbing out of childhood mental illness after having discovered his handsome, popular, athletic, scholarly older brother dead from suicide. Over the next two decades, these friends find success in journalism, the bar, law enforcement, music, and Hollywood. Echoing some themes from his earlier novels, Conroy fleshes out the almost impossibly dramatic details of each of the friends’ lives in this vast, intricate story, and he reveals truths about love, lust, classism, racism, religion, and what it means to be shaped by a particular place, be it Charleston, South Carolina, or anywhere else in the U.S. --Mark Knoblauch

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Book Review: 'Seven Days in the Art World' by Sarah Thornton

From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. The hot, hip contemporary art world, argues sociologist Thornton, is a cluster of intermingling subcultures unified by the belief, whether genuine or feigned, that nothing is more important than the art itself. It is a conviction, she asserts, that has transformed contemporary art into a kind of alternative religion for atheists. Thornton, a contributor to and the New Yorker, presents an astute and often entertaining ethnography of this status-driven world. Each of the seven chapters is a keenly observed profile of that world's highest echelons: a Christie's auction, a crit session at the California Institute of the Arts and the Art Basel art fair. The chapter on auctions (where one auction-goer explains, [I]t's dangerous to wear Prada.... You might get caught in the same outfit as three members of Christie's staff) is one of the book's strongest; the author's conversations about the role of the art critic with Artforum editor-in-chief Tim Griffin and the New Yorker's Peter Schjeldahl are edifying. Thornton offers an elegant, evocative, sardonic view into some of the art world's most prestigious institutions. 8 illus. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist
*Starred Review* Art and business, personal quests and personality cults, big bucks and the triumph of concept over beauty, being cool and in the know—these are the cardinal points in the contemporary art world. Enter Thornton, an art historian and sociologist with moxie and a brilliant game plan. Willing to ask obvious questions, she infiltrates the seven circles of this competitive realm. An astute observer and stimulating storyteller whose crisp sentences convey a wealth of information, Thornton marvels at the military precision of a Christie’s auction and the wild improvisation of an art-school critique.  On to Art Basel, a major international art fair where the “hard buy” rather than the hard sell is the rule since an artist’s reputation is tied to those who own his or her work. Thornton witnesses the final stage in the judging and presentation of the Turner Prize, watches editors at work at Artforum, attends the coveted Venice Biennale, and spends a dizzying day with the wizardly artist-entrepreneur Takashi Murakami. Thornton’s uniquely clarifying dispatches from the art front glimmer with high-definition profiles of artists, dealers, critics, and collectors, and grapple with the paradoxes inherent in the transformation of creativity into commodity. --Donna Seaman