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February 15, 2016 BOOKLIST
Find more Great Reads
How fascinated we are by art forgers. How perversely we admire high-art crime. Novelists love to portray frustrated artists who turn their considerable gifts not into tools for discovering and expressing truth but, rather, for executing lies, practicing high-risk deceit, and taking exquisite revenge on a hostile or indifferent world. We expect artists to suffer, and the most talented forgers are anguished as their own work goes unnoticed or reviled, while the masters they imitate are valued in the millions.
And let us not forget that the finest and most daring artists are profoundly subversive in their perception of our masks, hypocrisy, status seeking, and fears. Here is a diverse selection of novels about artists who create expert-fooling fakes and about the art of forgery and those who get rich trafficking in ersatz masterpieces. These novels question matters of authenticity and meaning, art for art’s sake or art for investment, coveting treasures and squandering artistry.
The Art Forger, by B. A. Shapiro
Shapiro’s smart, stylish, and suspenseful debut was inspired by the legendary Isabelle Stewart Gardner Museum heist of 1990, in which 13 masterpieces were stolen from this marvelously eccentric mansion turned public memorial. Claire is a young, good-looking, and floundering painter who, like Isabelle, has been the target of scandal. But unlike the art collector, Claire must earn a living, preferably one that allows her to paint. She succeeds as a certified creator of high-quality reproductions of Degas paintings that are sold by an online art retailer—a line of work that leads her to the dark side of the art world when Boston’s sexiest and most elite gallery owner brings one of the missing Gardner paintings, a Degas, to her studio and offers her a veritable deal with the devil. Shapiro revels in detailed descriptions of the process of faking a masterpiece and invents an irresistible story about Isabelle as Claire proves to be as talented a sleuth as she is an artist.
Back to Blood, by Tom Wolfe
Wolfe, the impish, white-suited satirist, takes on Miami in this many-storied and rollicking tale of crime, sex, art, and ambition. Among the sharply described city settings, which include trendy restaurants, a strip club, and an assisted-living gated community, is the prestigious annual international exhibition Art Basel Miami. And one of the men beautiful Magdalena gets involved with––after dropping sweet Nestor, a young cop whose very public act of heroism earns him only resentment in his Cuban American community—is an immensely wealthy if suspect Russian art collector, who may well be in cahoots with a prolific forger. Among the many wicked pleasures in this big, bawdy novel is Wolfe’s shrewd mockery of the pretensions of the art world.
The Forgery of Venus, by Michael Gruber
In Gruber’s art thriller, Chaz Wilmot Jr. is a gifted but intensely stubborn artist who refuses to commercialize his gift. He ends up participating in a drug study conducted by researchers who are studying the secrets of creativity. Suddenly, Chaz is doing the best work of his life, even if he is not really himself. Gruber’s plot involves a historical story within Chaz’s story and a forged Velázquez painting—or is it really a forgery? All the plot convolutions and psychological suspense are linked to fascinating insights into art forgery and thought-provoking inquiries into questions of art and morality.
The Recognitions, by William Gaddis
This vast, intricate, mazelike 1955 novel by National Book Award winner Gaddis, his debut, is the literary bible of masquerades, counterfeits, fakes, forgeries, plagiaries, aliases, disguises, and crimes. Among an immense cast of characters, Wyatt Gwyon stands out as he devotes himself to creating forgeries of old masters, treating his endeavor as a spiritual discipline as he tries to intuit the thoughts and feelings of the painters he imitates. Of course, his perfect fakes are then sold and bought by an array of shady dealers and collectors. From there, Gaddis widens his lens to take in American consumerism, advertising, and the commercialization of every facet of the human experience. An enormous work of satire, social critique, aesthetics, and psychological nuance, The Recognitions set the literary stage for John Barth, Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon, and David Foster Wallace.
Wonderful World, by Javier Calvo
Spanish novelist Calvo’s tale involves art forgery and theft, as well as questions, posed in an often metafictional way, about the nature of reality and the integrity of narrative as Lucas, a 33-year-old antiques dealer in Barcelona, finds himself embroiled with two gangs of thieves. Bubbling with cultural references, from Stephen King to horror films, rock and roll, and superhero comics, Calvo’s novel also features Quentin Tarentino–like violence in a surreal, sexy, wildly funny, self-indulgent, and wretchedly excessive mix with every potential for becoming a cult favorite.
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