Friday, January 4, 2013

The Art Forger - B. A. Shapiro

Let me first say that this book struck a real chord with me, as the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is the first place that my husband took me when he was trying to impress my romantic side. I have a soft spot in my heart for every small nook and cranny of that magnificent building and every piece of art that is perched, mounted, and hanging within its walls. That being said, when I happened on Shapiro's book, The Art Forger I was immediately intrigued.

Ms. Shapiro has penned a novel that starts fast and keeps the pace high, as she tells a tale of the lust for artistic icons that lead artists and collectors to the point of larceny.  Back story ... creative largesse leads a young artist to help a colleague (and lover) through a rough patch of creative drought. That generous act comes back to bite her and her career is severely effected when the rest of the 'art world' blackballs her. Flash forward a couple years and the same talented artist is working for an art reproduction company. Her accounts at the supplies store are jacked high, her apartment needs work, her friends are all 'starving artists', and she is frustrated that her entries in art competitions get little attention. What's a girl to do? She takes a job faking a painting for an art dealer ... a painting that has been stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in THE biggest museum heist in history.  And that's when the plot and the paint thickens.

No spoilers here. This is just a great and fun read. If you're in love with Boston, art and art museums, art history, and like a bit of police drama and intrigue thrown in, I can highly recommend this book. There is good information on how forgeries are done, talk of paints and layering and lighting and aging processes. It's informative for those interested in Edgar Degas and Isabella Stewart Gardner and the Gilded Age in American history when the rich were emulating the European model of affluence. There is frank exposure of the back-stabbing that goes on in the art world from the competing artists right up through the gallery owners, collectors, museum curators and trustees.

At its heart, though, the novel gives us a look at the raw emotions that the love of art brings to the surface and the ethical issues that the passion for collecting will cause within the art lover, the art collector, the artist, and museum curators. An excellent read ... good job, Shapiro!

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