Mightier Than the Sword – and my fifteen minutes

9781250034519_p0_v1_s260x420My fifteen minutes of fame came as a character in Jeffrey Archer’s latest installment of the Clifton Chronicles – Mightier Than the Sword.

Rarely do I enter contests; even more rarely do I win one – yet, Jeffrey Archer picked me. My prize – my name as a character in his next book – Mightier Than the Sword. Although I was hoping to be the evil mastermind, my namesake is a minor character appearing only briefly but consistently. Maybe you can find it – if you don’t blink.

If you are a fan of the Clifton Chronicles, you are primed to expect adventure and sabotage,  connecting the network of established characters in the Barrington and Clifton family trees.  Harry Clifton uses the book’s opening bombing incident on his wife’s new ocean liner as fodder for his latest successful spy thriller, and remains true to his moral compass as well as his penchant for crime solving, as Archer weaves Harry into a Russian undercover plot to suppressing state secrets reminiscent of a Solzhenitsyn exposé.  Emma, Chair of Barrington Shipping Company, faces her own issues with old nemesis Virginia, beautiful ex-wife of her brother Giles.  Sebastian, son of Harry and Emma, now a young handsome finance wizard, had my undivided attention, since he is the character who interacts with my namesake – on more than one occasion.  More characters reappear, but Archer carefully provides background for anyone who has not read the previous books in the series.  If you are a new fan, you might consider starting at the beginning with a binge-read, saving yourself from the angst of the inevitable cliff-hanging ending.

Reading an Archer novel is like watching an episode of your favorite television series.  The plot twists are usually surprising, the villains sometimes win the battles, the heroes are vulnerable, and satisfying solutions usually prevail.  I dare you to not read the books quickly as I do, furiously seeking the next outcome.  Maybe in the next installment, Dr. Rosemary Wolfe will return and play a bigger role in Sebastian’s life – I hope so.

Related Reviews: Previous books in The Clifton Chronicles

Still Missing After All These Years

11162-a-blank-picture-frame-thMarking the twenty-fifth anniversary of the famous art heist at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Tom Mashberg’s article in the Sunday New York Times – Still Missing After All These Years – reminded me of one of my favorite books – The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro.  Shapiro solves the crime of the stolen paintings in her novel, but the real culprits have never been found.  Empty frames mark the spots where Gardner had chosen to display her Rembrandts, Vermeer, Manet, and Degas sketches.  In her bequest, Gardner specified that after her death no item could be moved from the spot she had chosen to display it.  The thieves left the frames and took the paintings.

Nonfiction books have speculated on the crime: Ulrich Boser wrote The Gardner Heist in 2010, and Mashberg himself teamed with the head of security at the museum, Anthony Amore, to write the 2012  Stealing Rembrandts:  the Untold Stories of Notorious Art Heists - a book that includes a number of thefts, including the three Rembrandts stolen from the Gardner museum. But the paintings’ whereabouts remain a mystery.  In fiction, Katherine Weber’s The Music Lesson speculates that a valuable Vermeer (not the one stolen from the Gardner museum) quietly hangs on the wall in West Cork, Ireland.

Only B.A. Shapiro has solved the case.  If you have never read The Art Forger, the silver anniversary of the perfect crime might be a good time.

Read my review of Shapiro’s book – The Art Forger

 

Japanese Art – on display and in books

Peter Schjeldahl’s New Yorker essay on the Guggenheim display of Japanese artist On Kawara – A Painting A Day - changed my perspective on conceptual art.  Staring at a piece of white canvas prominently on display in an art gallery always brings to mind one of my favorite plays, “Art,” with Alan Alda on stage justifying the exorbitant cost of his blank canvas to his skeptical friends.  If modern art is “all in the head,” Kawara’s Date Paintings fill that category.

Kawara_On_Oct_31_1978 The Guggenheim displays many of Kawara’s three thousand acrylic paintings, featuring only the dates on which they were made: the month, day, and year inscribed in white on layered backgrounds of red, blue, or dark gray.  In his obituary, the New York Times noted the artist, who died recently at 81 years old, found elegance in every day. Although some dates may remind the viewer of a war, an explosion, a death, a birth – other dates remain personal and dependent on the individual viewing.

Schjeldahl may not like Kawara’s work, but he admires it:

“…I like art works to be unique, and I want a sense that someone inhabits them. At the core of Kawara’s multitudinous production, there’s a wintry vacancy; the content is as uniform as death. But there is a term for the effect that it generates…the sublime. Kawara’s art evokes a cosmic perspective, by which his own life and, by extension, the lives of us all register as a negligible spark in time… Some art shows fill your spirit. This one empties you. You won’t forget it.”

I’d like to see Kawara’s art and decide for myself.  The artist, who used his mah-jongg winnings to support his family and his art, and who destroyed any work he could not finish by the end of a day, fascinates me.

9780062100689_p0_v1_s260x420Coincidentally, one of my book clubs chose Katherine Govier’s The Printmaker’s Daughter, a fictionalized tale of the nineteenth century Japanese artist – Hokusai – noted for “transcending time and space” in his iconic depiction of “The Great Wave.”

katsushika-hokusai-the-great-wave-at-kanagawa-from-36-views-of-mount-fuji-c-1829Hokusai preferred to work in paint, yet the Japanese woodcuttings that converted his art to prints made him famous. Govier’s book trudges along slowly, almost seeming to be a translation in its halting language, but her impeccable research reveals the possibility that Oei, Hokusai’s daughter, may have created many of his paintings – without credit. Both father and daughter were artists, and the mystery has never been solved.

Although I have just started reading this historical novel, I can already detect similarities in the Japanese artists – a century apart.  Blake Gopnik of the Washington Post said of Hokusai – “{he} explodes our most cherished clichés about how Japanese culture worships tradition and is bound by it…”  The same could be said of Kawara.

Have you been to the Guggenheim or the Sackler to see any of their work?