Art Fair

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The Art Fair tells the story of Richard Freely, whose mother is an aspiring painter, and whose conventional life of shimmering summers in the Hamptons and exclusivity on Manhattan's Upper East Side is suddenly and irrevocably shattered when the city's elite and fickle art world first embrace - and then coldly and abruptly reject - his mother's work. Seeing his mother as "a lovely and luminous star player, surrounded by an incompetent supporting cast," and consumed by the need to shield her from the social forces ...
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Overview

The Art Fair tells the story of Richard Freely, whose mother is an aspiring painter, and whose conventional life of shimmering summers in the Hamptons and exclusivity on Manhattan's Upper East Side is suddenly and irrevocably shattered when the city's elite and fickle art world first embrace - and then coldly and abruptly reject - his mother's work. Seeing his mother as "a lovely and luminous star player, surrounded by an incompetent supporting cast," and consumed by the need to shield her from the social forces that threaten to grind her back in to obscurity, Richard lets his adolescent and young adulthood slip away unnoticed - until he is confronted by the terrifying but inevitable choice of pursuing his own uncertain future or clinging to the security of the past.
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Editorial Reviews

Susan Shapiro

Writing well is the best revenge. Just ask David Lipsky, whose divorced mother Pat Lipsky is a well-known Manhattan abstract painter. The Art Fair, Lipsky's eloquent coming-of-age-in-Soho saga, is about Richard Freeley, whose divorced mother Joan Freeley is a well-known Manhattan abstract painter. Yet this engaging autobiographical first novel is anything but abstract. With subtle strokes and sudden blasts of color, The Art Fair brilliantly sends up the New York art scene. The story chronicles the lives of Richard and Joan, as they navigate the treacherous and back-stabbing art world. Critics, dealers and artists first proclaim Joan a genius, then eject her from favor. Richard becomes his depressed mother's confidant, advisor and escort to art openings. He has a wonderful gift for cool observation: "Brie was packed into my veins, my muscles, my brain," he says. "For three years, it seemed I lived on Brie, and even now, when I eat the cool, slimy food, I look around for fear that I am being judged ungenerously."

Art world insiders will have a field day matching fiction with fact. The character Celia Kapplestein, for instance, suspiciously resembles artist Helen Frankenthaler. Artist Neil Hollender is Ken Nolland's twin and the snobbish art critic Ernest Steinman, the scotch-drinking, Camel-smoking elder statesman of art criticism, is a shoe-in for Clement Greenberg. The Freddy Beaumont gallery is the Bob Miller gallery and the Gregor Krumlich gallery appears to be the Emmerich gallery on 57th Street.

Aside from spilling art world secrets, Lipsky is also sophisticated enough to toss in deft allusions to John Updike, whose first novel was The Poorhouse Fair. Updike's Too Far to Go told of the Maples -- a couple named Richard and Joan -- just like the mother and father in Lipsky's current fiction. The thirty-year-old Lipsky, also the author of a short story collection (Three Thousand Dollars) and a work of nonfiction (Late Bloomers), closes his poignant novel at a weekend art fair upstate, where his mother triumphs. Yet, says Richard, "it had never occurred to me that this would be the result of success -- that she would need me no longer and I would have to find a place somewhere else." Lipsky has clearly found his own canvas -- on the page. -- Salon

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The author of a short-story collection (Three Thousand Dollars) and a sociology of Generation X (Late Bloomers), Lipsky here weighs in with a tender but slight first novel narrated by a Manhattan teenager suffering from an overweening attachment to his mother. In a voice that is by turns keenly perceptive and mawkishly earnest, Richard Freely recalls his preadolescence in New York, when his mother, Joan, who has since struggled as an abstract painter, was for a brief spell the darling of the snooty 1970s art scene. After a bitter divorce, which sent Richard and his brother to L.A. to live with their father, her social and professional status faded. Blaming himself, Richard resolves to move into her one-bedroom apartment in SoHo and help jump-start her career, playing both her son and confidante and accompanying her to openings, where she is often ostracized. He "finally breaks up with [his] mother" at an artists' retreat in upstate New York, where Joan succeeds at winning back her old dealer, while Richard's own reconciliation with an estranged girlfriend allows him to acknowledge his disabling maternal attachment. The art-world background is drawn in broad, crayon-like strokes: it's a circus of fine cheese and wine, catty, social-climbing artists and arrogant critics and dealers who talk less of aesthetics than of fashion and status. But readers may appreciate Lipsky's understated style, both wide-eyed and satirical, with amusing ironic asides ("it seemed I lived on Brie, and even now, when I eat that cool, slimy food, something is triggered, and I look around for fear that I'm being judged ungenerously."). (May)
Kirkus Reviews
Self-described Gen-X writer Lipsky (a story collection, Three Thousand Dollars, 1989, and the memoir Late Bloomers, 1994) helps define a genre pioneered by Harold Brodkey and perfected by contemporaries David Leavitt and Michael Chabon—the tale of the disappointed Jewish prince: an upper-middle-class whiner who feels cheated by life's difficulties and continues to exert a puerile omnipotence over all those around him.

Lipsky's Oedipal tale of the contemporary art world, set in the 1970s and '80s, begins in familial dysfunction and plays itself out in obsession and creepiness. Promoted as a roman à clef, most readers will fail to see the real-life parallels without a scorecard, but that's typical of Lipsky's inflated sense of the entire scene. Richard Freeley, the protective, slightly screwed-up child of a bitter divorce, decides to leave his father and evil shiksa stepmother in California to join his mother, a would-be painter, in Manhattan, where she struggles in a one-bedroom apartment. Nostalgic for "the boy who'd been enjoying a first- class life," Richard suffers with each rejection or snub his mother endures at gallery openings or social events. Dishing on all the petty, competitive, art-world denizens, little Richard eventually worms his way into Brown, but can't give up his role as his mother's manager/protector/escort. Of his first romance, he muses: "She loved the art world in me. . . . I loved the Westport in her." But when he must choose between this "rich and pretty" girl and his mother (no easy thing, in his mind), he abandons the WASP goddess to escort his mother through the major event of the title, an art fair in which he displays no little condescension to the unknown artists.

The only thing missing from this weird account of art world shenanigans is any sense of the art itself—a pretty significant gap, to be sure.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385426107
  • Publisher: The Doubleday Religious Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/1/1996
  • Edition description: 1st Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 7.57 (h) x 1.00 (d)

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