Bets and Scams: A Novel of the Art Worldby Gary Schwartz, Gary Schwartz
Altstad is a 29-year old art historian from a Dutch Jewish family which was nearly wiped out by the Nazis. Leaving academic life uneasily behind him after earning a PhD in New York, he has high ambitions that by the age of 30 he will have succeeded both in love and as an international dealer in old masters. He is confident of success until, with the deadline just… See more details below
Altstad is a 29-year old art historian from a Dutch Jewish family which was nearly wiped out by the Nazis. Leaving academic life uneasily behind him after earning a PhD in New York, he has high ambitions that by the age of 30 he will have succeeded both in love and as an international dealer in old masters. He is confident of success until, with the deadline just weeks away, his girlfriend questions the quality of their relationship and his accountant the solvency of his business. Piling risk upon risk, Altstad puts the one valuable heirloom in his family - Emanuel De Witte's painting of a Portuguese synagogue - into play in a plunging market. Altstad's best customer is the Beverly Hills project developer, Mitchell Fleishig. Fleishig idolizes Dutch painting, regarding it as mankind's supreme accomplishment in manipulating reality. Unable to cope with the economic downturn of the 1990s, he overextends himself by lying to the bank and to a moneylending shark who has connections with the Mafia. When both the bank and the mob clamp down on him, he turns to the only source where his credit for money is still good, Altstad, with life-threatening results. Altstad's bet is pitted against Fleishig's scam in a novel of the art world in the 1990's and of two men unable to face defeat.
Schwartz (Rembrandt, 1992) is nevertheless an expert both on the Netherlands and the Dutch art scene, with at least a passing familiarity with the New York gallery world, and his hero here is Lodewijk Alstad, a 29-year-old art-historian-cum-dealer hustling his way either to runaway success or utter failure. Lodewijk's fate depends on a series of sales of old- master works, and to bring about that end he has betrayed his mentor, deceived an art journal, and gotten himself embroiled in the dicey affairs of Mitchell Fleishig, a Beverly Hills real-estate magnate whose fortunes are plunging and whose future is mortgaged to the Mob. On top of all this, Lodewijk is having girlfriend troubles and suffering from periodic bouts of anxiety seemingly linked to his family's long-ago persecutions at the hands of the Nazis. Juggling deals from Houston to California, and persuading his crotchety aunt to part with a valuable painting by Emanuel de Witte, Lodewijk first bumbles and then speeds toward a fated confrontation with Fleishig's Mafia bosses, eventually stealing back the de Witte that Fleishig has desperately stolen from him, though not before evading a couple of attempts on his life. Throughout, Schwartz clogs the already clogged narrative with a dry- toned analysis of the glorious history of Dutch painting, snoozy travelogues of Amsterdam, and with a full chapter that attacks the mandarin lifestyles of scholars.
Those specially interested in the Dutch masters may find a degree of allure here; readers in search of sharper plotting and more daring characters, though, may as well steer clear. If the art world were as unequivocally callow as Schwartz implies, it would have self- destructed ages ago.
- Boyars, Marion Publishers, Incorporated
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.50(w) x 8.70(h) x 0.87(d)
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