11 April, 2015

Unstill life : a daughter's memoir of art and love in the age of abstraction by Gabrielle Selz [Claire S, Central]

This fascinating biography of Gabrielle's larger than life father Peter Selz gives us a sneak peek into the  1960's New York art world in the heyday of abstract expressionism.

Peter Selz, now 94 years old, was an art historian, museum director, professor emeritus and author. In 1958, soon after Gabrielle was born he became chief curator of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (MOMA).
He was a charismatic man who married 5 times. At the core of this story is the relationship he still maintained with Gabrielle's mother, the writer Thalia Selz, over 40 years.

Gabrielle's frank account of her childhood strips away much of the perceived glamour of the art world. Constantly having to adjust to major disruptions in her life, she gains insight to the world of adults at an early age.
Gallery openings, parties, alcohol, affairs, suicides and the most celebrated artists of the time were all part of her world.

When her father leaves MOMA to direct a museum in California she moves with her mother to the utopian, experimental artist community Westbeth in bohemian Greenwich Village. This is an interesting chapter. Three people committed suicide there, one of them being the photographer Diane Arbus. The other half of her time she spends in Berkeley with her father who is now embracing the hippy culture - long hair, protests and tie-dyed clothing.

Gabrielle doesn't skip the painful memories. A motorcycle accident where she has to learn to walk again and being 'dumped' in a children's home in Germany for 2 months when her and her sister were preschool ages and told her parents would only be gone for a day.
Despite her fathers narcissicism she doesn't seem to harbour any anger and goes on to complete an art history degree and become a successful writer.
It's a life that's provided her with a wealth of experience and a story that's never boring.
This book was awarded The 2015 Best Memoir from the American Society of Journalists and Authors.

Title: Unstill life : a daughter's memoir of art and love in the age of abstraction
Author: Gabrielle Selz
Publisher: New York: W.W.Norton & Company
Date: 2014
ISBN: 9780393239171

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