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Modern Art Paperback – August 9, 2000

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The life of Jackson Pollock's widow, Lee Krasner, provides the raw material for this strong, assured debut novel by journalist Toynton, who interviewed Krasner in 1980. Belle Prokoff is the fiery, arthritic octogenarian widow of the great Abstract Expressionist Clay Madden, who, like Pollock, nose-dived into alcoholism by his mid-40s and died in 1955 in a car accident with his young mistress. Decades after Madden's death, BelleAperpetually besieged by art fans, flatterers and critics seeking relics of her dead husbandAjealously guards his memory, his paintings and the truth about her own life as a painter and feminist who ceded to the needs (or genius) of a demanding alcoholic. Now unable to care for herself, Belle takes on a conscientious young assistant, Lizzie, whose older boyfriend, Paul, is an Australian painter on the rise and keen for information about his hero, Madden. Belle is also pursued by Mark Dudley, a pesky English art critic who will do anything for exclusive biographical details for the book he's writing on Madden. Moving from Belle's sleek New York apartment to her longtime residence and Madden's former studio on Long Island, Toynton delves effectively beyond Belle's stubborn wariness and into the vulnerable depths of her psyche, exploring her tough early years as a female artist jockeying for a place in the male-dominated scene of the New York School. Although Belle won't share her memories with opportunists like Dudley because she can't control what he will write, she relays her early "heroic sacrifice" to a sympathetic listener like Lizzie. Some of the plotting is heavy-handed: both Lizzie and Belle's maid, Nina, are struggling to maintain self-respect with dominating men, a perfect device for Belle to administer her hard-won advice. Toynton's prose is crisp, however, her dialogue tightly crafted, her period detail pervasive and her insight into character impressive. The novel succeeds on her memorable portrait of Belle Prokoff as an invincible survivor and her fair if cynical depiction of the New York art scene.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Novelists love to write about painters enthralled by the creative process, but in her sleekly composed debut novel, Toynton focuses on the suffering of women who suppress their own creative needs to serve what they believe is their men's greater genius. Toynton's model is the marriage between modern art's favorite self-destructive rebel, Jackson Pollock, rendered as Clay Madden, and the valiant and feisty painter Lee Krasner, reincarnated as Belle Prokoff. Elderly and ill but very tough, Belle views the fanatic mythologizing of her late husband, and her own concomitant fame, with seasoned cynicism. She doesn't hesitate to threaten an unscrupulous biographer, and, when she realizes she needs live-in help, chooses graduate student Lizzie in the hope of helping her break the spell cast by her self-centered artist lover. As this highly concentrated tale develops, Toynton, who excels at generating quiet suspense and succinctly articulating complex viewpoints, astutely ponders the differences between the sexes, the value of friendship over romance, the greed and pretensions of the art world, and the paradox of old age, when wisdom is muffled by infirmity. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 180 pages
  • Publisher: Delphinium; 1st edition (August 9, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1883285186
  • ISBN-13: 978-1883285180
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.3 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,784,957 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 30, 2000
Format: Paperback
Knowing the author was also an essayist and critic, I was prepared for a scholarly and rather literary work. Wrong! Though the central character, Belle Prokoff, is a subtle, fully-dimensional portrait of the long-suffering widow of an alcoholic genius (based on the Jackson Pollock/Lee Krasner saga), the world she inhabits is fraught with pretentious, loopy and/or greedy art-world denizens that Toynton dispatches with flair and obvious relish. The author has an gift for economical, vivid writing that wastes no time and is full of invention. This is a book about the art world that--rarely enough--needn't make insiders wince, but you don't have to care about art to enjoy reading it. An appreciation for colorful dialogue, for well-drawn, ultimately moving characters--in short, for excellent writing--is enough.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Shannon R ye Wall on September 6, 2000
Format: Paperback
Evelyn Toynton is a wonderful, insightful writer. Her characters come to life and her powers of observation are first-rate. The New York Times reviewer focused on her dislike of the roman a clef genre, but praised the author's style and intelligence, which shines through on every page. This book deserves to be read!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 14, 2000
Format: Paperback
What an intelligent novel about an array of interesting, complex, troubled, and ambitious people. Yes, it's based on the lives on Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock, but the writer is so inventive and astute, she brings much more than a borrowed story to this endeavor. This is a spare, sophisticated, deeply wise book about why women love the men they do, why we romanticize the past, why we create art, why we revere the people who do it brilliantly, why we need each other and, often, why we abandon one another. It's edgy and tender and spectacularly smart and well written.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Cynthia on August 11, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition
"Modern Art" is a lightly clothed portrayal of Lee Krasner (Belle Prokoff), better known as the painter Jackson Pollack's (Clay Madden) wife, but she was also a respected artist. In this book Belle is an irascible character who knows her own mind. She's in her seventies and suffering from arthritis. Her arthritis keeps her mostly housebound and dependent on the mercy of caregivers though she occasionally still goes out in public to attend galleries and fetes in her honor. The bane--and joy--of her existence are the Madden groupies who seek her out to wring one last remembrance of the great man, something to make their book or article stand out. The museums aren't much better since they assume she's sitting on many uncirculated cache of Madden paintings that they'd like to score for their museum(s) upon her death. Not much of a social life.

Madden and his painting and his alcoholic personality aren't Toynton's main theme however. She focuses on women's relationships with one another, the loyalty inherent in these relationships, and their ability to help one another survive unhappy and/or abusive marriages. It's about women emerging from the shadow of men and valuing their contributions in their fields and valuing themselves as people. They tell one another hard truths, sometimes with the result that friendships end though never quite completely because they replay continue to ponder their friend's thoughts and how much their friendship meant to them even though they may not have spoken in years.

I love all the art insider information included in "Modern Art" but that isn't its sole value.
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