Artful Women

From the film
From the film "Persepolis," Satrapi faces two guardians of the revolution. (Marjane Satrapi, Vincent Paronnaud/sony Pictures)
By Nora Krug
Sunday, November 11, 2007

THE GIRL WITH THE GALLERY Edith Gregor Halpert and the Making of the Modern Art Market By Lindsay Pollock | PublicAffairs. 483 pp. $16.95

In the annals of art history, the name Edith Gregor Halpert is little more than a footnote. Lindsay Pollock sets out to rectify this in The Girl with the Gallery, an admiring biography of the woman she says "helped make New York the art capital of the world and American art count." That may be an overstatement, but Halpert -- one of the first women dealers and a founder, in 1926, of the pioneering Downtown Gallery in Manhattan -- was certainly influential, and her life story offers a fascinating look at the business of art. The book is also an engaging tale of a woman with chutzpah to match her foresight. Rising from humble immigrant roots, Halpert forged her way into the art scene, wooing influential clients, even if not always with a silver tongue. (In her first encounter with longtime client Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, Halpert unwittingly called her an idiot.) Halpert championed contemporary American art when it was not in fashion, fostered the careers of little-known artists such as Stuart Davis and Jacob Lawrence, helped create a market for folk art and lured buyers of all financial means with marketing tactics Pollock likens to those of P.T. Barnum. It's a wonder that a woman with such a knack for the hard sell wasn't more effective at selling herself to posterity.

THE COMPLETE PERSEPOLIS By Marjane Satrapi | Pantheon. 341 pp. $24.95

That graphic memoirs and novels are all the rage these days is due in no small part to the work of Iranian artist and author Marjane Satrapi. Her autobiographical novels Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood (2003) and Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return (2004) have become cult favorites, and her trademark black-and-white illustrations have appeared in publications around the world. The Complete Persepolis, which comprises the original and the sequel, is being published in conjunction with the release of an animated movie based on them. Never mind the naked commercialism of this publication project: The book brings a welcome wholeness to Satrapi's coming-of-age story. It begins in a besieged Iran of the 1970s, with Satrapi's alter ego a curious, pajama-clad girl whose favorite comic book is "Dialectic Materialism," and follows its plucky heroine to Vienna, where the political strife of her home country is a thought-bubble she can't escape, then back to Tehran, where she finds repression and rebellion coexisting uncomfortably. To summarize the tale in words alone doesn't do justice to the experience of seeing it come to life in Satrapi's drawings -- comic strips that are comic only in the darkest sense.


* Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antionette Wore to the Revolution (Picador, $16), by Caroline Weber, "is an ode to the art of dressmaking at its most fantastic, a heady, gorgeous glimpse into the past," wrote Suzanne D'Amato. Weber "demonstrates with dazzling detail" that "when it came to Marie's wardrobe, more was better and too much was never enough."

* Jonathan Yardley praised David Nasaw's comprehensive biography, Andrew Carnegie (Penguin, $20): "Never has this story been told so thoroughly or so well. . . . Not the least of its qualities is that Nasaw, unlike most biographers of prominent public figures, does not scant the private side of his subject's life. He trowels on all the details about how Carnegie became richer and richer . . . but he is no less attentive to Carnegie's intimate and inner sides."

* At 1,085 pages, Against the Day (Penguin, $18) is not only Thomas Pynchon's longest novel, it is also "his most international in scope," Steven Moore commented, and "perhaps his funniest. . . . All of Pynchon's signature moves are here: As early as page 15, someone picks up a ukulele and sings a silly song; documentary realism morphs into hallucination without warning; loud, tasteless clothing is worn with aplomb . . . and Pynchon's old leftist, countercultural ideals shine on."

* Chris Adrian's experiences as a pediatrician and divinity school student "bear fruit" in his second novel, The Children's Hospital (Grove/McSweeney's, $14.95), noted Elizabeth Hand, who called the book "a sprawling and impassioned morality tale in which a catastrophe of biblical scale wipes out nearly all life, human and otherwise, on Earth."

Nora Krug is a writer living in Washington.

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