FREEHAND: An Intimate Portrait of the New York Art Scene by a Remarkable Woman Who Lived, Loved and Painted It by Lily Harmon
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FREEHAND: An Intimate Portrait of the New York Art Scene by a Remarkable Woman Who Lived, Loved and Painted It

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KIRKUS REVIEW

An Intimate Portrait of the New York Art Scene""? No, not really. A few big names--Motherwell, Rothko--appear only for split seconds, and most don't appear at all. But artist Harmon's brisk, present-tense memoir--with its five husbands (ten years with mega-collector Joe Hirshhorn), its three analysts, and its haimish bedrock of funny, Jewish love-and-vitriol--has a disarming brio that's only slightly dependent on the name-dropping and the bohemian milieux. Raised in New Haven, tended mostly by beloved grandparents (Mom and Pop nearly lived at their store), Lily was always the black sheep: dropping out of Yale Art School, returning from a 1920s Paris jaunt with gonorrhea, modeling nude, marrying non-Jewish Peter. (""'I think you should wait about six months,' says Pop. 'And then not do it.'"") Then, after an abortion and suicide try, it's goodbye Peter, hello theater producer Sidney (nasty sister Gert sneers at his table manners)--a marriage marred by failed pregnancies and infidelities. Meanwhile, however, Lily's paintings are getting shown and bought: skeptical Mom is now impressed (""Ven I was carrying you. . . I was buying such dresses, such colors, for the ladies' side of the store. No vunder you are an artist""); and so is zesty Hirshhorn--who brings pastries, buys pictures, and becomes hubby #3 (his analyst tags along on the honeymoon!). But though wealthy wifedom brings two daughters (adopted) and security, it also brings: servant problems (a homicidal cook); stifling suburbia; worries over neglectful Joe's wheeler-dealings; and amiable divorce. So, then on to: brief marriage #4 and affairs (Nelson Algren), rebellious-kid traumas, the Provincetown scene (starring Zero Mostel), shock over aging (""There is a stranger in my body""), experiments in three-dimensional art, solid marriage #5. . . and the ironic gala opening of the Hirshhorn Museum (""I wonder where all my paintings are. Probably in the cellar""). Admittedly, you may not feel you really know--or like--Lily by the end of this long shmooze. But along the way there's great fun (and some very touching moments), with a near-irresistible mix of the down-to-earth and the ever-so-chic.

Pub Date: April 20th, 1981
Publisher: Simon & Schuster