When a provocative painter goes missing on the opening night of her show, a museum copywriter falls back on her investigative roots.
Kim Lord enjoys shocking her audiences, and Still Lives, her latest exhibition for LA’s high-flying Rocque Museum, is no exception. Drawing on media coverage of murdered women, Lord produces a grisly set of paintings depicting the slain forms of Judy Ann Dull, Nicole Brown Simpson, and the Black Dahlia. The exhibition is “an indictment of our culture’s obsession with sensationalized female murders,” and Maggie Richter, the museum’s in-house writer/editor, can barely stomach it—for more reasons than one. A few months earlier, her live-in boyfriend, the gallerist Greg Shaw Ferguson, left Maggie for Lord, a humiliation she’s still struggling to live down. When Lord fails to show for her big opening night, everyone suspects foul play—and Greg. But will Maggie be able to uncover what really happened in time? And who is she really trying to save by digging into Lord’s disappearance? In this taut take on noir, misogyny, and the art of responsible storytelling, Hummel (Motherland, 2014, etc.) balances the glitz and glam of the Los Angeles art world with the town tourists don’t often see, from peeling, postwar bungalows to skid row tent cities and suffering junkies. There’s a full cast of supporting characters, including Kevin, an earnest East Coast reporter covering the gala; Hendricks, a private investigator who seems to know too much about Maggie; Yegina, Maggie’s talented and ambitious best friend; and a rotating gallery of suspicious art world collectors, carpenters, curators, and crew. At times the interpersonal dramas are larger-than-life, but this literary mystery has larger-than-life ambitions, too. “I hate this artwork,” Maggie thinks, standing in the gallery, fretting about Lord’s disappearance. “I hate the abject powerlessness it projects. I hate it because it reminds me there is an end for women worse than death.” But Lord, through the careful plotting of Hummel, is determined to make you look.
This is a whip-smart mystery and a moving meditation on the consumption of female bodies all rolled into one.