THE AMBROSE J. AND VIVIAN T. SEAGRAVE MUSEUM OF 20TH CENTURY AMERICAN ART by Matthew  Kirkpatrick

THE AMBROSE J. AND VIVIAN T. SEAGRAVE MUSEUM OF 20TH CENTURY AMERICAN ART

Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

An elderly woman's first visit to a prestigious (though provincial) museum collides with the otherworldly interests of its curator.

The buzzword nowadays in art-world circles is access—how the concerns and biases of the institution or curator affect which individuals feel welcomed within the museum space. In his first novel, Kirkpatrick (The Exiles, 2013, etc.) weaves a playful and compelling tale that addresses the issue holistically. With the exception of the patrons from whom the fictional museum takes its name, the principal characters remain unnamed. Ambrose J. and Vivian T. Seagrave have lost their daughter, Kendall, through a boating accident instigated by one of their artist hangers-on. Thus, the museum displays the late scion's dollhouses (begrudgingly) and the more esoteric favorites of the curator (haphazardly). Kirkpatrick further addresses the relationship between art patrons and their enthusiasms through allegory; the curator falls in love with the "ghost" of Iris Babbitt, a painter who appears loosely modeled on Georgia O'Keeffe. As the museum tags situating the reader in time and space become longer and stranger, the question of what entity is imposing order on our museum journey pops up. However, interspersed with the onslaught of seemingly disparate information are the ruminations of an elderly town resident visiting the museum for the first time; the woman's narrative, which contends with her own perspective on death and loss, undercuts the curator's. Rather than being led around based on the institution's whim and fancy, we're forced to discern how personal interactions shade our perceptions of art as well as whether the backers responsible for the space have any impact on the viewer outside of financials. Plus we get the surface pleasure of discerning how the author has constructed a plot within these parameters.

A novel of ideas whose appeal goes far beyond its target audience—be it literary readers skeptical of yet another postmodern yarn or art-world enthusiasts jaded about its ivory-tower state of affairs.

Pub Date: March 12th, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-946724-16-8
Page count: 312pp
Publisher: Acre
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 2019