Book Review: The Art Forger


I was housesitting a few weeks ago and the person whose home I was in left me this book with a note that said, “It starts out slow but it picks up and ended up being a good read.”

Starting the book about a month ago, I just finished it the other night. It did start out slow, and it did pick up its pace about midway through the book. In the end, despite its flaws, I found myself liking it in a sheepish way, in the way I like some of Dan Brown’s lesser known book titles.

The hard part for me to overcome in reading it was actually something that is probably only unique to me. There was a mention of a work said to be by the main character’s professor/boyfriend, called 4D. As the book was going on and on about this painting, and the thought process behind it, I found myself getting angry. Had this writer been to my web site and read about my latest work? It took me a while to get over that and continue on with the fictional story of Claire Roth, artist and art forger.

While B.A Shapiro does a fine job of writing about the process of painting, the politics of trying to make it in the art world, and noting how easy it is to misstep – that is to say, she did her homework – she also created an unbelievable fiction around an actual art heist. One that happened at Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, where, in 1990, two men dressed as police officers bound and gagged two guards and stole thirteen pieces of art, including Rembrandt’s Storm on the Sea of Galilee, Vermeer’s The Concert, and works by Degas and Manet from the collection.

I say unbelievable, but I mean that in a good way. When it comes to writing about art or the art world or artists, nothing is more frustrating to me than believable fiction.

We are taken through a journey, mostly through Claire’s head, but also through flashbacks. The book is mostly her voicing her observations, thinking about how others see her, and wondering what life would be like if she finally made it. After royally screwing up with the folks at MoMA, or was it The Whitney?, she becomes blacklisted and is delegated to the back rows of the art world – she makes her living copying the work of other artists and has become somewhat of an expert on Degas. The story gets interesting when an art dealer brings her just that, a Degas, to make a copy for him. One that will be authenticated as the original …

The Art Forger is a good romp, but not something I’d recommend you run out and buy, but if you see it laying around you might want to pick it up. Or put it on your list for your next rainy day or beach read.

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