In between writing and prepping to teach, I've been enjoying Michael Cunningham's By Nightfall, which has been out for almost a week now. Among other things, the novel is especially good when it comes to depicting the New York of the current moment, the New York of diminishing expectations, the New York of stores, restaurants, and galleries closing down overnight. At the same time it's also an engrossing take on the starmaker machinery of the art world, as you can tell from the following passage.
from By Nightfall
Peter is still amazed to the degree to which a certain widening gyre of accolades can change an artist's work, literally change it, not just the new stuff but the old as well, the pieces that have been around for a while, that have seemed "interesting" or "promising" but minor, until (not often, just once in a while) an artist is by some obscure consensus declared to have been neglected, misrepresented, ahead of his time. What's astonishing to Peter is the way the work itself seems to change, more or less in the way of a reasonably pretty girl who is suddenly treated as a beauty. Peculiar, clever Victoria Hwang is going to be in Artforum next month, and probably in the collections of the Whitney and the Guggenheim; Renee Zellwegger--moonfaced, squinty-eyed, a character actress if there ever was one--was just on the cover of Vogue, looking ravishing in a silver gown. It is, of course, a trick of perception--the understanding that that funny little artist or that quirky-looking girl must be taken with new seriousness--but Peter suspects there's a deeper change at work. Being the focus of that much attention (and, yes, of that much money) seems to differently excite the molecules of the art or the actress or the politician. It's not just a phenomenon of altered expectations, it's a genuine transubstantiation, brought about by altered expectations. Renee Zellweger becomes a beauty, and would look like a beauty to someone who had never heard of her. Victoria Hwang's videos and sculptures are about, it seems, to become not just intriguing and amusing but significant.
(Two photos, which have nothing to do with the matter at hand, at least as far as I can see, but I wanted to put them up.
Top: The Hideaway in Montauk Saturday night.
Below: Ned on the Atlantic Avenue beach in Amagansett on Sunday.)