Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Orphan Master's Son and "The Lady in Gold"

This month our book club read "The Orphan Masters Son", the 2013 winner of the Pulitzer prize for fiction.

Set in North Korea, it's an epic tale and absolutely riveting.  While reading reviews of the book and lists of honors the author has won, I noticed he (Adam Johnson) won the California prize for fiction. I'd never heard of it but on their web site I noticed that the 2013 award for non-fiction went to Anne Marie O'Connor for "The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt's Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer." As we just saw "The Kiss" in Vienna and as I have SADD (senior attention deficit disorder) my attention was totally diverted.

"The Lady in Gold" feels like a good old friend as I once spent a few weeks assembling a jig saw puzzle of the work.

As you can see my paltry art education has been acquired in the most plebeian of ways, although in all fairness, I must say the puzzle was an authorized one purchased when the painting was here in Southern California some years ago. Not some cheapo knock off.

Puzzles made of famous works aren't the worst thing that can happen. In the Belvedere museum in Vienna where we saw the "Kiss", they've merchandised the heart and soul of poor Gustav. His images are on everything; we watched the museum shop cash registers smoking: they were selling place mats and ties; napkins and book marks;scarves and calendars; diaries and notebooks. Richard bought a eye glass case and a couple of prints but I resisted buying even one of the Klimt books - the big heavy coffee table books I love but hate hauling home. There is something unbelievably compelling in those museum shops; we rarely leave without some knick knack and most of the time we regret that we can't carry home more. Of course, the merchandising is essential to providing funds for museum support which helps ease the pain and guilt of plucking tissues from your Klimt Kleenex holder.

Something strange comes over us in museums; something we both like. I think we fall "in love" with these works of art, to over simplify. They're not considered masterpieces without reason. Once under their spell, you want to have something to remember them by; you want to stay connected even if it's through the reproduction on your mouse pad or your coffee mug.

Klimt, they say, was inspired by the Byzantine era gold leaf paintings. perhaps like the by Giottos hanging in our own backyard at the Getty. I'll have to further educate myself in the Byzantine by buying a puzzle of one of these beauties.
Wikipedia. Giotto di Bondoni

And speaking of inspiration I'm motivated to read the O'Connor book if I can ever haul
myself mentally out of North Korea.


  1. I love Klimt and I love museum gift shops. There have been times when I went to the gift shop instead of the museum.

  2. Yes, I often wonder why I'm so compelled to purchase something in the museum gift shop. I guess the real reason is that we couldn't possibly afford to buy any of the paintings, but we sure as heck can afford a post card or two!