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Art Forger (Shapiro)

The Art Forger
B.A. Shapiro, 2012
Algonquin Books
384 pp.
ISBN-13: 9781616203160



Summary
On March 18, 1990, thirteen works of art worth today over $500 million were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. It remains the largest unsolved art heist in history, and Claire Roth, a struggling young artist, is about to discover that there’s more to this crime than meets the eye.

Claire makes her living reproducing famous works of art for a popular online retailer. Desperate to improve her situation, she lets herself be lured into a Faustian bargain with Aiden Markel, a powerful gallery owner. She agrees to forge a painting—one of the Degas masterpieces stolen from the Gardner Museum—in exchange for a one-woman show in his renowned gallery. But when the long-missing Degas painting—the one that had been hanging for one hundred years at the Gardner—is delivered to Claire’s studio, she begins to suspect that it may itself be a forgery.

Claire’s search for the truth about the painting’s origins leads her into a labyrinth of deceit where secrets hidden since the late nineteenth century may be the only evidence that can now save her life. B. A. Shapiro’s razor-sharp writing and rich plot twists make The Art Forger an absorbing literary thriller that treats us to three centuries of forgers, art thieves, and obsessive collectors. it’s a dazzling novel about seeing—and not seeing—the secrets that lie beneath the canvas. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Her own words
I am the author of six novels (The Art Forger, The Safe Room, Blind Spot, See No Evil, Blameless and Shattered Echoes), four screenplays (Blind Spot, The Lost Coven, Borderline and Shattered Echoes) and the non-fiction book, The Big Squeeze. In my previous career incarnations, I have directed research projects for a residential substance abuse facility, worked as a systems analyst/statistician, headed the Boston office of a software development firm, and served as an adjunct professor teaching sociology at Tufts University and creative writing at Northeastern University. I like being a novelist the best.

I began my writing career when I quit my high-pressure job after the birth of my second child. Nervous about what to do next, I said to my mother, "If I'm not playing at being superwoman anymore, I don't know who I am." My mother answered with the question: "If you had one year to live, how would you want to spend it?" The answer: write a novel and spend more time with my children. And that's exactly what I did. Smart mother.

After writing six novels and raising my children, I now live in Boston with my husband Dan and my dog Sagan. And yes, I'm working on yet another novel but have no plans to raise any more children. (From the author's website.)



Book Reviews
Shapiro writes with assurance, even if she stumbles over the odd phrase or detail.... For those willing to forgive the occasional misstep, The Art Forger will reward their forbearance and, through its engaging premise, their intelligence.... In the end, with plots uncovered and deceptions laid bare, Shapiro’s abiding mystery lies not in the act of forgery itself but in its elusive morality. As Claire reminds us, people see “what they want to see.”
Maxwell Carter - New York Times Book Review


Precise and exciting.... Readers seeking an engaging novel about artists and art scandals will find The Art Forger rewarding for its skillful balance of brisk plotting, significant emotional depth and a multi-layered narration rich with a sense of moral consequence.
Washington Post


Ingeniously and skillfully plotted.
Huffington Post


Shapiro’s new novel (after The Safe Room) is filled with delightful twists, turns, and ruminations on what constitutes truth in art. Broke and painting copies of famous artists’ work for a reproduction site, artist Claire Roth is enticed by gallery owner Aidan Markel’s request to forge a painting by Degas that was stolen from the Isabella Gardner Museum in 1990 (in the largest unsolved art heist in history). As Claire works, she wonders if the painting she’s forging is legitimate. Meanwhile, Claire steps in when her blocked artist lover can’t finish his work for a deadline, essentially painting what becomes something of an art world sensation. Her lover slips into denial about her contribution and Claire weighs the repercussions of going public, knowing that it will damage her reputation even more badly than her heart. An intricate shell game exploring the permutations of the craft and ethics of art, Shapiro’s novel is a lively ride, melding Claire’s discoveries with fictionalized 19th-century letters from Gardner that hint at even deeper complexities. The wit, Claire’s passion for her work, what it takes to create a piece that can pass modern scrutiny, and the behind-the-scenes look at the lives of working artists and the machinations of the art world overcome an ending that ties things up too neatly. The choice of present tense for much of the book keeps the reader at a remove from the action, but Shapiro’s research, well-integrated into a strong premise, captivates..
Publishers Weekly


By page two of this novel, the reader is fully engrossed into the world of struggling artist Claire Roth, nicknamed "The Great Pretender" who copies famous paintings for a website called Reproductions.com....This well-researched work combines real elements (though After the Bath never existed) with the understanding that the art world is as fragile and precarious as the art itself, particularly for young hopefuls. —Lisa Rohrbaugh, Leetonia Community P.L., OH
Library Journal


Classy and pleasurably suspenseful.... An entrancingly visual, historically rich, deliciously witty, sensuous, and smart tale of authenticity versus fakery in which Shapiro artfully turns a clever caper into a provocative meditation on what we value most.
Booklist


A cleverly plotted art-world thriller/romance with a murky moral core. That nobody knows anything seems to be Shapiro's (The Safe Room, 2002, etc., as Barbara Shapiro) assessment of art authentication, given the number of misdetected paintings strewn through her engrossing if unlikely story.... Despite a shaky premise, this is convincingly researched, engaging storytelling. Intelligent entertainment.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions
1. At the novel's opening, Claire is a pariah in the art world. Has the community been unfair to her? In what ways, if any, is she responsible for her own exile? Does she share any blame for Isaac Cullion's death?

2. The Art Forger explores the darker side of human nature. All of the characters in the novel have a price, a line they're willing to cross to further their own ambitions. Do you think Claire does the wrong things for the right reasons? Is she a moral person or not? What about Isabella Stewart Gardener? What compromises would you make to secure what you most desire?

3. B. A. Shapiro juggles three plot lines in the novel, moving back and forth through time. Each section tells of secrets and deceit. How does each of these storylines intersect and deepen the themes of the novel?

4. This novel was inspired by an actual art heist, which included works by Manet, Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Degas. But what if Rembrandt didn't paint Storm of Galilee? What if an unknown artist did instead? Would the painting be any less beautiful? Would it no longer be admired? Would it suddenly be worthless? What is it that gives an object value?

5. It is estimated that 40 percent of all artworks put up for sale in any given year are forgeries. Theodore Rousseau, an expert from the Metropolitan Museum, said, "We can only talk about the bad forgeries, the ones that have been detected. The good ones are still hanging on museum walls." Does knowing this affect the way you view great art? How can we tell the difference between what is inauthentic and what is real?

6. The novel explores the idea that we often only see what we want to see. If an expert is told a painting is a masterpiece, she sees one. If an artist desires recognition, she convinces herself that her deal with the devil is for good. How are people complicit in missing the truth?

7. Art forger Han van Meegeren, whose techniques Claire uses to create her own forgery, was a frustrated Dutch painter. An unappreciated artist struggling for recognition, his intention was to hoodwink the art dealers and critics who refused to recognize his own artistic genius. How is Claire similar to or different from Meegeren?

8. Shapiro has a Ph.D. in sociology and has studied deviant behavior. How do you think her background informs her characters and the ethically muddy—some might say unprincipled—decisions they make? Does it make her characters more sympathetic or less?

9. Boston features prominently in The Art Forger. How does the author use the city as a nod to Claire's state of mind?

10. Gorgeous art can make people do incredibly ugly things, and the novel seems to suggest that it's not only for money. Why do you think that beauty and originality can have that effect on people?

11. What do the meetings between Edgar Degas and Isabella Stewart Gardner show about the relationship between a collector and an artist?

12. Claire falls hard for Aiden Markel, but she keeps secrets from him. He is also keeping secrets from her. Can a relationship survive this kind of betrayal? Do you think Aiden loves Claire? Why does Claire choose the wrong men? Do you think Aiden and Claire love art more than they love each other?

13. At the end of the novel, critics are praising Claire's work. Collectors are clamoring for the very same paintings that have hung, unsalable, in her studio for years. Why is her work suddenly more valuable? Is she successful only because she has become a celebrity?

14. Is art a commodity like any other product? What does the book suggest about the intersection of art and commerce, about talent and reputation?

15. Sometimes getting exactly what you want isn't quite what you expected. Our society loves to create celebrities and then tear them down. Can you give some examples? What happens when your dreams are realized and you can't handle it, or you don't feel you've earned it? Does Claire deserve the fame she is awarded at the end of the book?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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