Luminous and revealing, a daughter’s memoir of the art world and a larger-than-life father.
In 1958, soon after Gabrielle Selz was born, she, her parents and her sister moved to New York, where her father, Peter Selz, would begin his job as the chief curator of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art. What followed was a whirlwind childhood spent among art and artists in the heyday of Abstract Expressionism. Gabrielle grew up in a home full of the most celebrated artists of the day: Rothko, de Kooning, Tinguely, Giacometti, and Christo, among others.
Poignant and candid, Unstill Life is a daughter’s memoir of the art world and a larger-than-life father known to the world as Mr. Modern Art. Selz offers a unique window into the glamour and destruction of the times: the gallery openings, wild parties and affairs that defined one of the most celebrated periods in American art history. Like the art he loved, Selz’s father was vibrant and freewheeling, but his enthusiasm for both women and art took its toll on family life. When her father left MoMA and his family to direct his own museum in California, marrying four more times, Selz’s mother, the writer Thalia Selz, moved with her children into the utopian artist community Westbeth. Her parents continued a tumultuous affair that would last forty years.
Weaving her family narrative into the larger story of twentieth-century art and culture, Selz paints an unforgettable portrait of a charismatic man, the generation of modern artists he championed and the daughter whose life he shaped.
The daughter of art critic and historian Peter Selz, called Mr. Modern Art when he "reigned" as the chief curator of New York's Museum of Modern Art from the late 1950s through the mid-'60s, Gabrielle Selz fashions a profoundly moving tribute to her parents in this memoir of her childhood, from Central Park West to Berkeley. Born the same year, 1958, the family moved from Claremont, Calif., where her father taught art history at Pomona College, to take up his position at the center of the modern art scene in New York, the author had a ring-side seat amid the so-called Irascibles that made up the corps of the Abstract Expressionists ever-present at family gatherings and parties Mark Rothko, Philip Guston, Robert Motherwell, Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning et al. The son of wealthy Munich Jews, Selz was sent to school in New York in 1937. Peter's elegant writer mother, Thalia, was his indispensable ally in the busy, influential art circuit, although Thalia grew frustrated and bitter at his serial philandering, and they divorced in 1965, just as Peter quit MOMA to start an art gallery at the University of California, Berkeley. Thereafter, Gabrielle was split between bohemian Greenwich Village, where she lived with her mother and sister in the Westbeth artist housing project, and crackling Berkeley during its hippie heyday. All tenderly captured by an author who knows art in her bones.