A Complicated Marriage: My Life With Clement Greenberg is a memoir written by Janice Van Horne starting with her at age 21 and just graduating from Bennington College and moving into her first apartment in New York City. The book opens at a swish party describing Van Horne, surroundings and the guests. This is the moment when she meets Clement Greenberg, the now famous art critic. It is the start of the era of Modern Art and this body of work. Most of the artists are still at the “starving” artist’s stage but those on Greenberg’s friends list are going to be the top of the line big names and money makers of this particular period of time.
One is going to glimpse into the lives of some of these artists but that is actually part two of the book. The first part of the book is about how Greenberg, the much older man, and Van Horne get married and then spend weekends with all these artists at the artist’s homes. 7 major players get their own chapters including Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner. Greenberg is good friends with these two people the connection is examined. The Greenberg’s have a rather large collection of the paintings and sculptures of the artists, which some people said were bribes for great reviews by Greenberg. The book is not actually a biography of Greenberg; I do think art history majors would enjoy parts of this book about his personal life and friendships because it offers a different perspective.
One of the primary currents of the story is how a young girl with no plans, no great ambitions, and an open marriage learns to define herself and find a life purpose. She is not much of a cook, they do not have a regular income, and she is not a caregiver/traditional woman. Actually she is a German heritage child, who has been abandoned by alcoholism and departure by the men in her early life, who has a rather “airy” beautiful mother, and extended family which attacks and loudly distances themselves from her for marrying a Jew raised in the Southern United States. She has married someone who actually loves her and is willing to care for her, likes her brashness, and insists that she handle the money in their lives.
She notes often that there are artist’s wives who handle their partner’s businesses and estates well, and there are those which fall down on the job and let other’s steal from the artist. This management turns out to be her strong talent and in hindsight her real career and gives her the opportunity to pay for analysis, acting classes and be in the theater, an editor of Madison Avenue magazine, a play write, and finally the person who establishes the collection of her spouse and his papers are prepared for becoming a part of a historic era and a library.
I could really identify with Van Horne’s journey to her authentic self and when through a terrible Ponzi scheme she and her daughter lost nearly all their funds and future, I was happy she was able to testify in court and get some satisfaction along with her credit rating restored including an opportunity to move forward. After years of affairs, divorce and remarriage, she finally understood the kind of caregiver she could become and took charge of that role as Greenberg was dying. I believe she must be near 80 as she is writing her volume, and she is still very much in control, but less tense and insecure as a person.
A COMPLICATED MARRIAGE was a good read and I am positive those who like to figure out what is going on behind the scenes and the gossipy side of life will love this book. I got a bit tired of the New York, power trippy, snobby analysis of other people and how they lived their lives. It was shallow reading and name dropping. I really could not connect with her perception of poor/poverty that she experienced. Yes, I suppose having to make curtains, purchase clothing from SEARS, and going to all the correct schools through Bennington College (the most expensive college in the nation) on scholarship was hard to deal with in her context of wealth and entitlement; and yet, there was always money for cars, education, society and lots and lots of alcohol – not to mention art and trips to Europe as the lecturer’s bored wife.
If you like memoir and learning about the art scene of the 50s and 60s, A COMPLICATED MARRIAGE is a read you will enjoy.
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I was provided with a proof copy of this book by TLC online book tours and Counterpoint Publishing.
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