If you have wondered what it would be like for the images in an art exhibition to be woven into a spellbinding work of fiction, put “Rules of Civility” on your reading list. This novel is the first published by rising star Amor Towles and opens at a reminiscence of an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Each chapter is illustrated with a vintage image that matches the exhibition and the twists and turns of the story as it depicts art imitating life in New York in the late 1930’s.
This novel stays close to the theme of an art exhibition throughout its 300 pages. “Rules of Civility" portrays a portrait gallery in text. The ensemble of characters appears in different settings in each season. And a vibrant cast of supporting characters take on the image of supporting caricatures as they are seen at an art exhibition. A collection that plays a cameo role in the novel recreates the style of the Ashcan School made famous by John Sloan. The creates profiles with the detail and imagery of flattering society portraits of the era by painter Francis Picabia or photographer Nicholas Murray.
New York’s art scene and museums appear in frequent cameo roles that show the rhythm of interaction between the visual arts, performing arts and literary arts. New York’s Art Deco era art scene surfaces as a backdrop. Some are stereotypical starving artists scraping by or finding a new direction as the U.S. Army gets ready for WWII. WPA artists make guest appearances to show how their group efforts created a distinctive style. The vintage descriptions of landmarks from Manhattan’s Central Park to the rustic Adirondack Mountains will be a pleasant reminder or a pleasant incentive for art travelers thinking of an art themed trip to New York.
This literary approach to curating a portrait gallery will intrigue art exhibition regulars who have wondered what an art exhibition would look like in the form of a novel. And if you are looking for a last-minute holiday gift for a friend who likes early Twentieth Century Art, this will expand your friend’s horizons and inspire new visions for the New Year.