The New York art world feted William Boyd on the 1998 publication Nat Tate: An American Artist, 1928 – 1960. David Bowie hosted the launch party; critics and artists flocked to celebrate the life of the tragic genius.
The hitch was that Nat Tate never existed. Named after two London museums – the National Gallery and the Tate – Boyd had invented the artist and his life. The whole thing was a gag. And the art world fell for it.
The risk with reissuing the book now is that, since everyone knows the punch line (it's described on the back cover), the joke will fall flat. No fear. Being in on the ruse takes away the gotcha moment, but allows the reader to appreciate Boyd's satiric talents.
Boyd is an excellent writer and the short format of this pseudo-biography – like a museum book published for an artist retrospective – shows him at his pithy best. He blends enough salacious gossip into the biographical detail, along with references to real artists like William de Kooning and Georges Braque, to give an authentic ring to the whole thing.
Mixed with plenty of photographs and color art plates, Nat Tate is a literary one-off that deserves its reprinting.
The New Confessions (reviewed here)
Brazzaville Beach (reviewed here; winner of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize)
Restless (reviewed here)
If you would like your review of this or any other William Boyd Book listed here, please leave a comment with a link and I will add it.
I got my copy from LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program.
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