The Blazing World
The artist Harriet Burden, furious at the lack of attention paid her by the New York art world, conducts an experiment: she hides her identity behind three male fronts in a series of exhibitions. Their success seems to prove her point, but there’s a sting in the tail – when she unmasks herself, not everyone believes her. Then her last collaborator meets a bizarre end.
In this mesmerising tour de force, Burden’s story emerges after her death through a variety of sources, including her (not entirely reliable) journals and the testimonies of her children, lover and a dear friend. Each account is different, however, and the mysteries multiply.
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Harriet Burden is an aging artist, largely ignored and forgotten, who is convinced that were she a man her assemblages would have received the attention and acclaim they deserved. To prove it, she embarks on a trilogy of installations and presents them as the work of three different male artists, who agree to the ruse for their own purposes, with tragic results. The Blazing World itself is an assemblage of disparate materials – journal entries, critical reviews, press releases, correspondence and interviews – collected by an art historian after after Harry’s death. Hustvedt explores issues of gender, perception and art with piercingly intelligent prose, densely annotated with historically accurate footnotes. But it is Harry herself – her passion and rage and creativity – who is the soul of this book.
An impressive story about a female artist and her longing for recognition. The Blazing World is a puzzle consisting of journal entries, reports, interviews, and varying perspectives which uncover how gender and celebrity influence not only the human perception, but also your own identity. It is a thought-provoking novel about cultural misogyny, creativity and finding yourself.