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Unstill Life: A Daughter's Memoir of Art and Love in the Age of Abstraction

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4.26  ·  Rating details ·  105 ratings  ·  17 reviews
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 ...more
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published May 5th 2014 by W. W. Norton Company
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Erica-Lynn
Feb 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing
It was with great anticipation that I read “Unstill Life,” Gabrielle Selz’s memoir of growing up in the celebrated and notorious art worlds of New York and San Francisco, from the early 1960s to the 1980s. The book’s protagonist is not Selz, but her father, MoMA chief curator Peter Selz, the man the New York Times dubbed “Mr. Modern Art.” He was a man who dominated rooms both inside and outside the museum, and around which his wives and daughters orbited. My grandfather—who was 15 years older th ...more
E.J.
Aug 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This was one of the most human and well-paced art world memoirs I have read. Gabrielle Selz, daughter of a trail-blazing and lustful art curator father and a writer mother was both a voyeur and a participant in the the tumultuous and exciting art worlds of mid-century New York and California. Its humanity was both touching and insightful, especially her experiences with Diane Arbus and Mark Rothko. More academic art history accounts are seldom as revealing when it comes to the darker side of art ...more
Andrea Cote
Jun 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Gabrielle Selz’s memoir “Unstill Life” is a story elegantly told, and a very engaging read.

The author recounts the relationship of her parents, one of deep love and heartbreak, which mirrors the relationship she in turn has with her father, a grand figure in the the art world. The world of art- its characters, movements, and masterpieces— is also recollected with affection by someone whose life is intricately woven within it.

She recalls growing up among the Abstract Expressionists, visiting wit
...more
Frances
Aug 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Patti Smith's book "Just Kids" was all about the New York rock and roll and underground scene. Gabrielle Selz's "Unstill Life" is all about the modern art scene in New York and Berkeley from the 1960s to the 1980s. Reading about Selz's father, Peter, a curator at MoMA and the founding director of the Berkeley Art Museum, and her mother, Thalia, a writer, put me smack in the middle of those times. Wild parties, glamorous art gallery openings, outsized creativity, and casualties from the chaos ... ...more
Meredith Landis
Aug 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
NYC in the early 60 and the art scene loved this book !
Suzanne
From Goodreads: "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."

What a wonderful memoir!  Not only is the story of Gabrielle Selz and her father interesting, the backdrop of the art world of the 60's and 70's make th
...more
Jodi Mae
Aug 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I read this book concurrently with Paul J. Karlstrom's book: Peter Selz: Sketches of a Life in Art, and I suggest others do the same if they want a more comprehensive, less personalized, more detailed look at the life of Peter Selz, the great arts administrator and art historian. Both books are thoroughly engaging, absorbing and well written. I was afraid that Gabrielle Selz's book would be a spill the beans get even with daddy book, but it clearly was not. She does not over-sentimentalize or sp ...more
Lorri Steinbacher
Jun 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
I loved everything about this memoir. The gossipy bits about famous artists are great, but the real story is the the matter-of-fact and accepting way that she deals with her parents' relationship. Despite the non-traditional nature of her childhood, there is not one ounce of self-pity or anger in her description of her parents. It's rare that someone can analyze such a complex relationship as parent-child and husband/wife with a dispassionate eye and yet still manage to capture the strong emotio ...more
Julia Ris
Aug 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Excellent non-fiction about a mover and shaker in the art world…his relationships with artists and his family during an exciting era in art. Well written.
Dory
Jun 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
Seen through the lens of her family with its disruptions in the turmoil of the times, Selz offers a look at the art world in the US beginning in the late 50’s including inside encounters with a variety of important artists. If you’re partial to memoirs and interested in art and art history, this is a nice read. I wish the editing had been tighter, though; I found it ironic that an author who notes that her grandmother had been dubbed “Grammar” indulged in lazy sentence fragments and even some ma ...more
Lisa
Nov 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This memoir presents a wonderful mix of Gabrielle Selz's personal experiences growing up the daughter of interesting and creative parents, events in recent history, and a lesson in modern art. Having grown up in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 60s and 70s, I recall first hand some of the events she describes. I loved this book.
Mary
Jul 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
What a wonderful memoir to read about the art world! Selz's father, Peter, was the first paintings curator for MoMA. Their social circle included all the abstract expressionists. Lovely vignettes about life in the '50's and '60's.
Dottie Resnick
Oct 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
A must read for art lovers and those who want to learn more about art, art movements and art history. Gabrielle Selz writes a wonderful story of her family and especially her father, Peter Selz, chief curator at MOMA and the man NYT named 'Mr. Modern Art'.
Jana Bouc
Oct 04, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating tale/memoir of growing up in the art world surrounded by art and famous artists like Rothko and deKooning with a wildly erratic narcissistic father who was the chief curator of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art in the heyday of Abstract Expressionism.
Lucy Bledsoe
Oct 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Wonderful and smart memoir about art and the people who make it. Beautifully written and full of thoughtful observations.
Diane
Jun 13, 2015 marked it as to-read
Interviewed by Bob Edwards
Sally
Jan 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Personable, raw, page-turner with notes on honest meetings with stellar artists. Also a real story of a daughter and her father.
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Gabrielle Selz has published in magazines and newspapers including The New Yorker, More magazine, the New York Times, Newsday and Fiction. She writes regularly on art for the Huffington Post. She lives in Southampton, New York.

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