The Official Rogue Book Club
Optic Nerve by Maria Gainza
Thursday, September 24, 2020
Each month, the Crocker’s Official Rogue Book Club unites readers, art-lovers, and special guests to discuss books that inspire us to look at art and life in new and unexpected ways. This month, the club is taking on, Optic Nerve, a "piercingly beautiful" tale that's part art criticism and part autofiction (The Guardian, 2019).
A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice, Optic Nerve tells the story of María, an Argentinian art critic who sees her life mirrored in the art and artists around her. The book — or perhaps more accurately, collection of personal essays — is deeply intimate, with the author/narrator hinting at her methods from the start. Ruminating on the unexpected death of a friend, she writes: "I cannot tell what I should do with a death as ridiculous as hers . . . nor do I know why I mention it now, though I suppose it's always probably the way: You write one thing in order to talk about something else."
María's lyrical but unpretentious, imaginative and compelling depictions of art are one of the book's greatest pleasures. She describes a red Rothko painting as something that "seeps into you bodily, not so much through your eyes as like a fire at stomach level. At points it even seems to me that Rothko creates not so much works of art as smoldering, endless blocks of fire, akin to the burning bush from Exodus."
Optic Nerve is a must-read for art lovers, if only because of Gainza's phenomenal descriptions and amusing art history anecdotes. Perhaps the highest praise came from the New York Times Book Review's John Williams who, upon recounting Gainza's description of Rothko's work stated, "This is the first of Gainza’s books to be translated into English, and these moments make one hope that her criticism will be next to arrive."
About the Author
María Gainza was born in Buenos Aires, where she still resides. She has worked as a correspondent for The New York Times in Argentina, as well as for ARTnews. She has also been a contributor to Artforum, The Buenos Aires Review, and Radar, the cultural supplement from Argentine newspaper Página/12. She is coeditor of the collection Los Sentidos (The Senses) on Argentinean art, and in 2011 she published Textos elegidos (Selected Texts), a collection of her notes and essays on contemporary art. Optic Nerve is her first work of fiction and her first book to be translated into English. Click HERE to learn more about the author.
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