Review: Finding Dora Maar by Brigitte Benkemoun

Finding Dora Maar: An Artist, an Address Book, a Life

Author: Brigitte Benkemoun

Published: May 19, 2020

Publisher: Getty Publications

Format: Paperback

Source: Publisher Request

In search of a replacement for his lost Hermès agenda, Brigitte Benkemoun’s husband buys a vintage diary on eBay. When it arrives, she opens it and finds inside private notes dating back to 1951—twenty pages of phone numbers and addresses for Balthus, Brassaï, André Breton, Jean Cocteau, Paul Éluard, Leonor Fini, Jacqueline Lamba, and other artistic luminaries of the European avant-garde.

After realizing that the address book belonged to Dora Maar—Picasso’s famous “Weeping Woman” and a brilliant artist in her own right—Benkemoun embarks on a two-year voyage of discovery to learn more about this provocative, passionate, and enigmatic woman, and the role that each of these figures played in her life.

Longlisted for the prestigious literary award Prix Renaudot, Finding Dora Maar is a fascinating and breathtaking portrait of the artist.

This work received support from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the United States through their publishing assistance program.

There are many reviews of this book, but I feel like many are missing the point of the book.  Yes, a vintage diary was purchased to replace a lost one.  Yes, the author does a lot of research to be able to bring the narrative of Maar’s life, for lack of a better phrase, to life.  But the point that is missed that I found wonderfully striking as I read this work was that of found object theory.  This is the artistic concept of using an object which has a non-art purpose as art.  A toilet painted in fluorescent colors and installed on a street corner as a piece of art would be in this vein.  The author takes a seemingly inconspicuous diary, ordered from eBay and meant to replace a lost item, and takes a journey through the life of an artist, to create art in written form.  It’s beautiful and in the same vein as Picasso and so many other artists who are mentioned in this book. 

I found this book thought provoking and very well written and translated.  I would recommend this to fans of art and biographies.  This is an interesting story with many facets.  Of course, there is a bit of controversy with the views that Dora held near the end of her life, though I think the author deal with it in an equitable way.  I do think that this is an interesting and through provoking book that is worth the time to read!  Thank you to the folks at Getty Publications for sending me a copy to review!  All thoughts and opinions are my own.

I received a galley copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review!

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