FOR MANY YEARS, I have often run across the name of this book's author (so colorful who could forget it), a frequent New Yorker contributor who was also once a student at Black Mountain College, at a time when others at that school included Robert Rauschenberg (with whom she played strip poker), Merce Cunningham, and John Cage. And I am also acquainted with the name of Alexander Liberman, in part because I gained so much as an undergraduate from his book about the studios of Modern-era painters and sculptors (documented by photographs and interviews) titled The Artist in His Studio (New York: Viking Press, 1960). Oddly, somehow I failed to make the link between that Alexander Liberman (photographer, artist and writer) and the one who held a "day job" as the powerful editorial director of Condé Nast Publications, which gave him almost total control of such prominent magazines as House and Garden, Glamour, and Vogue (succeeding the legendary, and apparently irascible, Mehemed Agha). As it turns out, Liberman was the stepfather of this book's author, while her mother was Tatiana (née Yakovleva) du Plessix Liberman, who was widely known in New York during the 1940s and 50s as “Tatiana of Saks," a trend-setting haute couture milliner for Saks Fifth Avenue. Born in Russia in 1906, Tatiana grew up in an aristocratic family, with close connections to the Czar, and yet she was also romantically linked to one of the most admired figures inthe Bolshevik revolution, the poet Vladimir Mayakovsky. This book's new details about Mayakovsky (including his and Tatiana’s love letters) are among its most interesting aspects, as are its reports of encounters by the author or her relatives with Anna Pavlova (her Uncle Sasha's girlfriend), Vladimir Lenin, Andre L’hote, A.M. Cassandre, Marlene Dietrich and others. The book's title is an implicit parody on the title of an earlier book of photographs (called Then, which the author describes as "self-serving") by her stepfather, while its subtitle makes clear that this is not an autobiography (not an author's confessional view) but a candid and often disturbing account of the lives of her mother and stepfather, from their daughter’s (biased) point of view. This leaves open the possibility that the author may someday prepare a “real” autobiography, which promises to be even more interesting, since this account omits so much about her memories of Black Mountain College, her participation in the Vietnam antiwar demonstrations, the Presidential campaign of Eugene McCarthy, or her experiences as a writer. This book is both interesting and entertaining. I found it hard to put down for the first two-thirds, but at more than 500 pages, it eventually went on too long, a fault that is thankfully softened by about one hundred photographs, many of which are family snapshots, while others are wonderful images by Irving Penn. Throughout its pages, there are interesting photographs of the author at various stages of her life, including some in which she is oddly positioned (e.g., her eyes or her legs are askew), as if she were posing for Balthus. Among the delightful details of the book is a photograph on the dust jacket of the author now, at age 75 (or thereabouts)—aged, surely—but just as entrancing as always.—RB
 
 
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Them: A Memoir of Parents by Francine du Plessix Gray. New York, NY: Penguin Press, 2005. 530 pp., with 92 b/w illus. Clothbound. ISBN 0-59420-O49-1 .
back Home CAMOUPEDIA: A Compendium of Research on Art, Architecture and Camouflage (2009)
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“[It is] a leading contemporary source book.”
 
“[It is] an encyclopedic presentation of a vast body of findings in camouflage…[it] opens doors to new frontiers in a number of understudied areas of art and military history.”