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REVIEW: Sacred Monsters, Sacred Masters.


I'm personally not much into biographies and particularly not biographies of 20th century celebrities from the world of art but 'Sacred Monsters, Sacred Masters' had a different ring about it. Instead of concentrating on the life of one person it looks at the lives of many people that touched the life of the author John Richardson.

I've not came across Richardson before but the blurb toted his work as being 'always insightful, often poignant and sometimes scabrous' so I just had to take a look! Richardson's inspiration for writing the book seems to have been a mixture of fascination, adulation and pity for those that he has included. It's a strange bag of reasons but it seems to work. He makes life rather hard for himself at the beginning however by including a story called 'Picasso's Other Mother'. By default this would mean that a great number of the names and, indeed, the language used would be Spanish but it also includes French and a spattering of Latin. This made the very first story a particularly hard slog and very nearly put me off!

I'm sure the humour was there in amongst the collection of foreign words but without having a grasp of the languages used it was difficult to see the funny side. However, the book soon moved on to other artists, collectors and well known faces in the art world and the stories became more readable.

I think with a regular biography you don't get a full grasp of how much celebrities in a given field actually interact with each other but with this book the same names crop up again and again to infiltrate each others' lives. There are many very well known faces and the information about them is likely to have been documented in other books but there are also many people whose names will have avoided the spotlight for many years (or even altogether) so that information is fresh - like the famous pharmaceuticals giant who collected art and teased interested parties who wanted to come and see the collection simply because it was a way of getting back at the art world and the establishment he disliked.

A lot of the stories are told with a forked tongue - something that few writers could get away with. However, Richardson's research seems to make it difficult to see where the subjects of his stories could really get upset. It has all been very cleverly put together!

I'm not going to pretend that I liked this book particularly but anyone who has an interest in autobiographies and reading about the lives of the rich and famous (particularly when they are not being talked about in the best light) will surely find this an entertaining read!

CONCLUSION: Autobiography lovers will enjoy this candid look at the world of 20th century art and its inhabitants.

Title: Sacred Monsters, Sacred Masters Author: John Richardson Published by: Jonathan Cape (Random House) ISBN: 0-224-06255-7 Price: GBP20 Reviewer: Jamie Ayres
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Author:Ayres, Jamie
Publication:M2 Best Books
Article Type:Book Review
Date:May 23, 2002
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