Joan Didion: What She Means

DelMonico/Hammer Museum. Nov. 2022. 128p. ed. by Hilton Als & Connie Butler. ISBN 9781636810577. $39.95. LIT
If someone created a scrapbook of your life, what would it look like? Joan Didion was an award-winning writer of essays, novels, and screenplays, and this book covers an art exhibition (at Los Angeles’s Hammer Museum) inspired by her work. For an art show it is an interesting concept to have one artist—in this case, New Yorker theater critic/curator Als—develop “an exhibition as a portrait” for another artist (Didion). Unlike a musical tribute, where musicians might cover favorite songs of another influential musician, this is more of a mixtape of existing pieces. The exhibition catalogue includes images related directly to Didion’s life, personal photographs, covers from Vogue, where she once worked, posters of movies she worked on, and several previously unpublished essays. The biographical content is mixed with artworks that in some way connect to Didion; these works, by the like of Ed Ruscha and Betye Saar, include a sculpture suggestive of water, landscapes of western deserts, and paintings of urban socialites.
VERDICT This exhibition catalogue is a mix of art and literature that will be of interest to humanities lovers. If one really wants to know a writer, read their work. If one wants to see how artists perceive a writer and how an exhibition can be used to express a life, read this book.
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