Cover: Solar Dance: Van Gogh, Forgery, and the Eclipse of Certainty, from Harvard University PressCover: Solar Dance in PAPERBACK

Solar Dance

Van Gogh, Forgery, and the Eclipse of Certainty

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Product Details


$30.00 • £24.95 • €27.00

ISBN 9780674283985

Publication Date: 05/05/2014


368 pages

6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

26 halftones

United States and its dependencies only

Eksteins has a knack for pinpointing moments in the rise of Modernism that expose the deep social forces that have shaped our world… Our uncertainty about Van Gogh’s work, he paradoxically suggests, is inextricably linked to the rupture of traditional ideology and morality that attracts us to the artist in the first place. Nowhere was the rupture more dramatic than in the final years of the Weimar Republic… With a saturation of cultural reference, Solar Dance conveys the heady atmosphere that made Berlin the first European capital to embrace the transforming potential of art in a secular age. Yet it also created the ideological void that ended in the rise of Hitler. Van Gogh was celebrated as a solitary genius whose paintings rebelled ‘against the formalism of the establishment’ and made ‘the untamed decorative’; but the potential for fakery in his messy oeuvre, and for embellishment of his biography, risked introducing just the kind of ‘fantasy world of myth and mastery’ that drew people to National Socialism—a process Eksteins recounts in the final part of the book.—Hugh Eakin, The Wall Street Journal

Modris Eksteins’s Solar Dance: Van Gogh, Forgery, and the Eclipse of Certainty tells the story of Wacker’s deception and discovery, and of a cultural milieu eager to be taken in. He provides, in the early section, a lively but brief retelling of the familiar story of Van Gogh’s tumultuous life and 1890 death. There follows a broad reconstruction of the artistic and cultural scene of Weimar-era Berlin—active, morally unmoored, gay, ripe for Nazi condemnation and takeover—and a loose but persistent argument that this period with its clash of values was the inflection point between the philosophical certainty of the 19th century and the doubt of the present… Eksteins’s book does a fine job of chronicling the era’s aesthetic confusion.—Graeme Wood, The American Scholar

Modris Eksteins’s subtle and engaging account of how Vincent van Gogh came to be strangled by his own success bestows a great gift: new strangeness. In 56 short sections, each linked to a van Gogh work, he interweaves the large fabric of culture, politics and money with the small, pedestrian tale of a man arrested in 1927 for offering 30 forged van Goghs for sale.—Mark Kingwell, The Globe and Mail (Notable Nonfiction Books, 2012)

Solar Dance vividly captures the large within the small. Van Gogh, or more precisely the cult and myth of Van Gogh, is central to our concept—so well-established we have forgotten how new it is—of the artist as tortured outsider and of art as the quintessential medium of protest and anger. And the virtually unknown Otto Wacker also turns out, in Eksteins’s hands, to be a harbinger of our era of ceaseless copying and remixing, and our own crisis of authenticity.—Brian Bethune, Maclean’s

Brilliant… Eksteins’ deeply researched historical study tells the story of the Van Gogh forgeries that flooded the German art market in the 1920s and the way that the counterfeiting of masterpieces was part and parcel of a larger cultural breakdown that destroyed German democracy… Eksteins is among the most erudite and perspicacious of scholars. In explaining the forgeries of the 1920s, he gives us an eye-opening and wide-ranging history of the Van Gogh cult, finding unexpected evidence of the painter’s spectral influence in everything from a novel written by Joseph Goebbels to the childhood of the scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer to the fall of the Berlin Wall… The story of Wacker’s unlikely rise and equally quick unraveling makes for compulsive reading, made especially gripping by Eksteins’ sure-handed unfolding of the narrative… Eksteins is a major historian and Solar Dance, like everything he writes, deserves a wide and attentive readership.—Jeet Heer, National Post

Eksteins brings the exuberance and precariousness of the age, and of Berlin itself, to life with detail, wit, and a marvelously researched cast of characters. Coupled with the intriguing treatment of van Gogh as an amalgam of artist and celebrity, the component parts of which cannot be treated separately, this makes for fascinating reading.—Jan Dutkiewicz, Quill & Quire

Nowadays, van Gogh is no longer even an authentic madman; he is, instead, a textbook case of cultural over-determination, strangled by his own success. Modris Eksteins’s subtle and engaging new book offers an account of how this came to be, and in telling it, Eksteins bestows a great gift: new strangeness… Eksteins tells his story in a suitably looping and layered manner, with many darts and artful reverses, using a range of knowledge and allusion reminiscent of his 1989 masterpiece, Rites of Spring.—Mark Kingwell, The Globe and Mail

Eksteins ambitiously surveys several features of late-19th- and 20th-century culture. He narrates the oft-told tale of struggling avant-garde artist Vincent van Gogh, whose ‘value’ is realized only after his death. In this lively discussion of the fragmentation and uncertainty of cultural canons in an age of dissolving traditional values, Ecksteins, author of the acclaimed Rites of Spring (1989), brings his erudition and knowledge of European cultural history to bear on the diverse visual and intellectual threads of the 20th century, weaving a tale that is part detective story and part probing cultural analysis. His cast of characters range from the Dutch artist who serves as the central ‘sun’ around which orbits the denizens of high and low culture, to the critically important early-20th-century German art critic and van Gogh biographer Julius Meier-Graefe, to the late-20th-century U.S. pop singer Don McLean, composer of the huge hit ‘Vincent’ (‘Starry, Starry Night’). The myriad of fascinating links tying the painter to so many aspects of 20th- and 21st-century culture are, indeed, quite remarkable. With his sure command of the literature, Eksteins tells an intriguing tale of art and cultural authenticity.—M. Deshmukh, Choice

In Solar Dance: Van Gogh, Forgery, and the Eclipse of Certainty, Modris Eksteins takes us through a spectacular trial, as Wacker and his faked paintings were dragged in front of a German court to account for themselves. It’s the captivating story of a changing world, of authenticity versus forgery, of money versus art, and the established order of experts and gallery owners and museum directors versus ‘the little guy.’—Jessa Crispin, Kirkus Reviews blog

In 1932 Berlin, a young man named Otto Wacker stood trial for art fraud and forgery of a number of Van Gogh paintings. The victim, Berlin’s cultural scene, enabled the fraud as much as it suffered from it. Eksteins has interwoven a discussion of artistry—Van Gogh’s vision of reality and his doubts about himself and the world—with an examination of the aspirations and volatility of the short-lived Weimar republic and the emergence of Nazism. Following World War I, Germany was economically devastated, despairing, and in a state of denial; and Berlin adopted Van Gogh as its iconic figure. The sudden ‘discovery’ of a trove of unknown Van Goghs, which had supposedly been in the possession of a Russian collector, found a willing market in the city. When Wacker’s fraud was discovered, it shattered Berliners’ faith in reliable standards and innate value… This is a fascinating story, combining art history with social commentary and political acumen. Interwar Germany is well drawn and the search for purpose and meaning is one all readers will recognize.—Paula Frosch, Library Journal

In a grand, rich, and incisive exploration, Eksteins examines van Gogh and the world of appearance, illusion, and fraud opened up by one of the century’s most famous counterfeit cases: a trove of fake van Goghs that Berlin impresario Otto Wacker released onto the art market in the late 1920s. Eksteins introduces readers to a fascinating array of movers and shakers, from Van Gogh and Gauguin to the art dealer Paul Cassirer and his scandalous actress-wife Tilla Durieux, to Van Gogh’s admirers, who included Joseph Goebbels, Bertolt Brecht, and Hermann Hesse. He explores the tawdry world of physical culture, inflationary economics, and experimental sexuality for which Weimar Berlin was the undisputed capital and moves his characters through the Edwardian peace of the pre-1914 era, into the world war, the shocking seasons of revolution, the tempests of the Weimar Republic, and finally into the Nazi era. Eksteins illuminates how a world of norms and expertise gave way to an unanchored, turbulent world in which art, creativity, and expression redefined political and cultural desire. More than simply an astute historical and cultural observation, Solar Dance offers a remarkable intellectual voice that drives a thesis about the compelling, appalling status of authenticity and illusion in the twentieth century.—Peter Fritzsche, author of The Turbulent World of Franz Göll: An Ordinary Berliner Writes the Twentieth Century

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