Unstill Life

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In 1958, soon after Gabrielle Selz was born, she, her parents and her sister moved to New York, where her father, Peter Selz, would begin his job as the chief curator of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art. What followed was a whirlwind childhood spent among art and artists in the heyday of Abstract Expressionism. Gabrielle grew up in a home full of the most celebrated artists of the day: Rothko, de Kooning, Tinguely, Giacometti, and Christo, among others.

Poignant and candid, Unstill Life is a daughter’s memoir of the art world and a larger-than-life father known as Mr. Modern Art. Selz offers a unique window into the glamour and destruction of the times: the gallery openings, wild parties and affairs that defined one of the most celebrated periods in American art history. Like the art he loved, Selz’s father was vibrant and freewheeling, but his enthusiasm for both women and art took its toll on family life. When her father left MoMA and his family to direct his own museum in California, marrying four more times, Selz’s mother, the writer Thalia Selz, moved with her children into the utopian artist community Westbeth. Her parents continued a tumultuous affair that would last forty years.

Set against the turbulent, unrestrained bohemians of New York and Berkeley, Selz traces her journey to come to terms with the ramifications of growing up in a world where the boundary between art and life often blurred. Weaving her family narrative into the larger story of twentieth-century art and culture, Selz paints an unforgettable portrait of a charismatic man, the generation of modern artists he championed and the daughter whose life he shaped.

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Praise & Reviews

“In her intelligent and sensitive memoir, Gabrielle Selz recounts growing up as the daughter of Peter Selz, whom the New York Times nicknamed “Mr Modern Art” after he became MoMA’s chief curator of sculpture and painting in 1958. She was born into colour, not just that of the art world, but of her family’s personalities.”
Hermione Hoby, Times Literary Supplement

“Selz’s memoir of aesthetic fervor, discovery, selfishness, sacrifice, sorrow, and abiding love is compelling testimony to art’s uplifting and, at times, diabolical power.”
Donna Seaman, Booklist (Starred Review)

“Unstill life explores the bittersweet intersection of modern art and modern family, and the collateral damage of the sexual revolution.
David D’Arcy, San Francisco Chronicle Read More

“Gabrielle Selz fashions a profoundly moving tribute to her parents in this memoir of her childhood, from Central Park West to Berkeley.”
Publishers Weekly Read More

“The lines between art, love, and madness have always been blurred. In her debut memoir, Gabrielle Selz beautifully chronicles growing up in an explosive, exciting time in American art, with a free, wild, larger-than-life dad who seemed to be at the center of it all.”
Royal Young, Interview Magazine  Read More

“In one of Summer’s Buzziest Beach Reads, Gabrielle Selz thoughtfully evokes life in the shadows of her larger-than-life curator father.”

“One of the season’s page-tuners: As her parents love story evolves and then unravels on two coasts, their daughter must find her own passage through childhood and adolescence. But Selz’s reminiscences of coming of age amidst an explosion of creativity and social change are clear-eyed, sympathetic—and sometimes heartbreaking.”
Art News Read More

Unstill Life is a probing personal look at a family that lived what many would consider the dream life in the center of mid and late-20th-century creativity but paid a price in its ultimate dissolution and the emotional growth of its children.”
The East Hampton Star 

“Selz is a skilled writer who knows how to keep things moving. There are more than enough great anecdotes about art world notables to carry the book, but just the narrative of Gabrielle’s own finding her way is beautifully told and compelling.”
John Seed, Hyperallergic Read More

“A beautiful, compelling memoir, a testament to art, to love, to life and all its losses and joys.”
—Frederic Tuten, author of Self Portraits

“Reading Gabrielle Selz’s telling of the exhilarating 20th century decades when American art remade itself is like sitting to one side at a New York opening with someone who knows every story inside out. No one has died and all the living are here, too: Max Beckmann, Karel Appel, Carolee Schneemann, Alberto Giacometti, Mark Rothko and so many others whirl past, as at the center, the writer’s complicated parents, the visionary and philandering MoMA curator Peter Selz and the beautiful writer Thalia Cheronis, hold our attention. Informed by the author’s tenderness and longing, Unstill Life has the vitality of witness and the intimacy of memoir at its best.”
–Honor Moore, author of The Bishop’s Daughter

“This intimate look at the art world’s movers and shakers is from the perspective of the younger daughter of Peter Selz, a major curator and museum director….It’s an exuberant tale of artists from Rothko to Christo that makes the reader marvel that neither the daughter nor her mother ever rejected the rascal who both animated and complicated their lives.”
—Gail Levin, biographer of Edward Hopper, Judy Chicago, and Lee Krasner

“Life inspires art inspires life–all of which inspire Gabrielle Selz’s sparkling memoir of her brilliant but chaotic family. In Unstill Life, the art and people ricochet off each other, wreaking havoc but also encouraging everyone to live more intense, artistic lives.”
–Charlotte Rogan, author of The Lifeboat

Published by: W. W. Norton & Company
Release Date: May 5, 2014
Pages: 352
ISBN13: 978-0393239171