Being Here Is Everything
The Life of Paula Modersohn-Becker
160 pp., 5 x 8 in,
- Published: October 27, 2017
The short, obscure, and prolific life of the German expressionist painter Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876–1907), a significant figure in modernism.
First published in France in 2016, Being Here Is So Much traces the short, obscure, and prolific life of the German expressionist painter Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876–1907). In a brief career, cut short by her death from an embolism at the age of thirty-one, shortly after she gave birth to a child, Modersohn-Becker trained in Germany, traveled often to Paris, developed close friendships with the sculptor Clara Westhoff and the poet Rainer Maria Rilke, and became one of her generation's preeminent artists, helping introduce modernity to the twentieth century alongside such other painters as Picasso and Matisse.
Marie Darrieussecq's triumphant and illuminating biography at once revives Modersohn-Becker's reputation as a significant figure in modernism and sheds light on the extreme difficulty women have faced in attaining recognition and establishing artistic careers.
Marie Darrieussecq's Being Here Is Everything is a voluptuous, melancholy portrait of an ambitious genius and her passionate and sometimes competing friendships with two other ambitious artists in her milieu. Drawing voraciously from letters, diaries, histories, and other literatures, Being Here Is Everything is all at once expressionist biography, obsessive detective work, and elegiac meditation into art and motherhood.
Kate Zambreno, author of Heroines and Green Girl
Marie Darrieussecq reads the testament of Modersohn-Becker—the letters, the diaries, and above all the paintings—with a burning intelligence and a fierce hold on what it meant and means to be a woman and an artist.
J. M. Coetzee
Best Book on Art 2016
A biography full of life force, drafted in the present with grace... Dazzling!
A magnetic portrait of a woman, taking shape through the seemingly simple, but always so beautiful, writing of Marie Darrieussecq.
Between the lines, this very beautiful text is read as a feminist manifesto, that constantly questions the place for women in art.
Being Here Is Everything is a luminous tale about the courage of the lone female artist.
Darrieussecq's writing is poetic and stylized; the tableau unfolds sometimes in one-sentence paragraphs and one-word sentences, and always in the present tense. Clearly written for a broad audience, this book will renew appreciation for a deserving artist who's too often reduced to a mere passing mention in art-history textbooks.
Being Here is Everything should be read less as a definitive biography than as a tender, interpretative meditation by Darrieussecq. Through her interpretive paraphrasing of the artist's words, her textual narration of the paintings, and her omission of any visual reproductions of them (as well as of most of their titles), Darrieussecq writes a specific version of Modersohn-Becker's life. Though not a book of rigorous scholarship, she nonetheless makes a compelling and lyrical case for resuscitating Modersohn-Becker's reputation, and for exposing her paintings to a wider audience. As at long last we begin to color in the annals of art history with artists who once sat outside the traditional canon, the tapestry becomes all the more vivid with the inclusion of Modersohn-Becker's work.
Darrieussecq writes about her subject with a vibrant, urgent present tense-ness, as though Becker herself is unfolding before us. In prose propelled by temperamental rhythms—some paragraphs are half a page long, while others are but a single sentence—Darrieussecq composes a flickering tale that accounts for the artist's life, for the odd space of grief she feels for the artist she never knew but loves, and for the art Becker might have made.
In Darrieussecq's hands, Modersohn-Becker's story is both individual and exemplary: a frightening, energising fable that weirdly resembles a 19th-century version of Viv Albertine's punk memoir Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys, with Sid Vicious recast as the poet Rainer Maria Rilke. Paula Becker began to draw seriously at the age of 16.