“The whole of human comedy is here: the great farcical masque of society seen from the inside of a cage.”

—Maria Gainza, Optic Nerve


Big Edie: The cat’s going to the bathroom right in back of my portrait.
Little Edie: God, isn’t that awful?
Big Edie: No, I’m glad he is. I’m glad somebody’s doing something he wanted to do.

Grey Gardens


Besides the obvious mutual feature of recluses and their crumbling mansions, Maria Gainza’s first book translated into English and the Maysel brothers’ piercing documentary choose the true light over the flattering light for their subjects.

This pairing displays:

  • Delicate ecosystems of genius, madness, solitude, and celebrity
  • The poetic squalor that remains after the supposed restoration
  • Sneakily interesting history lessons
  • Perpetual referencing to prevent terrifying inward reflection
  • What it’s like to be a “prisoner of luxury” (Gainza, p. 123)
  • Deeply personal associations embedded into shared cultural experiences
  • Perma-sealed familial roles and their stifling natures
  • A questioning of what nourishes us and what deteriorates us
  • The almost inescapable habit of creation

Equally about what we fail to notice as much as what we actually do, this pairing fully admits and unapologetically embraces the observer effect.

We are reminded that art is relationship, meaning we can only view it in relation to self. Gainza’s seamless parallels of autofiction and art history are so precise and satisfyingly interwoven that both sides of your brain will experience almost total harmony. Haltingly vulnerable vignettes from the lives of the Edith Beales have met their match with her prose.