A SHORT LIFE OF TROUBLE: Forty Years in the New York Art World

by Jacquelyn Lewis

Tucker’s retelling of her meteoric art-world rise provides an illuminating snapshot of a classic second-wave feminist experience.

As with her life, this memoir from the late, great one-woman art army Marcia Tucker gets off to a shaky start. Tucker, born in Brooklyn in 1940 and raised in New Jersey, pitches herself in the first chapters as a lovable ugly duckling whose family endeavored to stymie her every attempt to blossom, and it’s hard not to imagine what all this self-pity forebodes. But once Tucker frees herself from family remembrances, the book—again, much like her life—becomes a joyful exploration of all things art-related. Tucker’s retelling of her meteoric rise—from her work for art-world eccentrics Bill and Norma Copley in the ’60s, to her post as the first female curator at the Whitney Museum in 1969, to her founding of The New Museum in 1977—is both entertaining and inspiring. And the peep she offers into her journey toward sexual, intellectual, and emotional liberation provides an illuminating snapshot of a classic second-wave feminist experience.

Considering her one-sided perspective on her childhood, Tucker’s balanced assessment of her work and personal life is commendable. She admits to a passing acquaintance with Dexedrine, a series of “relationships” in which she’s more doormat than partner, and a tendency toward workaholism—a necessary evil if she wanted to get anywhere in the art world of the ’70s, a gruff boys’ club that often viewed women more as PMS-ing, emotional time bombs than equals. Her tenacity and determination won the day, and she successfully flouted convention both in the art world and her personal life. Pregnant at 43, Tucker married her much-younger love, who stayed home while she charged outside to change the world. She died of cancer in 2006, a lodestar twinkling brightly in the artistic firmament.

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