Maria Gainza

Portrait of an Unknown Lady
  • Portrait of an Unknown Lady

  • A young woman, gifted but unenthusiastic, takes a job at the City Bank of Buenos Aires. Under the watchful eye of Enriqueta Macedo, who wears a black fur coat, takes no prisoners, and is known to all as 'herself', she begins to learn something of the world. The two become close. Enriqueta has a secret, which she reveals one afternoon to her young protegee. For forty years, while presiding over the valuations department and upholding the city's trade in art, she has been certifying forgeries. Originally, and most memorably, those of a brilliant, enigmatic woman named Renee, who disappeared in the '80s and has not been seen or heard from since.

    When Enriqueta dies suddenly, alone in her apartment, our grief-stricken narrator gives herself a quest: she will honour her mentor by searching for the mysterious Renee. Through interviews, memories, police reports and even an auction catalogue, she evokes the heady Buenos Aires of the '60s with its European emigres, once-grand hotels and drugs, affairs and intrigues. Those she meets and speaks to remember everything and nothing about Renee. And so what begins as one kind of project becomes something else -- an enquiry into authenticity, memory, influence, and love: what we really know of one another, and what we leave behind.

Maria Gainza (Author) María Gainza was born in Buenos Aires, where she still lives. She has worked as a correspondent for The New York Times, as well as for ArtNews. For more than ten years she was a regular contributor to the magazine Artforum. Her debut novel, Optic Nerve, was published by Harvill Secker in 2019.

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