Geoff Dyer at SBMA Atelier

S.B.’s Favorite Art Party Sends Up the Biennale

Geoff Dyer

When Geoff Dyer’s novel Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi came out in the spring of 2009, no one knew quite what to make of it. Told in two distinct halves, the book describes the adventures of a certain Jeff, who may or may not be a stand-in for the author and who may or may not be the same person in both sections. In the first half—the Jeff in Venice part—he’s a middle-aged freelance writer headed to the Venice Biennale for a junket. In the second, he’s an altogether less-wired figure, leading the life of a spiritual pilgrim in the ancient Indian city of Varanasi. Thanks to its catalogue of decadent high jinks, which include some casual sex and a coke-snorting party on a fabulous yacht, Jeff in Venice was immediately labeled a satire of the art world. But, according to Dyer, that was not the intention. “I intended the book to be comic; that’s certain. But honestly, when the reviews started coming in with the word ‘satire,’ I was reluctant to accept that particular label,” he explained via phone last week. “First off, the fact that the character gets up to all sorts of no good does not necessarily render the thing satire—what if that’s just my idea of a good time? But what’s more to the point is that when I think of satire I tend to associate the term with a writer who’s got a quite specific intention, which with me in this instance is simply not the case.”

Geoff Dyer will be at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art (1130 State St.) on Wednesday, May 4, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. as just one of the attractions at the museum’s upcoming Atelier art party. For this installment of the series, the night will revolve around “Pretense Meets Pilgrimage.” And, in addition to reading from his novel, Dyer will “lead guests on an amusing and intellectual exploration that pierces the pretense of the contemporary scene of art fairs and biennials.” For information or tickets, call 884-6414, email, or visit


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