by Richard Roth
NoLab is a novel with a comic bent; it’s a crime story, a buddy “flick,” an art world commentary, a love story. NoLab might be what happens when Lethal Weapon is crossed with My Dinner with Andre.
Artists Ray Lawson and Victor Florian search for NoLab, a collaborative of artist provocateurs that has gone missing. Their search becomes a romp through the art and ideas of a progressive, conceptually oriented subculture of the art world. They investigate Carter Wilkinson, creator of The Institute (a shadowy, futuristic cultural institution with an unusual collection). Though seemingly inept as detectives, Ray and Victor eventually succeed in finding the members of NoLab. Murder intervenes. Ray, Victor, and NoLab are harassed and threatened by various individuals attempting to dissuade NoLab from implementing its ill-advised plan. From the presumed safety of home, Ray and his newly acquired family watch the gory ramifications of NoLab’s self-destructive act unfold in the media.
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NoLab by Richard Roth
Richard Roth is an artist and a writer. His paintings have been widely exhibited nationally and internationally. He received an MFA from Tyler School of Art, a BFA from The Cooper Union, and was the recipient of a Visual Artists Fellowship in Painting from the National Endowment for the Arts. He co-edited the book, Beauty is Nowhere: Ethical Issues in Art and Design (Routledge); wrote “The Crit,” a one-act play (The Art Journal); and co-authored Color Basics, and Design Basics 3D (Wadsworth/Cengage). Roth is a Virginia Commonwealth University Professor Emeritus; he chaired the VCU Department of Painting and Printmaking from 1999 - 2008. He also taught at The Ohio State University; the Birmingham Institute of Art and Design, U.K.; the University of California, Berkeley; New York University; and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Born in Brooklyn, he presently lives and works in Southern California.
"A lively satire, a loving homage, and a satisfying whodunit."
— Kirkus Reviews, April 29, 2020
NoLab selected as a 2019 Blue Mountain Novel Award Finalist:
NoLab is a brilliantly inventive comic novel custom-built for an age that pays homage to Warhol’s radical claim that art is what you can get away with. Can artists get away with eliminating art works altogether? Does terrorism count as performance art? What if a pill could reproduce the experience of viewing Picasso’s Guernica? Will we still need Guernica? Richard Roth is a rare triple threat: an internationally-known artist, former chair of a prominent department of painting, and—now—an incisive, droll, ingenious novelist. NoLab unfolds through the bizarre adventures of characters who live on the cutting edge of art and ideas.
—David B. Morris, author of The Culture of Pain & Civil War Duet
I read the entire novel on my cell phone on the train from New York to Richmond (two cities prominent in the plot), so absorbed in the story that when I looked up, day had turned to night and three hundred miles had flashed by under my feet. With a plot that spins across continents, bedrooms, dive bars, off-grid enclaves, and the Web, NoLab is an art world thriller in a fast and furious 230 pages. Three artists, whose collaboration "The Church of the Holy Spiral" had spiraled into mail fraud, take on a mysterious new project that lands them in aesthetic and political terra incognita, and their two former professors are hired on the q.t. to find them. Roth's legendary wit as both artist and teacher—unforgettable to the legions of students, colleagues, critics, collectors, and curators who have encountered him in the real world—are sublimated into a roll call of heroines and rogues who voice the tech-slang of our globally mediated moment. Dialogue is so spot-on you mouth-read the lines. Hacking, poker, surveillance drones, genetic mutation, pharmaceuticals, and a cross-country race against time—and Roth's characters still manage to fall in love, spoof an art theory lecture, deliver a passionate art manifesto, update the old painting vs. sculpture duel, and extoll the glory of Formica. Fictional persons (along with illnesses, buildings, and governments) mingle Pynchon-style with real ones well-known to anyone on Twitter. What begins as brilliant shtick tips into drama and finally shock, and the reader discovers she suddenly cares for these characters. It is as if this tale was waiting to be told, (to quote Kafka) rolling in ecstasy at Roth's feet. The story echoes the slipping of trust and truth in our national life. Roth makes us laugh, but he touches a nerve.
—Elizabeth King, artist