An Object of Beauty – Steve Martin

New York is a tough audience.  Rick Nelson was booed off the stage at Madison Square Garden when he dared to play his new songs instead of the fifties rock’n’roll that made him famous.  Steve Martin met the same fate recently when he tried to talk about art and his new book, An Object of Beauty, at the 92nd Street Y.  After seeing Martin’s play, Picasso at the Lapine Agile, I knew then that he was more than that “wild and crazy guy,” and suspect that he may be laughing at us.

In An Object of Beauty, Martin invites you behind the scenes of the art world – the buying and selling – the wheeling and dealing – that most of us never think about as we stroll through the galleries. He uses Lacey Yeager, a young, ambitious, and clever career climber as an excuse to inform and educate the reader  – with 22 beautiful renditions of famous art included in the book – analyzing in suave, painless lectures…

“In front of them was Sargent’s El Jaleo… A Spanish dancer, her head thrown back, an arm reaching forward with a castanet, her other hand dramatically raising her white

El Jaleo

dress, steps hard on the floor.  Behind, a bank of guitarists strum a flamenco rhythm that it is impossible not  to think we hear, and one hombre is caught in midclap, a clap we finish in our minds…The frezy and fever of the dance, the musicians, and the audience are palpable.”

One reviewer matched Lacey to Holly Golightly – an accurate appraisal.  She is at once smart, loveable, conniving, frustrating, and pitiable – manipulating art and people (even her own grandmother) for her best interests –  “the kind of person who will always be OK.”

But the real story is not Lacey – although she may be what keeps you reading.  Martin’s real agenda is the art world – the dark and shady side.  He even throws in an art heist and fraud to keep you interested.

The book is not for everyone and may not get on many lists, but I liked it.  The plot is slow – with some gratuitous sex scenes under famous paintings thrown in, but it would be hard not to learn something new about art and the art world.

If you are willing to forego Steve Martin as the comic hero, and accept a Calvin Trillin-like rendition of his wry wisecracks and clever irony, you might like it too.  And, if you don’t?  Steve Martin might say – “so?”