An Object of Beauty - Steve Martin
- Brian Donaldson
- 16 February 2010
A drab mess that threaten something magical before fizzling out
(Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
In late November, a live interview with Steve Martin at New York’s 92nd Street Y was deemed to be so dull that the venue’s boss offered refunds to the entire audience. At one point during the conversation, the interviewer was handed a note asking her to spice things up a bit suggesting that she steer Martin away from talking about his love of art and onto his early, funny filmworks. These days, Steve Martin is a bona fide art connoisseur. The man with two brains has become a guy with one passion.
Those who almost fell asleep during that Y event will probably be left similarly aghast at An Object of Beauty, a trip through the boom and bust years in the 90s/00s US art world, siphoned through the character of its narrator (art critic Daniel Franks) and chief ‘object’, Lacey Yeager, whose ambition to climb the ladder requires starting from the very bottom; quite literally, in the shape of a Sotheby’s dungeon.
For a book whose synopsis yells ‘satire’, there’s scant humour at play. Lacey is prickly and confident, tossing off catty asides and recognising her soul in Willem de Kooning’s harsh ‘Woman 1’, a work roundly loathed by feminist critics. But ultimately, Lacey feels as abstract as the paintings which Martin deals in these days. John Updike makes a fleeting and pointless cameo. The whole thing is a drab mess, threatening to build towards something magical before ultimately fizzling out. And yes, before you say it, just like Steve Martin’s career in comedy.