'An Object of Beauty,' Steve Martin

Steve Martin brings his funny to bear on the contemporary art world.

An Object of Beauty author Steve Martin
An Object of Beauty author Steve Martin

In Steve Martin’s new novel, a tale of ambition in the contemporary art world, a young woman learns that the beholder gets to decide what’s beautiful — especially if the beholder has deep pockets.

Nearly 20 years ago, while still in college, Daniel Franks met Lacey Yeager. Beautiful, smart, and confident, Lacey was one of those people who instantly brought fun into a room. Daniel slept with her once. But only once.

She knew the effect she had on men, and she used it to her advantage. Lacey was enchanting — which, in the art world, is a good thing. She walked into Sotheby’s and got a job the first job she applied for. She worked her way up — literally, from the basement. Soon, dealers were seeking her advice. She traveled around the world, broke more than a few hearts.

From a gallery-side seat, Daniel watched Lacey’s life rise to prominence. She claimed to have gotten her early love of art from her grandmother, who had posed for Maxfield Parrish many years ago. (Grandma had some advice for Lacey, too.)

Quirky, gentle, scandalous, and sometimes on the slow side, An Object of Beauty is one of those novels that you can’t anticipate. You don’t know where it’s taking you, but you absolutely need to find out. Daniel, Lacey and all the art snobs in this book are far from likable, but as Lacey continues to cut corners on her way to establishing her own gallery, An Object of Beauty becomes a moral tale with its own intrigue: Is it possible to do wrong if you’re disseminating beauty and spreading the wealth?

Martin’s humor brushes through this novel, which makes it fun to read. It’s also — surprisingly — informative. Art lovers will relish the inclusion of 22 color reproductions of various well- and little-known paintings from artists mentioned in the tale: Warhol, de Kooning, Picasso and more. Martin may poke fun at the pretensions of connoisseurs and collectors, the esoteric theorizing of the artists themselves. But he makes the case that art has value in itself, despite all the corrupt deal-making that swirls around it.

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