book review: An Object of Beauty

Title: An Object of Beauty
Author: Steve Martin
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (November 23, 2010)
Category: contemporary fiction
Rating: A-

My goal, once I discovered that my artistic aspirations were not accompanied by artistic talent, was to learn to write about art with effortless clarity. This is not as easy as it sounds: whenever I attempted it, I found myself in a convoluted theoretical tangle from which there was no exit.

Actor/author/musician Steve Martin is multi-talented to say the least. Sure he’s known for his funny guy films in the late 70s/ early 80s, but I really like his more serious turns such as in Shopgirl with Claire Danes [based on the novella that Martin wrote]. I recently went to an exhibit at the MFA [I think it was Edward Hopper] and Martin had loaned one of his own paintings to the exhibit. I read [or listened to] his memoir which recounted his early days of stand-up. Steve Martin is definitely on the list of people that I’d like to have at a dinner party.

In An Object of Beauty, Martin delves into the complicated New York art world and particularly into the life of art dealer Lucy Yeager. Like an Edith Wharton novel, this glitzy, posh scene has its nuanced participants and sinister underbelly. Only an elite few can catapult to the top of the art world. It’s a vicious, often vacuous, cutthroat business. Yet art has an important cultural function. An Object of Beauty illustrates this with a darkly memorable protagonist and brutally honest depiction [Lucy’s story is told by her art writer friend] of the challenges one faces.

Lucy Yeager is quite eager to become famous and she stops at nothing: sleeping with buyers; becoming involved in shady deals and possibly theft. She’s an intriguing character. She re-invents herself to excel: changes how she dresses; her mannerisms; and learns what will make her irreplaceable in the art world. A strong-willed, independent woman focused on her ultimate goal: owning her own gallery. She starts out at Sotheby’s, spends time at the Barton Talley gallery and finally launches the Yeager gallery.

Lacey had come into money not by magic, but by prestidigitation. No one had seen her sleights except her and me, and I was bound to silence by complicity. I was guilty, too, but I did not know exactly of what. Lacey and I had collaborated on a feint, for which I was unrewarded, but apparently Lacey had seen hundreds of thousands of dollars come her way.

Martin weaves an exquisite and clever story. There’s mention of the still unsolved Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist of 1990. He offers a truly page-turning account of a woman’s rise and fall in a thorny field. An Object of Beauty provides an insider’s viewpoint of a world to which many are never privy.

buy at Amazon: An Object of Beauty: A Novel

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