Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Beauty, in so many ways

Last night I finished reading Steve Martin's new book “An Object of Beauty”.
Yea, that Steve Martin - the comedian, the director, the musician, the writer, the art collector.

Steve Martin the television comedian is easy to recall. The Saturday Night Skits of King Tut - who doesnt' remember strutting across their living room mimicking the 'walk'?

Steve Martin the movie comedian is even easier to acknowledge. So many movies, so many genres, so many goofy accents, so many signature actions and reactions, so many 'everyman' looks.

Steve Martin the writer is familiar to some. Occasionally he would write movies in which he starred. In the 1990s, he frequently wrote pieces for The New Yorker. And then along came his novellas. Which became movies.

And now he is often identified as Steve Martin, the banjo player. The banjo he used in the 1970s as a prop for his stand up routines is now the banjo he strums/plucks/whams on to songs he wrote. And you know what? He is a darn good banjo player and performer. His album The Crow: New Songs for the 5-String Banjo won a Grammy in 2010.
And occassionally Martin tours with the Steep Canyon Rangers. Don't miss them when they come to a town near you.

So, back to the book in my hand.

An art book. Did anyone mention Steve Martin is a serious art collector? He is a part of the art world, and “An Object of Beauty” is a serious art book. Yea, it is also a fiction novel. But what a story it weaves - not just of the protagonist/antagonist Lacey Yeager, but of the politics and economics of art and art collecting. 
"Look, if you want to be strict, there are only six twentieth-century artists: Picasso, Matisse, Giacometti, Pollock, de Kooning and Warhol" (pg. 190). 

I dare you not to look up Giacometti or de Kooning.

"... he did like that Pace Gallery had hung an Agnes Martin opposite a Robert Ryman so that they were 'in dialogue' with each other. "In dialogue" was a new phrase that art writers could no longer live without. It meant that hanging two works next to or opposite each other produced a third thing, a dialogue" (pg 233).

Picture that. A dialogue. No, don't picture it; listen to it.

I dare you to walk into an art gallery and not listen for conversations between/among paintings.

This book, this "object of beauty', is annoyingly haunting. 
And Lacey, the protagonist/antagonist? The asset/the obstacle?
I dare you to like her; I dare you to hate her.

I dare you to come away from this book not knowing one new object of beauty, one more piece of Russian art history, one more sector of the economy hit by the recent economic decline

I sure hope someone else who has read this book is willing to comment? 
It is just a novel... it is just Steve Martin.
It is "An Object of Beauty".


Ashley said...

I haven't read the book, but I am intrigued. Love Steve Martin. The Jerk is my favorite movie to this day!

Kathy said...

I'll have to have the family book reviewer (Lara'sReadingRoom.blogspot.com)
check this out for me.

On another note, how did you manage to FINISH reading a book after the big game?

And then to wrap it up, I love that coy picture of Toby on the sidebar.

Banjo52 said...

As you might guess from my bit about Classic vs. Romantic not too long ago, the idea of two pieces or kinds of art in dialogue interests me a lot. I didn't have any luck with Martin's two previous novels, but you give us a good tease on the new one.

I really liked that Steep Canyon Ranger band when he and they played in Detroit last ??fall??. He's got major league skill on the banjo, but his music is kinda fusion-y for me. I need plain ol' bluegrass and folk. Had the same problem with the bit of Bela Fleck I've tried. Maybe at a certain skill level, "plain ol'" gets boring for the player? Sad irony,

Brenda's Arizona said...

Ashley, will you have reading time with your newborn son? I have rejoiced in your news and your photos!

Kathy - I am an avid reader of Lara' Reading room blog! I wonder if I found her through your blog? Yes, I'd be interested in what Lara thinks!
Reading after the big game? I couldn't sleep, I was so excited, so I thought reading would calm me. Maybe the reason I liked the book so much is because I was in a happy mood to start with!

And Banjomyn, I can see the irony you mention. I am constantly amazed at Steve Martin's toe dipping and success in other venues/arts. He and the SCR band do put on a great show - we went to see him on your recommendation!

Martin doesn't write this book as an artist NOR as an art reviewer. He writes it (his narrator, I mean) observes a piece of it, year after year... and to realize that Martin KNOWS this art is what makes this even more interesting. It isn't the dry narrative of an art reviewer, it is a novel of a sector/geography of the art world. Who knew??

Alyce said...

I haven't heard of this book before, but I appreciate your recommendation (and all of the interesting info about Steve Martin). I don't think I would have given this one it's fair due had I not read your review.