An Object of Beauty: Book Review

Beauty has a way of opening doors, turning heads, commanding a room, reserving a table and creating a blind eye.We are more readily willing to forgive beauty of its misdeeds. Beauty is power. Lacey Yeager is beautiful and she knows it.  People around Lacey are attracted by her beauty and clamor for her attention; but what attracts beauty? More beauty of course. Lacey is drawn to the ultimate world of  beauty , very expensive beauty – Sothebys. An Object of Beauty  tells the story of a girl’s  exploration and rise through the New York  art world (circa 1990- 2010).  The novel deals in commerce, taste, art movements, trends, forgery, sex, attraction, but ultimately is a love story. Contrary to what you may be thinking, the romance in question isn’t focused on Lacey (although she has many suitors). The romance in An Object of Beauty is between its author and his muse -art.

Andy Warhol Flowers 1970

Steve Martin is known for many things: actor, comedian, musician, author and art lover. It is his love and observations about art that make An Object of Beauty a compelling read. Written in 2010, the book explores one of the craziest periods the art market has ever known. Art experienced a growth and a transformation over those two decades which has profoundly affected the way people view it. Martin shows this shift; in the novel Lacey buys a small flowers painting by Andy Warhol not because she finds it beautiful but because she thinks it will make a sound investment.

As the late great Robert Hughes said,

“The new job of art is to sit on the wall and get more expensive.”

Martin addresses this but doesn’t dwell on it. Martin still views art as an object of beauty divorced from the concept of money. Later on in the book, Lacey’s observation about a Matisse illustrates this nicely:

 “The Matisse seemed to respond to the decreasing light by increasing its own wattage. Every object in the room was drained of color, but the Matisse stood firm in the de-escalating illumination, its beauty turning functionality inside out, making itself a more practical and useful presence than anything else in sight.”

This is written from the perspective of someone who obviously appreciates and lives with art. Steve Martin is well known for his art collection. His tastes and even artists from his own collection find their way into An Object of Beauty.  Along with the titans of the art world like Warhol and Matisse he introduces the reader to lesser know names like:

the amazing still-life painter William Michael Harnett

William Michael Harnett Mr. Hulting’s Rack 1888

The sublime abstract painter Milton Avery

Milton Avery Autumn 1944

and one of Italy’s greatest still life painters Giorgio-Morandi.

Giorgio-Morandi  still life  circa 1950s

The story of Lacey Yeager is the loose framework for the author to hang his affection for the art world.  He has keen eye and a quick wit. Although the story is not without its charm and humour, don’t expect a laugh out loud comedy most associated with the author. Martin has written a subtle meditation on the allure of art and the world it inhabits. If you enjoyed 7 days in the Art World or The $12 million Stuffed Shark this book would be a beautiful companion.