Thursday, December 2, 2010

An Object of Beauty

The reason I’ve been reading so much lately is because I’ve been laid up with a cold. However yesterday I read a book that was guaranteed to make me sicker: Steve Martin’s novel about the art world entitled, An Object of Beauty. Really, Martin should have stayed in the role of lovable dork rather than expose his lack of art sophistication to inevitable ridicule. Woody Allen he is not.

OMG, there are not enough words to describe just how bad the book is on every level, but basically it’s a high school art appreciation course interspersed with sex scenes—a lofty attempt whose only redeeming quality is that it serves as a reminder of how great Anthony Trollope and Edith Wharton, masters at entwining narrative with social history, really were.  And since through this post I’m saving you at least $9.99 (for the download) and several hours of your time, I expect that when you see me next you’ll treat me to lunch.

The first implausible thing is that the narrator makes an actual living writing freelance for ARTnews.

Another is that street traffic, rather than carefully nurtured relationships with numerous collectors, translates into gallery sales, as in: “Lacey timed her second opening to coincide with Serra’s…and when a thousand art lovers showed up for Serra’s opening, giving Chelsea an unexpected kick start, her place hummed along with the spillover.  Pictures sold and sold, to collectors, not friends."

Some random excerpts (and I mean random—as opposed to choice—since my intention is to spend as little time leafing through this book as possible):

A conversation between a collector and a gallery owner:

“Do you know Joseph Beuys?” Ben said.We bought one of his felt suits.

Lacey knew. Her days at Talley’s (art gallery) always paid off somehow.


“Look," said Hinton, “up to the seventies, art proceeded in movements. Cubism, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, so everyone, including me, was on the lookout for the next movement. But instead art in the eighties was at an evolutionary moment when it split into chimps, birds, fishes, plants and cephalopods all at once. Saul, artists can make a living now as a bad painter. I’m not kidding. You ask them what they make and they’ll say “bad art.” And they can put the implied quotes around it, too, with just their voice. And you know what? It’s bad, but it’s not that bad.

“Do you have any?” said Brooke (supposedly art collector, Hinton is saying this for the enlightenment of Peter Schjeldahl’s wife during Art Miami, at a star-studded dinner at Joe’s Stone Crab hosted by ARTnews).

“We’ve got a roomful of it,” said Cornelia.

Hinton went on, “We sure do, and sometimes the bad stuff can make the so-called good stuff seem boring and stiff.”


Then there are the scenes of sex and romance:

And when I kissed her good night, it seemed as if little animated larks circled around our heads.


Then Agent Parks came inside the condom that was inside Lacey and let her know it by stopping midstroke and squeezing her waist with both hands.

On his way out, the receptionist said….

On his way out? Of where? Lacey’s vagina has a receptionist?

The only believable line in the entire book is where Schjeldahl "whose art criticism goes down like wine, says, ‘Huh?’”

Note validation in today's Times article describing how Steve Martin and Deborah Solomon's talk at the 92nd Street Y bombed to the point that attendees were monetarily compensated. The reason given was that they talked too much about art, but given how little understanding of art both have demonstrated in their writing, methinks it was the content rather than the subject that sank them.

Another concurring review.


Anonymous said...

thanks, I guess I owe you lunch if you are ever in Denver. I downloaded the first chapter on my kindle and thought, "huh"?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting the rant about Steve Martin's book. You saved me from having to make an effort to find the book in the public library, put it down in disappointment, and go to the library to return it.

The last time I had to do that was when I read the book written by Nick Leeson about his having brought down Barings Bank. The opening pages had a description of him and a woman in a hotel room. They were the worst two pages I've ever read.

Thanks, also, for calling out Deborah Solomon. A number of years ago, I used to complain so much about her writing at work that the phrase, "Deborah Solomon," became a code word for bad writing.

During the past two or three years, I was surprised to find that some of Solomon's articles/interviews were better or more interesting than her earlier pieces. She's very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to have dozens of substandard pieces published in the Times before showing any sign of improvement. Most writers don't get such a chance to "practice on stage," as they say in rock and roll.

Deborah Barlow said...

This made me feel SO good. I go into contemptuous rage at the frequent portraits in literature of an art world that is so superficially rendered and misunderstood. Gotta scream sometimes. Thanks for this.

CAP said...

This is your funniest post. Ever! Lunch is on me.

Kathy Hodge said...

Up until this line I was taking your word for it, now you've gone and made me WANT to read it...

On his way out, the receptionist said….

On his way out? Of what? Lacey’s vagina has a receptionist?

Andromache said...

I just finished reading this and thought it was the most pointless novel...It started and finished about nothing except a cold art b***h and her sexcapades. Oh, and zillions of dollars worth of silly new art paintings. Makes me sick..