Saturday, June 28, 2014

Review: An Object of Beauty

I mean, I was on vacation for over a week before posting my accounts of The Best Books of Sophomore Year, or even a College Fashion Link Up Post for Mrs. Dalloway... but, surely I wouldn't be so careless in postponing the actual act of reading for pleasure, right? Well, wrong. It took me way too long to actually get back into reading "for funzies" again... but when I did finally pick up a new copy off of the stack, I almost sunk my own battleship before the struggle had actually begun, because this book sure was a doozy.  
An Object of Beauty, by noted author Steve Martin (more on that in a second) follows the living and livelihood of Lacey Yeager, an anti-ingenue in the not-so-much-bustling-as-trampling New York City art scene, ready to scuff the shining floors of Sotheby's with her own brand of sex appeal (all narrated by her impressionable and milquetoast friend vaguely unwarranted of mention). Through the late '90s into the current art climate, we follow Lacey as she climbs her way among the many ladders of fine arts culture, not caring about the faces she steps on along the way, knowing she could just as quickly win them back with a flash up her skirt. However, while art may be classified by the un-indoctrinated simply as beautiful, insiders know it to be daring, violent, graphic, and gaudy, in turn, and as it turns out, Lacey might just be the true artwork present in the novel.

First of all, let's talk about the elephant in the room; or, rather, the author name on the cover. I was positively tickled to leaf through the pre- and post- materials for the text itself and see no defined author photo, or even any kind of comprehensive "About the Author" page. I mean, I agree, Steve Martin should be a household name for most, but not so well known is his status as a writer of not purely comedic works, as well as his not-so-secret reputation as a bit of a fine arts aficionado. Finally cluing myself in by noting the listing of Shopgirl among his many authorial credits, I knew I truly had the right guy. It is this sort of hidden talent that emerges double-fold in An Object of Beauty.

Admittedly, despite my enthusiasm for the author, the plot moves a little bit slowly; however, the impression is deeply felt that this choice of pace was made for the sake of attention to detail, particularly present in the form of art history lessons no one would really have expected. The mappings of chronological developments, from the antiquities of ancient masters through the ironies of modern art, successfully enmesh fiction with factual descriptions of artists, their works and movements, and the intricate and entrenched filtration system for fine arts present in the layers of collectors, sellers, galleries, museums and more that exist within that culture. (One particularly welcome highlight of the work was the inclusion of many of the specific pieces of art around which he orients his narrative, rendered in color.)

I'd be hard-pressed to tell you which personalities present within the work were formed around real people - false names for friends or foes - simply because of the expertly quirky lens through which they are presented. They were as funny as fiction, but written as if real. Additionally, though the novel primarily served as an involving and breathing portrait of the New York City art playground and one girl's attempt to play it for all it was worth, the depictions of the landscape as its own kind of character made me almost want to visit the East Coast. 

Final Verdict: Intellectual, informative, and interesting - from both the plot-motivated story-side, as well as the history-encapsulating education-side - the novel effectively told the story in a detail-oriented way that still managed to be subtle in its emotional weight, while perhaps venturing a little bit into over-stimulation in some places in its minutae. An Art History 101 class with feeling, An Object of Beauty was a very complex way to kick off my summer.


  1. I really liked it. Her story, and the inside world of art and collectors, were both really interesting. And it totally made me want to learn more about art history, too!

    1. Right? I mean, I knew it was an industry, but it made me think a lot about the value we place on objects of art, particularly the relationships between creator and distributor (like how it's the author signature that renders a work's worth more than the piece itself, the whole "moonlight on the water" thing, etc). It was a bit of a crash course in art industry in itself!