In An Object of Beauty, author Steve Martin introduces readers to the rarified world of art dealers and art collectors. As a person who is more likely to collect fez-wearing chimps than fine art, I am not overly conversant with art galleries, auction houses or the quirks of rich collectors. Here we find Lacey, a young woman who will use any means to get what she wants, working in the lower echelons at Sotheby’s. As she rises through the ranks we learn about a variety of artists and styles as well as the behind-the-scenes operations of art auctions. Lacey is not a likeable character, but her careless attitude towards others is more self-centered than malicious. Eventually opening her own gallery, Lacey begins to focus on living artists, and thus Martin introduces the many unusual faces of contemporary art.
The story is narrated by an acquaintance of Lacey’s and he presents her adventures as a cautionary tale. We learn that morally questionable business practices can stall a career (when the perp is caught), that the art world is at the mercy of international economics, and that major events such as the 9/11 terrorist attacks impact business and economics.
Martin’s writing style is delicate and genteel and the narrator creates just the right degree of tension to make the reader wonder what’s going to happen next.
As a result of my narrow focus on fez/chimp related art, many questions arose as I read Martin’s novel. Here are a few of those questions along with some Everett Public Library holdings that might offer answers.
1) What goes on in the lives of art dealers?
- Seven Days in the Art World
- The Art of the Steal: Inside the Sotheby’s – Christie’s Auction House Scandal
- Zoe Dusanne: An Art Dealer who Made a Difference
- The Girl with the Gallery: Edith Gregor Halpert and the Making of the Modern Art Market
2) Martin paints art collectors as a rather idiosyncratic bunch. How much truth is there in this portrayal?
- The Impossible Collection: The 100 Most Coveted Artworks of the Modern Era
- At Home with Art: How Art Loves Live with and Care for their Treasures
- Self-Taught & Outsider Art: The Anthony Petullo Collection
3) Collectors might see something in a piece of art that I cannot see. How do I learn to better appreciate art?
- Cave paintings to Picasso: The Inside Scoop on 50 Art Masterpieces
- More than Meets the Eye: Seeing Art with All Five Senses
- Art for Dummies
- How to Visit a Museum
4) After primarily selling works of dead European artists, Lacey becomes interested in living American artists. What are some of the trends and techniques in American art and who are the artists who have been successful?
- The American Century: Art and Culture, 1900-1950
- American Expessionism: Art and Social Change, 1920-1950
- Sister Wendy’s American Collection
5) “What is art?” is an all-encompassing philosophical quandary. A simpler version of this question is, “Why is modern art considered to be art?” Paint splatters, found objects and installations where the viewer is part of the artwork have become commonplace means of expression. How can one appreciate such unconventional works?
- In the Time of Warhol: The Development of Contemporary Art
- 50 Modern Artists you Should Know
- Revisionaries: A Decade of Art in Tokion
- No. 1: First Works by 362 Artists
- Pop Art
- Lives of the Artists
Gotta go, so much more to learn!