An Object of Beauty
I’ve just enjoyed Steve Martin’s new novel “An Object of Beauty.” It’s a novel of the art world. He’s been there; he’s a collector. I remember reading something about him and Cindy Sherman once. He wrote a play about Picasso. The book is no joke, see? Martin has author chops and knows the subject.
Here’s some: this scene is a dinner with an artist, an art writer, a gallery owner and some collectors..
“What was the Gober like?” Brooke asked.
“It’s a kitchen sink,” said Hinton.
“A what?” said Saul Nathanson.
“It’s like a kitchen sink that hangs on a wall, but with an elongated back,” Flores told him. “Plaster and wood; it’s an amazing piece.”
Kip Stringer couldn’t resist: “The sink is evocative of cleaning, but the fact that it is on the wall, without plumbing, not functioning, creates cognitive dissonance. It embars the viewer from the action it implies.”
Schjeldahl, whose art criticism goes down like good wine, said, “Huh?”
“Sort of like a locked door,” said Saul. Saul Nathanson did not mock art, so his response was probing rather than cynical.
“Well,” said Kip, “Gober actually did install a locked door in the wall of a gallery.”
“I would only pay a million for that,” said Brooke.
“Not if I’m there first!” said Hinton
Kip tried to laugh but couldn’t.
“No kidding. Hinton would buy paint in a bucket,” said Cornelia.
“Is he a bad boy?” said Brooke.
“You would think each gallery had a pole dancer,” Cornelia said with a grin..”
-Later in the story we get some history and economics:
“Proceeding parallel to the art boom was a real estate boom, inspired by crafty lenders who assured easy profits in home ownership, no money down. These weak paper promises to pay were sold off to investors in every corner of the world, and Wall Street saw a glut of money. Wads of cash fell off the money truck as it trundled through Chelsea, across 49th Street for a stop at Christie’s, and onward to Madison Avenue to Sotheby’s.”
“The next day, Tuesday, the stock market just quivered, but on Wednesday it fell four hundred fifty points. Investors, meaning not just high-end Wall Street pros but every civilian with a few thousand dollars, pulled their money and bought T-bills and T-bonds, and they certainly didn’t buy art. There was no credit, which the U.S. mainstream had relied on for at least thirty years.”
“Art as an aesthetic principle was supported by thousands of years of discernment and psychic rewards, but art as a commodity was held up by air. The loss of confidence that affected banks and financial instruments was now affecting cherubs, cupids, and flattened popes.”