On the day I ordered this from the library Robert Genn published this letter. A sign? Maybe, because when it turned up for me a week or so ago (much faster than I expected for a new release at the library) I knew right away that it would be a memorable read.
The book is definitely fiction but because of the way it's structured and its firm rooting in time and space (New York City's art world from the mid 1990s until 2008) it reads very much like nonfiction. And better than nonfiction: the seduction of narrative means that I learned and therefore retained a lot more about that world than if I'd read a historical exposé of the same. That Steve Martin is one smart cookie. It's full of witty and thought-provoking gems but, unlike great literature, it's not about profound insights into human nature. It's just a layered, meaty page-turner for the art lover.
There are plenty of reviews and synopses online so I'll spare you, but I did want to share a couple of things. For one thing, I saw a little connection to the inscrutably transparent Hazel Dooney, when he discusses the artwork of fictional Feng Zhenj-Jie "...a Chinese artist working in Beijing who painted Day-Glo images of glamour girls..." and his meteoric rise:
Talley said, "You can spot a painting by Feng Zhenj-Jie across a room and never quite forget it."
"Is that so good?" asked Lacey. "If you can remember it completely, there's nothing there when you go back."
Along the same lines was this explanation of the gulf between people who like art and people who "don't know much about art but know what they like". There are moments in this book where Martin seems to tell me what I was thinking even though I didn't know it myself:
"How," said Lacey, "can an artist have no effect on you for years and then one day it has an effect on you?"
"What are you talking about?"
"Warhol. I'm a proud owner, you know. A small flower picture, but still..."
"Darling, I call that the perverse effect. Those things that you hate for so long are insidiously working on you, until one day you can't resist them anymore. They turn into favourites. It just takes awhile to sort out the complications in them. Those artworks that come all ready to love empty out pretty quickly. It's why outsiders hate the work we love; they haven't spent time with it."
You get the picture. Heh. Anyway, check out this clip in which he elaborates further on art appreciation and other good stuff.