The Controversies Relating to Steve Martin’s Novel An Object of Beauty

Michele Richman | January 20, 2011

I recently read and enjoyed Steve Martin’s newest novel An Object of Beauty, which follows the story of a young and ambitious art dealer whose career blossoms quickly in the NYC art world. Lacey Yeager is a low-level employee for Sotheby’s who within years owns her own successful art gallery in Chelsea. Her instant success results from her intelligence, but also from her unethical business decisions and improperly using her sexuality to achieve her goals.  Unlike Lacey, we here at know that success is earned by hard work, not by cutting corners.  Moreover, as a result of their strong work ethic and commitment to the company, several employees have ascended quickly from college intern to department head within only a few years.

You may have heard about the book because of the 92nd St Y debacle last month, which was covered by all the major news outlets. In short, while Steve Martin was discussing his new novel and the subject of art, the audience members were emailing the Director of the 92nd St Y to complain that they were angry that Martin was not being funny, as they had only come to hear him tell jokes and perform as a comedian.  As a result, midway through the talk the interviewer, NY Times columnist Deborah Solomon, was handed a note that said that she should direct the conversation away from his book, and focus more on his career as an actor and comedian.  Solomon read the note out loud and members of the audience cheered; after that, the Y offered $50 credits to all attendees to refund for the price of the ticket.

From independent bloggers to major news organizations like the New York Times, everyone has weighed in on whether or not it was appropriate for the Y and audience members to be disgruntled because Steve Martin didn’t talk about being a comedian and movie star but about the more serious subject of his book and works of art. (See article in Huffington Post which links to many other news articles on controversy Steve Martin At The 92 St. Y: Book Talk Leads To Ticket Refunds!)

I agree with the viewpoint that it was shameful to make him change his discussion midway in order to please a few whiny audience members.  As I mentioned above, the book provides many ethical dilemmas that would have provided good discussion points, and also describes the world of art dealers and purchasers in a way I have never seen - mainly as a combination of gamblers, investors, and collectors.  Another thing we do well at is refusing to pigeon-hole employees by their past experience or their initial positions at  Many employees have switched departments 2 or 3 times until they find the right fit for them and the company.  A key to this success is the flexibility of managers and employees, and something the audience members and the 92nd Street Y Director would have benefited from if they let Steve Martin find his right fit and discuss his interesting new book, instead of essentially booing him off the stage.  What do you think?

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