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Steve Martin takes on the New York art world in new novel

The former "wild and crazy guy" turned actor, writer and musician displays his love of the art world in his new novel, "Object of Beauty."
/ Source: Reuters

NEW YORK, Nov 24 (Reuters Life!) - Steve Martin glides from acting to music to writing so fluidly that he gives the impression it all comes easily to him.

Martin admits "a certain kind of ease" with writing fiction, as exemplified in his new novel "An Object of Beauty" from Grand Central Publishing, but only now does he feel that way, at age 65, years removed from the "wild and crazy guy" who burst into show business as a stand-up comedian in the 1970s.

"Object of Beauty," which hit bookstores on Tuesday, tells the story of an alluring and ambitious art dealer named Lacey Yeager who climbs from the basement at Sotheby's auction house to open her own gallery in the Chelsea section of New York.

"If I had tried to write it 20 years ago, I would have suffered. I suffered a long time to get to where I am, to be able to write it, sort of knowingly, and have the confidence to write it," Martin told Reuters.

Being a world famous movie star helps. Martin can finish a manuscript before having to sell the concept, "so I always know I can put it in the trash." He faces no deadline and does not have to please a publisher.

"I have taken the pressure off myself by doing things essentially freelance," said Martin, who has published two previous novels in addition to screenplays, plays and nonfiction.

Martin, the comedian, broke new ground in the 1970s when he turned a zany stand-up act with a banjo and popular appearances on television's "Saturday Night Live" into a Hollywood career.

"Once I started doing it (making movies), it was the only thing I wanted to do," Martin said.

But that eventually gave way to writing and now a banjo tour. Is there another hidden talent yet to surface?

"No, I'm very comfortable with what I'm doing right now, music and writing. I'm doing live performing now, too, because of the banjo shows. And I have a movie coming out this year," Martin said.

"I hadn't done a movie in a while. I walked onto the movie set and I thought, 'Gee, I really like this.' It felt like home."

The comedian, musician and banjo player is also clearly at home in the art world, demonstrating a command of art history and insider knowledge of the Manhattan elite, who buy and sell objects of beauty at head-spinning prices.

Martin sold an Edward Hopper painting at Sotheby's for $26.8 million in 2006, has stopped buying actively, saying the market has become too pricey even for him.

"Every collector eventually gets priced out as inflation takes hold," he said. "A really great painting today costs over $20 million."

Martin captures the insular art world in "Object of Beauty" with a cast of characters who include a smart and sexy female protagonist, an art writer and admirer who is the narrator, and assorted millionaires, billionaires and a mystery artist named Pilot Mouse, who is loosely based on British artist Banksy.

"Just for the record, I love the art world," Martin said. "I really like everything about it except, you'll see in the book, artspeak, which is slang for esoteric art writing which is impossible to parse or understand. It's probably the thing I attack most in the book." (Reporting by Daniel Trotta; editing by Mark Egan and Bob Tourtellotte)